Raising a retriever puppy like the pros
Your Labrador puppy can seem small and fragile during those first few weeks home from the breeder. But I assure you, he/she is not. Puppies this age are ready and willing to learn, so don’t let their small size deter you from diving right in with training. Labrador puppies will learn quickly about acceptable and unacceptable behavior those first few weeks, if you, the owner, are willing to set and enforce boundaries. Here is the training you should be working on with your 10-week-old Labrador puppy.
Training and socialization for 10-week-old Labrador puppy – week three home
Your 10-week-old puppy has been with your family for approximately 3 weeks now. This week you should start noticing some bigger changes with your puppy.
Here are some of the changes I notice with Bubba.
- First, she is growing fast! Bubba is almost ready for a new collar already. I have loosened her current collar twice, and there is no more room to expand it.
- She is also learning a lot. That’s not to say she doesn’t still get into things around the house, she does, but the difference is that now a sharp NO will cause her to turn away from an item she knows she isn’t supposed to be chewing (like my flip-flops).
- Bubba is also becoming more personable. She likes and has more interest in people now and wants to be petted and scratched more often.
Training equipment for Lab puppy
We added a couple new training tools this week.
30-foot-long light-weight check cord
This is simply a long rope with a brass snap or clip on the end. We use a thinner rope, since we don’t want a lot of weight at this age. But a thicker check cord will also work.
We use this check cord for longer outside marks and assistant-marks which I will discuss more in a bit.
Puppy sized canvas or light-weight plastic bumpers
In week two, we introduced formal retrieving in a hallway in the house. In week three, we move outside with retrieving and introduce assistant throws, so it is helpful to have a few more bumpers.
Puppy training that will continue
Much of the training I have been working on for the past two weeks with Bubba will continue into this week and beyond. Dog training is not something that has a definitive end-date. Your puppy will need to continue to learn throughout his/her life. And you will need to continue to practice and enforce training throughout your dog’s life.
For instance, you teach your puppy to SIT and then you must work and practice that command daily or weekly, often for months before the response to the command is solid. But even once the response is solid, you cannot completely stop training. If you stop training, even an older dog, the dog can lose the previous training. So, realize that you are never done working with your dog, especially on obedience training.
Some areas that we will continue training Bubba on are:
Bubba is doing great at crate training. She rarely makes any noise while in her crate and settles down quickly after being put into her crate. In the upcoming weeks, we will work towards getting Bubba to enter her crate on command. Right now, we still guide her into the crate holding onto her collar while saying the KENNEL command.
In week three, I feel confident leaving Bubba in the crate for 2 ½ to 3 hours at a time, followed by an hour of play time or time on the tie out.
Housebreaking Bubba is going well. We have caught her in a few accidents, but she already seems to understand that she is not supposed to go potty inside. This does not mean that she is done housebreaking. We still expect accidents and will for a few months, so we watch her carefully while she is running around in the house. We also praise her for behaviors like going to the door and tapping the door or whining at the door. These behaviors are rewarded with us taking her outside to go potty. When she goes potty outside, we praise her and then take her right back in. We don’t let her spend a lot of time outside during potty breaks because we don’t want her to think that she just gets to go outside and play whenever she whines or taps the door. We want her to start understanding that these cue behaviors will get her out to go potty and that is all.
Commands we use in week three
The OKAY command is a release command. We will use this while teaching our puppy the SIT command. After we have the puppy SIT for a few seconds, we will say OKAY and that means the puppy can move around again and stop sitting. It also will be used going forward, anytime we are done working on structured obedience work. We will release the dog from formal work with the OKAY command. The OKAY command means go ahead and run around and act like a dog, you no longer need to SIT or HEEL.
We use the KENNEL command to teach our dogs to go into their kennel or crate. But we also use it to mean go to a certain place, such as on a mat or stand. At this age, we are only using the KENNEL command when we want the puppy to go inside the house, through a door. Or, when we want her to go into her crate or kennel. This is an associative command, meaning the puppy will learn the command through our repetition of the word as we tie it to a behavior.
For instance, each time I walk Bubba back into the house after going potty, as we go through the door, I say KENNEL. And each time I put Bubba in her crate, I say KENNEL. Right now, she doesn’t understand the command enough to perform it on her own. But over time, she will make the association and will perform it on her own.
When we send a dog for a retrieve, we send them using their name. This is very important especially if you ever plan on doing more advanced training with your retriever. So, BUBBA is the command we use to send Bubba for a retrieve. You will use whatever your dogs name is.
A few commands that we will continue to work on this week
We will continue to work on obedience commands this week and in the weeks to come. Each week we will expect a little more and better compliance and performance to the command.
Bubba is doing well on the SIT command. She is sitting when I put the leash and chain collar on her and when I am taking it off. When we take a walk, I occasionally call Bubba to me and make her SIT, and then release her with an OKAY command.
This week we also added SIT before eating. So, each time we feed Bubba, we make her SIT in front of her dish and then we say OKAY, and she can go eat. We only make her SIT for a few seconds; we are working on control. She does not SIT on her own yet, but she will be doing that within a week or so I would guess. Right now, I grab her collar and say SIT.
Week two I started using the HEEL command when walking Bubba on leash with a chain collar. In week three, I have a slightly higher expectation. On walks, I make her walk right beside me for a minute or two using the HEEL command before releasing her and letting her run back and forth a bit. I will slowly increase the time I expect her to HEEL over the next few months.
Walking at HEEL takes a lot of self-control on the dog’s part. Don’t expect perfection too soon.
We started using a HERE command with Bubba in week one, but with very little expectation. In week two, we expected a little more effort, and in week three even more effort on Bubba’s part.
I want to see Bubba turn towards me when I say HERE. This tells me that she understands the command. Then I pull her toward me on the leash while saying HERE-HERE-HERE. When she gets to me, I pet her and say GOOD GIRL. Then release her.
It is VERY important that you call your puppy to you on a regular basis, pet him/her and release him/her. If every time your puppy comes to you, you put her away or take something away from her, soon your puppy will not want to come to you. You must work hard to make coming to you a good experience for your puppy. So, call her, praise her when she comes and release.
Remember: Never use a HERE command if you are not in the position of being able to enforce the command. If you are saying HERE-HERE-HERE while you are running around the yard chasing your puppy, you are doing more harm than good.
If your puppy is noisy, you are going to need to implement a QUIET command and correction. Noise corrections are done like the NO BITE command. Simply grab your puppy’s muzzle when she is barking or making noise, and firmly squeeze it while saying QUIET.
Make every effort to socialize your puppy
You should continue to take steps to socialize your 10-week-old puppy. Put him/her in new situations, expose him/her to new noises, new people, new places. Anything you can think of. The more things and situations you expose your puppy to, the better your puppy will be equipped to adjust and learn in the future.
Introduction to retrieving outside
If you have introduced your puppy to retrieving as explained in our previous posts, using a hallway and a paint roller or canvas bumper, and if your puppy is doing well with that, it is time to move him/her outside.
Hand throws with a puppy bumper (you are throwing out a bumper) done outside will carry a lot more distraction than retrieves in a hallway. Don’t be surprised if your puppy doesn’t retrieve outside the first time you try. Just pick up the bumper and try again tomorrow.
When retrieving outside, make sure you have a long 30-foot rope attached to your puppy. Never try to do retrieves outside without a rope. You will have problems and encourage bad behaviors. You must have a way to get the puppy to come back to you, otherwise you should not be doing retrieves outside.
Once your puppy is doing well retrieving outside, you are ready to introduce assistant marks.
Introduction to assistant marks
The most important thing we worked on with Bubba this week is assistant marks. Assistant marks are retrieves where someone else is throwing the bumper, not you. This teaches your puppy to watch out in the field for a mark. If your dog is going to hunt or compete, it is vital for him/her to learn to watch for the birds (marks) out in the field. It is very rare that a duck will come from behind you, fly over your head and you shoot it. The ducks and pheasants will be falling in front of you, so the dog must learn to look out and watch for the mark.
We start assistant marks on very short grass with white plugs so that the puppy can clearly see the item on the ground. We hold the puppy in a SIT position facing a thrower who is about 20 feet from you. The thrower says HEY-HEY and throws the plug horizontal to where you and the puppy are sitting.
As soon as the thrower throws the plug, release your puppy with his/her name. When your puppy picks up the bumper, immediately start calling her back to you. Remember, you should have the 30-foot check cord on her so you can pull the puppy in if needed.
Once you get the puppy to come to you, don’t be in a hurry to take the bumper away. Rather, let him/her hold the bumper while you pet and give your puppy praise. Then, take the bumper from her, throw it behind you, make your puppy sit facing the thrower again and repeat. Only do 2-4 retrieves and then call it a day.
Soon your puppy will learn this game and love it. They will start facing the thrower on their own and sitting and waiting for a mark.
Final thoughts on training for your 10-week-old Labrador puppy
10-week-old puppies are so eager to learn, so be sure and take advantage of this enthusiasm to teach new concepts and enforce previous ones. Continue to teach your puppy to handle more and more pressure and correction while maintaining a good attitude. Lastly, assistant marks are a big deal. Once a dog learns this part of the game, you can work to increase the distance and complexity of the marks. Don’t try and go too fast though. Give your puppy time to understand and perform the new tasks he/she is learning.
If you are struggling or need additional help with your new puppy, you can email me (email@example.com) 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.