Tips to Manage Dogs Like the Star of “Marley and Me”

by Liam Crowe
CEO and Master Dog Behavioral Therapist
Bark Busters USA

With the film version of the popular book “Marley & Me” hitting the big screen, the entertaining and heart-warming story of the Grogans and their rambunctious, canine companion Marley will reach an even larger audience. As a canine behavior expert, I’ve cautioned dog parents that, while the film captures the overall message of the book, its subject – Marley, the wildly out-of-control-but-lovable yellow Labrador retriever – will raise questions (and some hackles) about what the dog’s caregivers could have done to better understand their pet and to correct his many behavioral problems.

Labs are intelligent dogs and need to be kept busy. They are eager to please and catch on quickly to training that is communicated clearly and consistently. That training needs to start with ground rules established and maintained from the moment the dog (or puppy) enters your home. When a dog—any dog—is guided by your strong leadership and setting of firm boundaries, both caregiver and dog will enjoy an infinitely more rewarding relationship.

Dogs do only whatever they can get away with. It is up to the caregivers to educate the dog about the rules of the pack, which requires a commitment to consistent leadership from the pet parent. For example, remember that your fluffy 10-pound new puppy who loves to jump up on you will one day be an 85-pound adult dog whose jumping is no longer cute and, indeed, could cause harm to you or others. Don’t allow such behaviors to begin, and correct any unwanted behaviors right away.

Labs are a popular breed because they love to be with people, including children. They are typically playful and good-natured. Because Lab puppies are very bouncy and boisterous, they may not be ideal for households with very small children, the elderly or infirm. Labs are best for families with active lifestyles who can allow the dog to have regular outlets for his seemingly boundless energy.

Labs, like many breeds, are prone to separation anxiety, which can lead to behavior issues. A bored, lonely Lab with nothing interesting to do will quickly find ways to vent his pent-up energy by barking, chewing and destroying anything he encounters in your house or yard. Had the Grogans sought training from a qualified dog behavioral therapist to help them understand and act on these human-canine fundamentals, their lives together would have been less eventful and far more peaceful (though perhaps not as compelling for a book!).

One example of how training could have helped both family and pet is related to how Marley reacted to thunderstorms, a common fear among canines. Many dogs “learn” to cower at thunder because their caregivers console them when they hear a loud noise. While it is understandable that you would want to coddle your frightened pet, this does not help the dog if you are not with him when a thunderstorm (or fireworks or a noisy trash collector) comes along. If your dog is frightened by loud noises, don’t make it an “event.” Simply guide your furry friend to a place where it is safe and quiet, ideally his crate. You could also cover the crate with a blanket to soften the impact of the loud noises. The dog will quickly learn to seek shelter there whenever he feels scared. If your dog exhibits extreme fear from thunderstorms, talk to your vet about more ways to help the dog feel calmer.

The following are some tips to help you manage your active Labrador retriever or any high-energy dog:

- Provide toys that can handle heavy chewing. Labs are generally food motivated, so use treat-giving puzzle toys to keep him mentally stimulated. 
- Get into the habit of providing daily training sessions of 15 minutes or so. Remember, dogs tire far more quickly from mental stimulation than from physical activities. 
Crate training is strongly recommended for Labs. Not only does a crate help with housebreaking, it also helps to create boundaries for your pet, keeping both your dog and your house safe. 
- Anticipate your dog’s possible naughty behavior. For instance, put baby locks on cupboard doors, put away trash cans, and separate your dog from a small child with food. (The dog may snatch the food not out of aggression but simply because the temptation is just too great.) 
- Use Bitter Apple spray, or other taste deterrents, on objects you don’t want your pooch to chew.

Because Labrador retrievers are so energetic, you will gain better control of your Lab if you know how to safely “de-escalate” him when he becomes overly excited. Your local Bark Busters trainer is skilled in detecting when a dog is getting out of control and can teach you how to anticipate and counteract such potential problems.

Liam Crowe is CEO of Bark Busters and a master dog behavioral therapist. Bark Busters, the world’s largest dog trainingcompany, has trained more than 400,000 dogs worldwide using its all-natural, dog-friendly methods. Bark Busters training is the only service of its kind that offers a written lifetime guarantee. With hundreds of offices in 41 states and 10 countries, Bark Busters is continuing its mission to enhance the human-canine relationship and reduce the possibility of maltreatment, abandonment, and euthanasia of companion dogs. For more details, call 1-877-500-BARK (2275) or to find a dog trainer in your area, complete a Dog Behavior Quiz, or learn about becoming a Bark Busters franchise owner.

© copyright 2008 Bark Busters USA, All Rights Reserved

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