My first Lab, my beloved Bess, after she finally learned to retrieve had NO limits on the amount of retrieving she wanted to do (or on the amount of food she wanted to eat or on the amount of petting she wanted or her desire to swim).
I think Bess learned arm signals (go to my right, left, out, come) and whistle signals (2 short high tomes = her right, 1 longer lower tone = her left) before she was a year old, and had them well mastered after several months.
I taught the arm signals first and then as Bess was running (or swimming) away from me, she heard the appropriate whistle call just a moment before it landed either to her right or left.
Very quickly she learned to chain them so, when swimming in the water, she'd obey 5 or more commands for turns before I threw the training dummy.
My beloved Puff (YF, AKC, field line, 63 lbs., dob: 8-'01) will be 5 years old in August and we practice on these things every day.*
Puff is not as dedicated to retrieving.* Bess ran to the TD at top speed and returned it the same way.* Puff is inclined to amble to it at times and even more inclined to get distracted by smells she wants to evaluate on the return trip.
Puff follows arm signals passably although not great.* I sometimes have to have her sit and look at me -- then give the arm signal and 90%* of the time she'll obey it.
I've long since stopped trying to use whistle calls and instead yell "Right!" or "Left" because that can be louder and quicker.* We're up to about 10% improvement over random reactions.
Puff obeys hand signals or voice commands for SIT, DOWN, STAND, Go (there), SPEAK, BACK, SHAKE (water off) (and probably some other things) fairly well.* She knows and obeys "Leave it" and "hop up" and "hop down"* to where pointed and she rolls on her back when I ask her if she wants a "belly rub" and she does want one.* *
But getting her to go to her right or left by voice command has been a long struggle.* I keep hoping one day it will dawn on me how to communicate it better to her and it'll dawn on Puff that my shouts have a useful meaning.
On our morning walks in the nature preserve, I bring along a wash cloth that's big enough to cover her head, nose, eyes, and ears.* I drape it over her head and then sling the dummy.* Then take off the cloth and attempt to direct her.* Puff has such remarkable stereo-location of the thump of it hitting ground that she usually heads straight for it unless I've been lucky enough to aim for and hit some tall grasses that will cushion the landing. (Puff is SO good at this that I can even have her facing away from the direction I throw it and she'll still usually locate the exact direction.)
Ah, well.* We have many years to adapt to each other.
Puff [YF, AKC field line (from competing HT/FT breeder) 62 lbs, dob: 8-'01]
Re: In learning one task, Puff is like Helen Keller
it is likely that she will eventually make the connection at any random time and it will be set from then on.
you can teach many new commands or behaviors, by setting yourself up for success rather than leaving it up to chance. create attainable goals. if you want her to go left, set up a senario where you KNOW she will move left, mark that behavior, praise, repeat. give the behavior a name, and condition the mind to associate the behavior with the name. then, use the command to evoke the behavior.
as i read somewhere, see the behavior you want as you would a page flip moving picture. start with page 1, then train for page 2, then 3, etc. going from page 1 straight to the last page can work sometimes, but in many cases it's where we fail to help the dog make the connections they need to learn.
anyway, these are the principles i've been following recently, and i've been seeing good results. i'm only working on simple things like "take a bow" and "turn around." LOL! but the methods seem sound and makes sense to me, and they help me train new comands, so i guess that's what matters.
"Properly trained, a man can be dog's best friend." ~ Corey Ford