Tips on dealing with and training your new lab puppy, including the importance of crate training and socialization
Congratulations! You've searched for a puppy and decided on your little bundle of Labrador joy. After you're done with that initial cuddling and kissing, believe it or not, you've got lots of work to do to get that puppy trained!
Labrador Retrievers love to play and are very energetic - both as puppies and full grown dogs. They are people oriented, eager to please, and are one of the most friendly breeds of dogs out there. Generally speaking, labs are great to have as a family dog because they are good with kids! Labrador Retrievers are often purchased with the intent to use them as hunting dogs, but they work very well as companion animals. Because of their great "nose", they also work in narcotics, search and rescue positions, and as guide dogs.
BRINGING YOUR PUPPY HOME
When you bring your new lab pup home, make sure that you have devoted an entire day to helping him or her acclimate themselves to your home and family members. Do not get a new pup and think you can show him around for a few minutes and then lock him up while you are gone for the day. Remember, they have never seen your house before and will need some time to learn about their new home. Lab pups are very energetic and will want to explore their new surroundings. Make sure you are there to ensure everything stays safe.
If you have other animals, introduce the puppy to them one at a time. It works best if you have someone to help you do this. Some suggest keeping the pup on a leash and your other dog on a separate leash to let them first meet - this way they will be able to sniff each other and you can pull them away from each other should their initial meeting not go so well.
Do not overwhelm your new Labrador puppy. Introduce them to new family members, space, animals, toys, etc., slowly. No need to rush this process!
When you purchase your puppy, find out what kind of food they have been eating. Even if you don't intend on feeding your puppy the same as he has been eating, it is best to make a gradual switch from what he was eating to what you plan to feed. Switching too quickly can cause digestive upset.
CRATE TRAINING/HOUSE TRAINING
Crate training is an effective way to work on "house training" - the reason is simply because dogs do not want to soil the immediate area they are in. Crate training DOES NOT mean putting your pup in a crate for extended periods of time and forgetting about them. The theory behind crate training is that you are giving your pup short term confinement to help her bladder control. Put your pup in the crate for a short period of time, and when you let her back out, immediately take her outside (on a leash) and give her time to eliminate. If she goes, reward her with a "good job" or other treat. If she does not go, put her back in the crate for a short time until it is time to try again. Young pups need to be given the opportunity to eliminate every 45 minutes to an hour.
While working on house training, do not leave your pup unsupervised - this is often when accidents happen. If an accident does happen, do not yell at your dog or push their face into their mess, as was suggested in old obedience schools. If your dog has an accident, it is because YOU have left them unsupervised too long. Simply clean it up and continue to work on the training.
Puppies have to build up the bladder control to be able to go a whole night without having an outside break. Do not think this will happen right away! As with a brand new baby, you may be up for midnight outings with a puppy, too!
Crates may eventually be used as a place for sleeping and eating too, depending on what theories your trainer subscribes to and what works best for your family.
If you want to ensure that your dog is a well-adjusted member of dog and human society, it is important to start socializing them right away. Socializing a pup simply means that you get them out in the open, meeting people and other animals, introducing them to situations and noises"¦basically teaching them about the world they live in. Many dog owners have a dog, keep them home, and take them out once a year to a fair or outing, wondering why their dogs can't behave or become timid or aggressive. The same dog owners often have trouble with simple things such as bringing their dog to the vet! The key to avoiding this is to get your dog out in the world when it is a puppy.
Invite people and animals to your home to play with your puppy, but start slowly. A few people here and there for short periods of time is best to start with. Remember to include people of all ages with a mix of male and female. Have friends bring their dogs, cats, and/or other animals to meet your dog. Again, use your best judgment as to what your puppy can handle. Do not bring over a whole kennel of dogs at once to meet your puppy!
Take your puppy for car rides. Take your puppy to public places that allow animals. Parks are a great place to start, as well as the various pet food stores that welcome pets.
Socializing your dog also means that you get them comfortable with not just people and animals, but things. Many dogs are scared of vacuum cleaners, brooms, boxes, umbrellas, strollers, etc. Introduce your dog to these things so when they encounter them in daily life, it will not be so traumatic. This also goes for noises. Expose your pup to many different noises, but remember not to overwhelm them. Loud noises which may scare your pup should be introduced from far away and gradually moved closer. Don't rush your pup or make things too overwhelming - this could move your puppy backwards in their training.
Obedience training should begin at home, in an area your pup has grown familiar with. You can work on simple commands in your home without distractions and then take them to an obedience course. It may seem like you are back-tracking, but it really gives the pup a good base to work from if you've already started a few skills in the safety of your own home with no other dogs around. Here are three basic commands that are good to work on in your home:
Sit: If your dog is lying on the floor, hold a treat above his head and slowly move it backwards while saying "sit". Your puppy's eyes (and eventually, body) will follow that treat's movement backwards and he will end up in a sitting position. When he is in the sitting position, say "good sit!" and give him the treat.
Lie Down: This command it taught the opposite way that "sit" is taught. When your dog is sitting or standing up, hold a treat in front of his nose and slowly lower it to the ground. Your puppy's eyes and body will follow this treat and he will eventually lie down. Do not give him the treat until his entire body is laying on the floor. When he is in this position, day "good lay down!" and give him the treat.
Stand: While your puppy is sitting or lying down, hold a treat in front of his nose and slowly pull it out away from him. This will urge him to come forward and he will naturally end up standing. When he is in the desired position, say "good stand!" and give him the treat.
Some trainers feel that Labradors are slow to mature and may need longer training (and more patience from their handler!) than other breeds of dogs. Keep this in mind when working with your growing puppy.
After working on obedience at home, you can move your dog to a traditional obedience class you can attend together. Different trainers have different feelings regarding the right age to start group training, so you should contact trainers in your area to see when you can start.
Having a Lab puppy is a huge responsibility. It requires the energy to keep up with the pup, as well as the patience to work with him on understanding your expectations. The more time you spend working with him, the better he will work for you. Enjoy your Labrador Retriever, and good luck!