Barking and Whining
Dogs can't talk, but they do verbalize by barking and whining. Each of these vocalizations can have a variety of meanings, depending on the situation. Dogs bark in greeting, to warn intruders off their territory, in excitement, or out of stress or boredom. They may whine for attention or because they're in pain.
It's okay for your Lab to bark or whine, but only in appropriate circumstances, which might include welcoming you home from work, alerting you to the presence of someone approaching the house, or in warning because of a fire or other danger. With training, your Lab can learn when it's okay to bark and when silence is golden.
Teaching Appropriate Barking
Start training the first day he comes home with you. If he barks when someone comes to the door (either before or after they knock or ring the doorbell), praise him for his alertness. If he doesn't bark, help him get into the spirit of things by saying “Who's there? Who is it?” Do the same for any other situations in which you want your Lab to bark.
To help your Lab understand that he must obey the rules of the house, be consistent with corrections. Look him in the eye and say “Aaaght” or “No” to deter an undesirable activity.
When your Lab has learned to alert you to people approaching the house, teach him how to be quiet. Let him bark once or twice, then say, “Enough” or “Quiet.” Your voice should distract him enough that he stops barking. If he does, say “Good quiet,” and give him a treat. Gradually extend the length of time between his silence and giving him the treat. Use the same technique to stop whining.
How to Correct Barking
If your Lab won't stop barking, should you wrap your hand around his muzzle to stop him? That's a technique recommended by some trainers, but if you're not careful your dog could accidentally bite you. Instead, try calling the dog or giving him a down command. Either action can distract him from barking. When he's quiet, praise him and give a treat.
You may have to employ a more negative correction if your Lab still won't stop barking. Solutions to try include a squirt from a spray bottle or tossing a small throw pillow toward the dog (don't hit him with it). Try to avoid loud verbal corrections for this behavior. Your Lab may decide you are joining in the barking and will bark even more loudly.
What if your Lab barks too much for no reason? The first thing to understand is that there's always a reason. It's your job to discover why he's barking excessively. Is he bored because he's alone all day? Are the squirrels in the yard taunting him? Is he running off all the delivery people that come down the street during the day?
Never reward your dog for barking unless it's a situation in which you want him to bark. Don't accidentally reward him for barking by letting him out of his crate, tossing his ball, or giving him his food immediately after he's been barking at you. Wait for him to be quiet for at least thirty seconds before you give him what he wants.
If your Lab is barking because he's bored, punishment is not the way to go. The easiest solution to this type of barking is to bring the dog inside the house. He should certainly be there at night, so he doesn't keep the neighbors awake. If your Lab barks during the day because he's bored while you're gone, rotate his toys so he always has something new. Prepare a goodie bag full of treats that he has to work at to get into. Use a paper bag, fill it with toys and treats, and tape it closed. Give it to your dog before you leave for work. He'll be so busy getting into it that he won't have time to bark.
Dealing with a Whining Lab
Dogs whine when they want something, when they're frustrated or excited, or when they're in pain. Make sure to know the reason for your Lab's whining. If he is whining out of frustration or for attention, don't offer a verbal correction. Instead, ignore the behavior and distract him with some other activity, such as practicing commands. If you know your Lab is in pain, comfort him and give him much affection and attention. Contact a veterinarian if you suspect there's something seriously wrong with him.
As with barking, never reward whining by giving the dog what he wants. If he's whining to get out of his crate or because he wants some of the chicken you're cutting up for dinner, turn your back on him. He doesn't get anything until he's quiet.