Whether you have a lifetime of experience raising Labradors or are planning to adopt your first furry friend, it is always helpful to have resources to turn to when struggling with anything from behavior issues and nutrition questions, to looking for helpful tips on training and appropriate exercises to help keep your pet healthy.
Over the years, I have researched and collected a number of resources to help guide me in the process of raising our Labradors. Below is a list I have complied to help make it easier for you to access these resources when in need for general answers:
Health and Nutrition
The American Kennel Club - The AKC is a great resource for all things dog related. Visit this link to access a number of articles related to your Labrador’s nutritional needs. If you have questions about their general health, you can visit this link to access articles covering a wide variety of topics for all canine life stages.
Dog Food Advisor - This is a great site to refer to when considering what to feed your canine friend. The organization has researched over 4,500 dog food products and offers unbiased reviews and ratings on each of them. You can also sign up to be alerted of any and all dog food product recalls.
Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook. 4th Edition, 2007, written by Debra Eldredge, DVM, and Delbert G. Carlson, DVM. This is an excellent resource for general health conditions. While we always depend on our veterinarians for the care of our Labradors, we find that this to be an indispensable resource when caring for our Labradors.
Exercise and Training
The Labrador Site - We love this website as it is specific to raising and training the Labrador Retriever. There are hundreds of articles that cover everything from basic training tips to behavior modification. Also, you can find a number of product reviews on items such as dog beds, toys, grooming tools, and books. Definitely a site worth “bookmarking”.
Labrador Training HQ - An excellent resource for all things related to the Labrador Retriever, especially when it comes to training your Labrador.
Whole Dog Journal - Although not Labrador specific, this website has numerous articles covering topics related to training and behavior modification.
While there are a number of other resources available out there on the web, we have found these to be our most valuable source of information. Of course, having a good relationship with your veterinary office is extremely important, as they too are an excellent resource for all things related to the care of your furry companion.
Be Calm and Hug Your Labrador
One of the most common questions I am asked (often in a panic-stricken voice) is, “How can I get my puppy to stop chewing my (insert item here)?” And, oh how I empathize because I certainly recognize the plea for a solution. While all of our years of puppy raising has not made us immune to the relentless chewing puppy; it has provided us with some experience and, therefor, wisdom as to what can be done to help deter this destructive habit.
Never, ever, leave your puppy alone to her own devices, with unlimited freedom! The motto on the farm is, “A quiet puppy is a puppy in trouble.” Unless, that is, that puppy is sleeping because she is worn out from all the mental and physical stimulation we try to give her throughout the day. But, even then, we make sure that said puppy is not out of our range of sight.
If we cannot supervise our puppy, then we put her in her crate or an area where she can be protected from herself! And, if we are busy doing chores around the house and would rather not put her in her crate, then I put her on her leash, tie it around my waste, and have her tag alongside me. This works perfectly as her curiosity keeps her engaged in all the “interesting” things I am doing around the house!
Mental and Physical Activity
“A good Lab is a tired Lab,” is a frequent quote we hear in the Labrador community. Nothing could be closer to the truth when referring to a Labrador puppy. Whether 8 weeks old or 8 months old, the Lab puppy is still actively learning about the world around him. Furthermore, all puppies, not just Labradors, learn by putting every new (and old) thing in their mouths.
As he gets older, a puppy’s curiosity, if untamed, can also get him into trouble. A great way to curtail this is to provide him with an ample amount of age-appropriate physical and mental exercise. Here are a few ideas:
* Mix-up your daily exercise. Taking a different direction or going to a different location on your walks can help keep your puppy from getting bored. Adding new sights, sounds, and smells can provide a plethora of new and exciting mental stimulation for him. You may also want to consider mixing up his daily exercise by adding in swimming and a game of fetch!
* Teach your dog a new trick. Daily mental exercises are just as important to your pup’s overall well-being as physical activity. In addition to a regular training regimen to help reinforce the basic commands your puppy has already learned, try adding a new command or trick to your routine. Some fun, yet simple, tricks you can teach him are: high-five, weave between your legs, and roll-over. Visit http://www.akc.org/content/dog-training/tricks/ to learn about other fun things you can teach your pup.
* Add interactive puzzles to your dog’s toy box. There are a number of puzzle-based and interactive toy products available to help exercise your dog’s brain. The extra bonus is that the mental stimulation will help to relieve his boredom (the lead cause of destructive chewing). Check out this article on The Labrador Site to learn about all the available options out there for interactive toys for your puppy.
Despite all of our efforts, there are still going to be periods of time when your puppy (especially your Labrador puppy) is going to have the urge and, oftentimes, need to chew. Your puppy will feel the need to chew in order to relieve the pressure not only during the teething phase, but even after that time, when the adult teeth are still settling into the gums. If you do not have acceptable chew toys around for your puppy, then she will turn to the next best thing: your furniture legs, your shoes, or even that brand new rug you just put in your dining room.
At the farm, our Labs, both young and senior, have a favorite chew toy: the elk antler. We always have 5 or 6 lying around the house, plus a couple extra in storage. The girls LOVE them anytime, but most especially when they are going through a chewing phase or when we are busy around the farm with other chores. The best thing about elk antlers is that they last for a long time, so while they can be pricey, I remind myself about all that expensive furniture I am protecting! We found an excellent resource for these antlers while participating in a recent dog show - Elk Antler Dog Treats. You can find these and other chew treats for your puppy on their website: https://elkantlerdogtreats.com.
While most puppies are chewers, there is no question that the Labrador puppy is one of the more relentless chewers. They are a “mouthy” breed, happiest when they have something in their mouth. While this is essentially unavoidable, taking these steps can help you to redirect your Lab puppy’s chewing energy towards other, more acceptable, behaviors.
While the early weeks of a puppy’s life are considered “critical” growth stages, by the time they reach 12 weeks old, they are entering into a crucial socialization period. This is the time when all of their experiences, both positive and negative, will influence their behavior as they grow into adult dogs. It is often referred to as the “foundational period” that informs who he becomes for the rest of his life.
So how can you help your puppy during this crucial period? The best way to do this is to expose him to as much as possible, ensuring that all of his experiences are positive. Now that his immunity has matured, it is safe to go to public places such as pet stores and parks. It is also a great time to enroll him in puppy kindergarten, such as the AKC STAR Puppy class, where he will have the opportunity to play and interact with a variety of other dogs, and people, while learning important social and behavioral skills.
Now is also the perfect time to start introducing your puppy to a variety of sights, sounds, and smells. If you ensure that your puppy has positive experiences with different people, things, voices, and more, then he is less likely to be surprised, scared, or even worse, aggressive when he encounters something new.
The following is a checklist of suggested situations to expose your puppy to as he grows up:
Child on a bike
Man wearing a hat
Person walking a puppy/dog
Person in a wheel chair
Man with a beard
Child dancing and jumping
Person using a broom
A festival or party
Ride on an elevator
Person pushing a baby stroller
Person in a trench coat
Women in a dress
Man in a suit
Person with a ball
Child playing with a toy
People of different races
Person with sunglasses
Children at a playground
Person at a drive-through window
Trucks and Cars
Person in uniform
Outdoor sporting games (basketball, baseball, tennis, etc.)
Of course, these are only a few suggestions, as there are a number of other opportunities you may be aware of based upon your own neighborhood situations. The greater the variety of experiences, the more comfortable your dog will be when she comes into contact with these situations. A knowledgeable dog is a confident dog!
Most importantly, make sure you take the time to share as many positive moments with your puppy as possible. Nurturing that relationship now will lay the foundation for a lifelong, loving bond between you and your dog.
Now that all the puppies are living happily with their new families, we are focusing our efforts on helping Hadley adjust to life here on the farm. In order for everyone to have a happy life here, we all must demonstrate good manners and respect one another. In the dogs’ world, this means demonstrating understanding of commands like sit, down, stay, come, leave-it, off, etc. And, of course, most importantly, knowing that they go “potty” outside.
We begin working on the concept of “housebreaking” when they are as young as 5 weeks; however, once they move onto their new families, or stay here with us at the farm, this training becomes more extensive. We believe that having a consistent schedule that includes playtime, nap time, and meal time is the most effective and quickest way to housebreak a puppy.
Here is an example of the schedule that we follow here at the farm:
- Take your puppy out of her crate, put her on her leash and take her to her potty spot. When she goes, be sure to praise her and use your “potty prompt” such as “go potty” or “go in the grass” or something that helps her learn to associate her actions with words. When she is done, praise again and then give a treat. If she doesn’t go, put her back in her crate for a few minutes, then take her back out to her spot to try again.
- After your puppy has gone potty, this is a good time to work with her on a little training. Work on commands such as “Leave-it” “Take-it” “Sit” “Stay” etc. Make sessions short…no more than 5 minutes at a time as her attention span is short and you always want to finish training session on a positive note. This stimulation will also tire her out.
- Feed your puppy her breakfast. After about 20 minutes, take her outside and follow the 6am routine. Afterward, put her in her crate until it’s time for the next potty break.
Mid-morning (for pups younger than 10 weeks old)
- Take your pup to the potty spot and follow the routine. Then, come inside and play with your puppy for a little while, do a short training session, take her out again to potty, and then put her in the crate until the next break.
- Take your puppy out and follow the routine. If the puppy is less than 6 months old, feed her some lunch, spend some time playing and do another training session. Take her out to potty again and then put her back in her crate. Once she is older than 6 months, skip her lunch.
Mid-afternoon (for puppies younger than 10 weeks):
- Same as mid-morning routine.
- Take puppy outside for potty routine. Then feed her some dinner and then take her back outside for another potty break. This is a good time then to leave puppy out of her crate as long as someone is keeping a close eye on her.
- Great time to play with puppy, do short training sessions, etc. Because the puppy will be more active, she will likely need to go potty more often than she does during the day when it is quieter so watch for circling, sniffing, pacing or other signs that she needs to go outside. We use a bell on the door that puppies quickly learn to jingle to let us know they need to go out. Only put the puppy in her crate if no one can keep a close eye on her.
10 to 11:00pm
- Take your puppy outside for potty routine. Then put the pup in her crate for the night. If she is older than 12 weeks, she should be able to sleep through the night without needing to potty. Younger pups normally need to get out at least once in the middle of the night.
We have had tremendous success with this schedule. Furthermore, going in and out of the same door whenever taking the puppy out, it does not take long for them to grasp the concept that potty time is outside. Here we are at 10 weeks of age, and Hadley is not only completely house-trained, but understands that her crate means it is time to rest, which makes for a peaceful night for the other residents on the farm!
We are well into our sixth week of raising a beautiful litter of chocolate puppies. What never ceases to amaze me is how quickly they mature. It seems like it was only yesterday that they were snuggled up closely (and quietly) next to their mother. Now they are like miniature dogs with their own unique personalities and funny antics. No doubt, we are in full puppy mode!
In the first four weeks we really focused on a variety of socialization exercises, which will continue until they go home with their new families in a couple weeks. In these final weeks we have expanded our work with them to include potty training, name recognition, crate familiarization, and teaching commands like “sit” and “down”. The puppies’ brains are like sponges, so starting to work with them on these exercises now will help to ensure that they have a positive foundation to build upon when they go to their new “fur-ever” homes.
Here are the steps we use to begin teaching them the “sit” command:
It does not take more than a few of these early training sessions before the puppies begin to grasp the “sit” command. We work on this in a variety of settings to not only introduce them to this fundamental command, but also to discourage jumping and to help encourage overall good manners. As always, it is our goal to help build a foundation that helps our puppies to be adaptable in all the situations they will encounter in life.
We have been exceptionally busy here at the farm helping Riley raise her six puppies over the last few weeks. It is amazing how much the puppies have changes in just three weeks. Not only are they growing like weeds, but their bodies are continually maturing. For instance, did you know that puppies are born with their eyes and ears sealed shut? So imagine their surprise and excitement last week when they began to see the world around them and hear each other grunt and squeak! Another big development this week is the emergence of puppy teeth - it just all happens too fast.
While the puppies are growing before our eyes, we have been focused on socializing them. Traditionally, socializing puppies has long been considered the responsibility of the new parents; however, we believe it truly starts before they are born. As breeders, it is our responsibility to promote a positive environment for our puppies, which will help them to acclimate to any situation they may experience in their life.
So, what happens in the early weeks of the puppy’s life? Here are some of the things we do to stimulate and socialize our puppies:
In the first three weeks, Riley is doing much of the work and we spend most of our time ensuring the puppies are kept warm and their space kept clean. The best way for us to begin socialization during these first weeks is through simple touch. We handle and cuddle the puppies several times throughout the day in order to create a pleasurable connection to the human touch. Furthermore, we use this time to handle their paws and clip their nails.
The first three weeks are considered to be a critical time to begin stimulation exercises. In addition to the daily cuddling time, on the third day through the 16th day, we incorporate early neurological stimulation exercises into our daily routine. These are a series of five exercises that were developed by the US Military to help improve the performance of military dogs and has since become known as the “Super Dog” program. The five exercises completed once daily are:
1. Tactical stimulation (between toes)
2. Head held erect
3. Head pointed down
4. Supine position
5. Thermal stimulation
Extensive research has shown that doing these exercises during this critical time in the puppies’ lives can lead to the following benefits:
1. Improved cardio vascular performance (heart rate)
2. Stronger heart beats
3. Stronger adrenal glands
4. More tolerance to stress
5. Greater resistance to disease
To learn more about the “Super Dog” program, you can access the full article by visiting the Breeding Better Dogs website.
Now that we are in the third week, the puppies are really beginning to understand that they are “dogs” and are starting to learn how to behave like dogs (ie. how to play appropriately and bite inhibition,) both from their mother and from their siblings. While we keep the puppies together with their mother majority of the time, it is just as important for us to begin spending more one on one time with them.
Socializing puppies also means exposing them to a variety of stimuli in their environment. We do this by adding new and interesting toys to their space, as well as, giving them time to explore and walk upon different surfaces, including carpet, tile, and towels. Additionally, this is the right time to start introducing different, and even startling, sounds into their environment, such as running the vacuum, slamming doors, dropping food bowls, etc. Furthermore, we are exposing the puppies to a variety of different people, so as to encourage a positive experience with all humans. Finally, we have created a potty area for the puppies. While they are primarily still nursing with mom, she is beginning to lighten up on some of her duties. Adding the potty area will not only help in keeping their living space clean, but will also help in the housebreaking training!
The next few weeks will bring even more developments: we are starting to slowly wean the puppies as we introduce solid food, expanding their area to include play, potty, and eating areas, and we will continue to expose them to a variety of experiences to help prepare them for their new lives as happy companions.