Labrador Puppies: Selection and Training

You are considering becoming the proud owner of a Labrador puppy and likely have many questions about what to do next, including selection and training your Labrador puppy.

The absolute best way for me to help you start training your Labrador puppy to be obedient is by showing you how in my free puppy training video series. In this free series you’ll learn how to train your Labrador in a way that actually gets him to listen to you… that’s why I actually call this free training series, “Learning to Listen.”

Getting your puppy to pay attention to you, and actually listen and comprehend the commands and rules in your home is integral to getting your Lab to be obedient fast. Labradors are smart, and if you train them to ‘Listen’ first, using this clever method that I’ll teach you for free, you’ll save yourself a LOT of headaches in the future.

Here’s the link where you can watch the “Learning To Listen” Series:

Training Labrador puppies is best started around 2 months of age; the same time as he has been weaned from his mother. This life-long commitment is the beginning of a wonderful relationship between owner and dog. Our goal here is to make sure you have adequate and accurate information for you to use during your Labrador puppy training.

Quick Facts on the Labrador Retriever

The Labrador retriever is the most popular dog breed, according to the American Kennel Club. When fully-grown, it can reach heights of up to 24.5 inches at the shoulder and weights of up to 80 pounds.

These dogs require weekly brushing and occasional baths. They have a water-repellent coat that is relatively thick. It will also shed. The coat needs to be maintained, but isn’t overly needy in maintenance. A weekly brush should do the trick.

In general, Labs don’t have any extreme dietary needs. It should thrive on medium to high-quality dog food, and should also be monitored for obesity. Remember; your Lab is supposed to be fed dog food, not table scraps. Some of the food can have chemicals or other ingredients that are harmful to dogs.

Labs are extremely energetic dogs and require plenty of physical attention. In general, they enjoy playing fetch, going on walks and runs, and swimming. Labs are extremely playful and could also be considered hyper, so they need proper attention to divert their energy away from things like destructive chewing.

The History of the Labrador Retriever

The Labrador Retriever began as a water-dog in the Island of Newfoundland. The dog was bred specifically for this purpose, as you can tell by looking at its physical characteristics. In the frigid northern waters of the Atlantic, as well as the Arctic, dogs with long or excessive fur would carry extra water with them on their coat outside of the water. This water would freeze, causing long-haired dogs to get encrusted in ice. The Lab’s coat is short to prevent this. The Lab’s coat is also water-repellent. The fur is very thick, generating plenty of warmth.

The Lab’s otter-like tail is a very effective rudder in the water, helping to propel it through the water quickly. Its tail helps to both produce thrust and steer the Lab through the water.  This tail is a signature characteristic of the Labrador retriever.

Its personality as a retriever also suits its original job. It would be placed on a fishing boat and sent to retrieve fish from the trawl. Its high stamina and energy are perfect for a steady, physical job that required the rare combination of long endurance as well as quick bursts of energy.

The Lab was first seen by English nobility on a trip to the Island of Newfoundland, who noted the dogs for their temperament, sturdiness, and elegance. They eventually began to purchase Labrador Retriever specimens, and at some point began calling them “Labrador dogs”, due to the close association between Labrador and the Island of Newfoundland.

These same members of the nobility returned to England with the Labs, which were used for sport. Breeders in England quickly began to refine the breed to create the golden standard. They were inducted into the Kennel Club in 1903. He was officially recognized by its cousin organization, the American Kennel Club, in 1917.

Since then, the Labrador has become the most popular of the dog breeds, maintaining that status since 1992.

Labrador Health Concerns

Before obtaining a Labrador puppy, it is ideal to have the breeder test it for hip dysplasia. If it is not done before purchasing, it is highly recommended that you, as the owner, take it to the vet and have it screened for hip dysplasia or elbow dysplasia.

Labrador retrievers are at risk of developing a life-threatening health condition in the stomach known as bloat. Bloat is a very dangerous health condition for dogs, and they can die within hours if not treated. Bloat is also known as gastric dilation and volvulus, or GDV. It’s a condition where the stomach twists and fills up with gas, causing – you guessed it – bloating in the belly area of dogs. The pressure keeps building, which can kill tissue and cause the stomach to rupture.

Additionally, the bloating on the stomach can lead to pressure against the diaphragm and lead to respiratory problems. An additional risk is the cut-off of blood flow to the heart. It is very important for owners to be cautious of the symptoms of bloat and to educate themselves in order to take the necessary action to preserve the life of their Labrador.

In general, however, Labs are healthy dogs, and are comparable to the majority of dog breeds when it comes to hereditary diseases. Labrador retriever puppies are very outgoing and energetic. They are both hearty, meaning robust and cheerful, and hardy, meaning that they are capable of enduring stressful conditions. A Labrador dog owner doesn’t have much to fear as far as health conditions go, as long as they do their homework, treat them well, and get them properly screened.

More Breed Info

Here’s some more info on the training of a Labrador puppy, per the American Kennel Club:

“With the Lab’s physical strength and high energy level, early socialization and puppy training classes are vital. Gently exposing the puppy to a wide variety of people, places, and situations between the ages of 7 weeks and 4 months and beginning obedience training early on will help him develop into a well-adjusted, well-mannered adult. Puppy training classes serve as part of the socialization process and help the owner learn to recognize and correct any bad habits that may be developing. Labs are devoted, intelligent, and enthusiastic companions who need to be included in family activities.”

When to Start Training Your Lab

You may have been told multiple ages of when to begin training your puppy. There are conflicting points of view.

A lot of dog trainers recommend not beginning to train your dog until it is around 6 months old. Many other trainers, on the other hand, state that you should start training your puppy as soon as you acquire it, around 8 weeks of age. These two conflicting views can lead to lots of confusion as to which one is correct. You’re probably wondering, then: When should is the right time start training my Labrador puppy? Which answer is the correct one? Is my Labrador puppy too young to be able to train safely and properly?

It seems that the advice for withholding training until the puppy is older generally comes from trainers that use negative reinforcement as a means of training. Young puppies may be unable to withstand the physical rigors and stress of methods like the “choke-chain”. You would probably agree that these methods would be too hard on such a young puppy.

There was an argument that dogs trained at six months were capable of reaching the same training level as dogs that were started earlier. This would lead to the assumption that there was no need to start working the dog sooner and adding more stress to its lifestyle. There was also the traditional belief that younger puppies weren’t mentally mature enough to be able to handle the cognitive aspects of training.

With positive reinforcement as the primary training method, however, there is no reason that a young puppy wouldn’t be able to handle training.

The eight week rule is really based more around the idea of beginning training as soon as you obtain your puppy. Generally speaking, 8 weeks old is the youngest that you will be able to obtain a puppy, and so, with this school of thinking, that’s when you’ll start training.

A puppy younger than 8 weeks old should still be spending the vast majority of its time with its parents – especially the mother – and siblings because this socialization will teach it a lot about proper behavior. It will learn bite inhibition, communicating with other dogs, pack order, proper play, and how to accept discipline, to name a few things. Adopting a puppy any earlier is detrimental to the development of the dog.

Puppies younger than eight weeks may not be able to grasp the associations getting shown to it through training, due to a brain that isn’t fully-formed yet. After that age, though, puppies are fair game for training.

Keep in mind, however, that just because you may not begin formal training of your puppy once you receive it, you will still be informally training it. Your dog will form associations between actions and outcomes, so if you praise your 8-week-old puppy while it jumps on furniture, it will think it’s okay.

This is an example why it is important to begin training your puppy once you receive it, with an eye towards the future. Stephen Covey, after all, said that one of the 7 habits of highly effective people is to “begin with the end in mind.”

The Labrador Training HQ has some more great tips that back up my views on both when to begin training and the methods to use:

You are Your Puppy’s Parent, Mentor, Pack Leader and Teacher

When you get your puppy home at 8 weeks, they know nothing about the world… Nothing!

Know that once you have your puppy, everything you do, everything they see, every good experience, bad experience, taste, smell, sight, reward and punishment trains them in some way.

All of these experiences are granted to them by you and they will be looking to you for guidance through these experiences.

Puppies are exactly like children. They cannot take care of themselves and are naïve to the world around them. But they’re highly observant and will be studying your every move as they learn about our world.

They take their cues from you to learn where they can go, where they should not, what they should be scared of, what they should not, what they can play with, what they can not…and on and on.

You’re teaching them every minute of every day, whether you mean to or not.

You may as well take advantage of this innocence, when they have no idea of what life is with no preconceived ideas, no habits formed or needing to be broken, to start training them to fit into the life that they will lead with the skills that they will need.

It’s far easier to prevent problems occurring and bad habits forming than it is to solve them later in life.

So, When To Start Training a Puppy?

I believe you should start to train your Labrador puppy as soon as you get them home, from 8 weeks of age.

With modern techniques such as clicker training, shaping and lure and reward training, there are fun and easy ways to get started when they’re young in a stress free and fun way.

They’re learning all the time anyway, so you may as well take advantage and throw in some useful training…but have fun with it along the way.

But I stress this important point, to make it fun!

Never ‘Correct’ Your Puppy Or Ask Too Much of Them

If you start training your puppy at 8 weeks old, you shouldn’t expect too much of them. And you certainly shouldn’t be correcting them.

You have to think of a puppy as a very young child. A puppy is just as impulsive, has just as little self-control and just as short an attention span.

You don’t expect a child to act all grown up, eating only what they’re supposed to, playing with only their toys, staying exactly where you ask them to and listening intently to your every word doing exactly as they’re told.

You need to think the same with a puppy. They are just like a child.

A puppy will eat what they like, when they like. Go where they can, when they can. Play with and chew on everything in sight whether it’s theirs or not. And they will not be able to listen to and act on your every word.

They will have a very short attention span and no self-control. But when you do have their attention, you’ll be surprised at what they can learn.

What Rules Should We Follow When Training a Young Labrador Puppy?

It’s very easy to expect too much too soon and end up causing your puppy stress, taking the fun out of it and doing more harm than good. So…

It’s very important that you never correct your puppy while they’re too young to understand or do not have the mental ability to control themselves. It would be totally unfair.

It’s very important to keep any training ‘game based’ and very short, just 1 to 3 minutes max. They have short attention spans and you don’t want to teach them to dislike training by making it hard and stressful.

It’s very important to keep training tasks simple, setting your puppy up to succeed while avoiding failure. This means going very slowly and not expecting too much. Having many small wins is very encouraging. Many failures are frustrating and stressful and can kill a puppy’s enthusiasm for training and learning.

Just do very gentle training exercises for short periods of time. Hope you can have their attention but if they aren’t interested or make a mistake, let them be, don’t force it, play with them instead and try later.

Here’s an example of one of the Impulse Control training games we DO recommend everyone train their puppies:

The Elevator Game

What Can You Train a Labrador Puppy to Do?

Most people with a Labrador as a family pet will think of training as obedience commands and performing tricks.

But bearing in mind to ‘go slow and not expect too much’, you can’t expect a puppy to put the laundry in the basket or perform a 3 minute sit with children running around. But you can train them basic things such as:

Sit

Lie down

Stay (for mere seconds…with no distractions! Keep it easy!)

Roll over

Crawl

Give paw

Basic retrieves

…and more besides!

1st Steps When Training Lab Puppies

Labradors love to play and can be quite energetic, both as puppies and adult dogs. They aim to please their owner and surrounding members of the family. They need lots of exercise to continue to be happy and healthy animals.

Being intelligent beyond that of most dogs, they are one of the best breeds to have with children in the home. To keep having an obedient Labrador, it’s time to start puppy training. The initial part of Lab puppy training involves getting into the daily swing of things. Knowing where his food and water dishes are is a great place to start.

Following that will be learning when he eats, when and where he sleeps, puppy potty training and what toys belong to him, and not you. Also needed is clarity in what is expected of your Labrador, and what is not acceptable. It is very important to use clear and concise commands.

Before dog training starts, you have to consider the training method you intend to use. This method needs to be consistent, so making the decision is one that requires some research.

Many professional animal trainers use what’s called positive reinforcement. This philosophy believes that animals are much better behaved and easier to train when they’re earning rewards and praise than if they’re being punished. Punishment and negative reinforcement training has actually been proven to cause aggression and unwanted behaviors.

One common tool used in positive reinforcement training is the clicker.  It’s a small hand held device which makes a clicking sound when pressed. It can be found at most pet supply stores for a couple bucks.  The purpose of the clicker is to mark the correct behavior with a sound. More info on clicker training. It’s more consistent than a word or phrase from the owner – and faster – which means it’s easier for your dog to understand when they’ve performed the correct behavior.  Follow the click with a reward, like a tasty treat, and you’re off to a great start.

Lab Puppy Training Tips

Now that you have a plan for positive reinforcement it’s time for housebreaking or potty training.  When it comes to potty training there are some specific Labrador training tips. Labradors are larger dogs and that means they’ll be able to begin holding their bladder earlier than many smaller dogs.  This is good news because it means you can begin potty training almost from the day you bring your Labrador puppy home.

When it comes to Labrador training tips, one of the fastest ways to potty train your Labrador puppy is to use a kennel.  Crate training not only makes house training easier, it provides your Labrador puppy with a structure and a safe place to go during the day.

Dogs, including your Labrador retriever puppy, have a natural instinct not to mess where they sleep, therefore if you leave too much free space, he will be able to do his business in the cage but still sleep far enough away from it. As your Labrador puppy grows, keep moving the barrier until it is no longer needed.

Never use the crate or kennel as a means of punishment for your dog. Your goal is to provide a safe and secure area that your Labrador puppy can turn to for rest and reprieve when needed. Using it as a punishment will simply defeat its purpose. You need to introduce the crate from day one as being related to safety.

Labrador retriever puppy training tips – for the use of a crate in a positive nature – are easy enough to follow. It is a gradual training that should only be used for short periods of time at first. However, once your pup becomes accustomed to this you will find him going to his kennel on his own for a nap or a time-out during situations he finds uncomfortable.

When you begin to use the kennel for longer periods of time such as while you are at work or out for any length of time, you need to teach him when you open the door to his crate it’s time to go outside. It’s best to already have leash in hand before you open the door because it won’t take your Lab long to find a different place for elimination.

You are still trying to reinforce the good behavior of him doing his duties outside, so make sure you have your clicker and a treat on hand to praise him again for a job well done.

The Bottom Line:

Training Labrador retriever puppies begins with the right training method and a plan.  Know the rules and what you expect from your puppy before you begin training so you can be consistent.  Lab pups are intelligent and eager to please, a little love and patience, and a few Labrador training tips, will go a long way with this breed and he’ll grow into the wonderful dog you know he can be.

Watch this “Learning To Listen’ dog training video series for free to watch actual demonstrations of how you should start your training:

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