We recently brought home Bubba, a female chocolate lab puppy. Bubba is already sold as one of our Custom Trained Retrievers, so it is our responsibility to train her and raise her until she has progressed to the level of training the owner has requested. That means Bubba will be with for almost a year and a half.
We train one or two of these puppies each year, and over the years we have gotten pretty good at it. We also train adult dogs for hunting and competition, so we see a lot of dogs come into our program. Dogs that have each been raised differently. There are some definite training tips that can help you help your lab grow up to be the best version of himself.
Training and socialization for very young Labrador puppies – week one
The first week of a puppy being away from its litter is very stressful for the puppy. Most often, the first two days, the puppy will sleep a lot! The pup is adjusting to all the changes, and they need time to do that.
After the first couple days you may notice a spike of energy. This is your sign that the puppy is adjusting well and is ready to be exposed to a few more things.
Labrador puppy training that first week home
Here are the things we work on during week one.
We put a collar on our puppies’ day one. A nylon adjustable one is usually best since puppies grow quickly. It often takes the puppy a few days to adjust to having a collar on. Don’t worry if your puppy scratches at the collar, he/she will soon adjust and not even know it is on.
We introduce our puppies to a crate on day one. Literally the day we bring them home. The best way to do this is to take your puppy outside to go potty and then bring him/her in and put them in the crate. Be careful that you don’t stuff too much stuff in the crate with the puppy. A small hand towel (that you don’t care about) and a nylon bone is enough.
Most puppies will cry, bark or howl while in the crate the first few (or many) times. Ignore it, it does not hurt the puppy at all. The important thing to remember about crate training is that you do not want the crate in your bedroom or anywhere close to where you sleep, and you don’t want to take your puppy out of the crate while he/she is making noise. Always wait until the puppy settles down and is quiet, even if that quiet only lasts for just a minute or two.
Intro to housebreaking
Another day one lesson and one that will last for a few weeks or months. We introduce housebreaking day one by allowing the puppy to run around an enclosed area under close supervision. If you notice your puppy start to squat to go potty, say NO, grab the puppy and run him/her outside. If your puppy then goes potty outside, great! Praise the puppy saying, “Good Dog”.
The thing to remember about housebreaking, is that your puppy should never be allowed to roam the house or a room without supervision. The only way to housebreak a dog is for them to get caught in the middle of an accident. That is how they learn that what they are doing is not right.
We introduce a leash to our puppies around day three of being home. Up until that point, the puppies are still responsive and can’t run too fast. But once they start getting more energy and get more inquisitive, we use a Flexi-lead attached to the nylon collar to take the puppy outside. This accomplishes two goals. We don’t have to run after the puppy to get them to come inside and the puppy learns to deal with the pressure of having a leash attached to their collar. The gentle tugs on the leash and pressure when the puppy strains against the leash are great training for handling pressure as they get older.
Intro to pressure and correction
The last thing we introduce to our new puppy during the first week home is pressure and correction. This is an often-missing element to training that can severely handicap a dog that you want to be a hunting companion or competition dog.
The kind of pressure I am talking about is very mild such as saying NO to the puppy when they are chewing up your shoes or scratching through the carpet.
Another form of pressure that I use that first week is picking my puppy up by the scruff of his/her neck. This is the way mama dogs carry their puppies and it does not hurt them at all. If my puppy is being big trouble, chewing up my shoes or such, we will pick the puppy up by the scruff and gently shake him/her saying NO. This does not hurt the puppy; it is exactly what a mama dog does to teach her puppies.
Commands to start using that first week home
The first week there are some commands we start using so that the puppy will associate the words we use with actions.
No bite command
With puppies, a NO BITE command is vital. Puppies play and explore with their mouths, and often they will think it is great fun to bite your hands and feet. Day one I use a NO BITE command to stop this behavior. Each time the puppy bites me, I grab her mouth, and say NO BITE. If this does not curb the behavior, I grab her lower jaw, wrapping her gums around her teeth and squeeze. This causes her to essentially bite herself while I am saying NO BITE.
I have found this to be very effective, especially if you start this the first week you have the puppy home. The longer you wait to start, the harder it becomes to stop this behavior. It takes very little pressure to stop a 7-week-old puppy from biting.
Learn more about how to stop your Lab puppy from biting you.
The OFF command is also started day one. The OFF command is used to stop a puppy or dog from jumping on you. It can also be used to keep a dog off a sofa or other furniture.
Starting day one, I gently use my knee to push down the puppy each time they jump on me. I say OFF when I do this. Usually, a gentle push with the knee is all it takes with a very small puppy. They learn this command very quickly. If your puppy is a bit more energetic or stubborn and tries to jump on you despite your gentle pushes, then you may need to use a little more force. Even if you were to knock your puppy backwards onto her back, that is not going to hurt her seriously. But it will likely make a good impression and cause her to think twice before jumping on you again.
With jumping, consistency is important. You must knock your puppy off every time she jumps on you. Learn more about how to stop your Lab from jumping on you.
The first command we use is OUTSIDE. We use this as a que when we are taking the puppy outside to go potty. We simply say OUTSIDE as we walk the puppy out the door to outside. Soon we will be able to say OUTSIDE and the puppy will run to the door.
The second command we start using is HERE-HERE. We use this while the puppy is on a leash, and we are pulling them toward us. As we walk toward the door to go into the house, we also say HERE-HERE. While we walk along outside, we say HERE HERE to keep the puppy following us. At this point the command doesn’t mean anything, but it will make a difference as the dog gets older and we start working on the HERE command.
Lastly, for dogs with a lot of energy that don’t like to be held or sit still, I start using a SETTLE command. I only use this command for very young dogs. This command is done while I am holding the puppy and restraining him/her from moving. Hug the puppy tightly or hold onto the puppy collar and say in a soothing voice, SETTLE. You can stroke your puppy’s head and body as you say SETTLE.
Your goal is to get the puppy to rest in your arms and not move. Depending on how active your dog is, you may only get your puppy to SETTLE for 10 seconds at first. But if you keep at it, you will see your dog settle for longer and longer periods of time.
Introduction to retrieving
Lastly, since all our puppies are retrievers, we start introducing the puppy to retrieving. The first few times are simply throwing a toy a few feet and if the puppy runs out and gets it and comes back to you, great. Pet and praise the puppy while he/she holds the toy. Then take the item and throw it again.
If the puppy does not come back or does not even run out to get the item, then stop for the day. Don’t push retrieving at this point. Just let the retrieving develop naturally. Next week we will start more formal retrieving training.
Final thoughts on what you should do that first week with your new Labrador puppy
As you can see, there is a lot of training that you can do with your seven- or eight-week-old puppy. And while you can wait for training, your puppy is ready and able to learn quickly right now.
I will be posting weekly on the training we are doing with Bubba, so you can get a week-by-week snapshot of how we raise and train a puppy up to be a excellent, responsive hunting or competition dog as well as a well-mannered family dog.
If you are struggling or need additional help with your new puppy, you can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or just give me a call (651-303-6459). I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time, happy retrieving.