When you bring your new puppy home she will need to learn so many things. Which behavior is allowed and not allowed; where can she wander in the house; where is she allowed to relieve herself; and many others.
But remember, she’s just a puppy. Which training is appropriate for a puppy and when can you start? In this article we will cover:
- Early Training
- When to Start
- What to Train
- Potty Training
- Being Around Other Dogs
- Alone Time
- Confinement/Crate Training
- Later Training
- Walking on a Leash
- Basic Commands
When you first bring your puppy home she will probably only be 8-12 weeks old. Even at such a young age, there is training that you can start. In this section we will look at:
- When to Start
- What to Train
- Potty Training
- Being Around Other Dogs
- Alone Time
- Confinement/Crate Training
When to Start
Puppies can actually start learning basic things right away. When you first bring your puppy home give her a few days to get to know you and her surroundings before you start. The one exception to this waiting period is potty training, as you will start doing that the minute you bring her home.
Puppies are quite smart and are usually eager to please. Use this trait to start training as soon as you can. The best way to train a puppy is with a lot of positive reinforcement and rewards. Remember, all of your rules are new to her. She isn’t trying to be bad when she chews on your shoe, she just doesn’t know any better.
Training also helps give your puppy some exercise as well as stimulates her mind. This is especially important for a Labrador, as they tend to get bored if not kept busy.
What to Train
You can start training your puppy right away but keep in mind she is still quite young. You’re not going to start with more advanced commands like sit, roll over, etc. You will start with more basic activities.
Potty training is the very first thing you start to teach your puppy. When you bring her home you should immediately take her to the place where you would like her to relieve herself. Wait until she actually goes potty, then praise her a lot. This is the first step to the long process of potty training.
Because potty training entails many more steps than most of the things you will teach your puppy in the early weeks I have written an entire article just covering that subject called How to Potty Train Your Labrador Puppy. In that article, you will find information on different methods you can use, supplies that you will need, and all sorts of related useful potty training information.
Routines are a very important part of your puppy’s training. Dog’s do well with schedules. They like knowing when they will be fed, played with, and taken outside. Please understand, I’m not suggesting that all these things have to happen at the exact same time every day. I’m sure you have a life beyond this puppy, which means that schedules need to be somewhat flexible. However, if your puppy has a general idea of meal times she is less likely to whine and cry for food. If she knows a general time that she will be played with, she will also learn to be content playing by herself.
Regular feeding schedules also help with potty training schedules. A puppy who is fed at roughly the same times each day will need to relieve herself at roughly the same times each day. This helps take the guesswork out of potty times.
Another part of the routine is making sure the whole family is aware of the rules the puppy needs to follow. Your puppy needs consistency in her training. Make sure everyone is using the same commands and enforcing the same rules.
Dogs who are trained with regular routines usually feel more secure in their new home.
Boundaries and Limits
Your puppy needs to learn boundaries and limits. In the beginning, your puppy should not be given run of the house. There are too many places she can get into trouble. You should set up an area that is just for her. This will give her some set boundaries. I provide some helpful tips on how and where to do this in my article, Preparing For Your Labrador Puppy. I have even included a photo of our own puppy’s sleep and play area in that article.
As time goes on you will permit her to explore other places in the house but it is a good idea to wait until after she is potty trained to do this. As you introduce these areas she will learn new boundaries within your home.
As mentioned above, the whole family needs to enforce the same rules with your puppy. This teaches her limits. She will learn that she can chew on this toy but not on that table leg. She will learn she can pee outside but not on the carpet. Everyone needs to praise and reward good behavior and correct any destructive behavior.
Supervision is key to teaching her boundaries and limits. When you first give her more leeway to run around the house you will need to watch her carefully to keep her out of trouble in her new areas. You need to watch for behaviors that you want to reward and ones that you want to correct. This is how your puppy learns what you expect from her. To help with supervision you may want to keep her on a leash, even in the house, This way you know where she is and what she is doing at all times.
This training time won’t last forever. Eventually, around 6-8 months of age, your puppy should understand her boundaries and limits. She may test them from time to time, but the basic foundation of training will have been laid.
Being Around Other Dogs
If you have other dogs in your home your puppy will need to learn how to get along with them as soon as possible.
The best way to introduce your puppy to your other dogs is to take them all outside. This is usually a larger, more neutral area to your dogs. Don’t expect them to get along like best friends right away. In fact, it may take considerable time before your dogs are completely comfortable with your new puppy.
Allow them to sniff each other. There may be some growling and rough play while the dogs sort out who the pack leader is. This is natural. If any of the dogs start becoming stressed or overly aggressive, separate them and try some more interaction later.
It’s important to train your puppy to be around other dogs as she will probably encounter many once she starts going for walks. If she learns how to respond to other dogs at home it will help her when she meets strange dogs during her walks.
Your puppy will need some training to help her get used to sleeping alone. This may take a little time. She was probably used to cuddling up with her litter and is now in a situation where she is sleeping alone. You may have a few nights with a lot of whining and crying as she settles into this new situation.
There are a few things that you can do to help her transition into this new arrangement. One technique is to get her a stuffed animal that she can cuddle with. Make sure it doesn’t have any small parts that she can tear off and swallow.
You can also use this time to start training her to sleep in her crate. If you do this you will need to get up one or two times a night to take her out to relieve herself. A puppy cannot go all night without a potty break until she is about 6 months old. If you wish, you can keep the crate in your bedroom near you. It may give her comfort knowing you are nearby. However, it could also mean you don’t get much sleep those first few nights if she is fussy while settling in.
Avoid the temptation to comfort her every time she cries. If you give in to this behavior, she will realize that you are at her beck and call at all hours. This will teach her to cry anytime she is left alone. At bedtime place her in her crate (or whatever sleeping area you have set up) and calmly walk away. You may need to let her whine for a little while but she will eventually learn to be content as long as she knows that she is in a safe and secure area.
We put our puppy in her enclosed space at night. She has access to her crate and can go in there to sleep but she can also come out into her open space and use her pee pads when necessary. I get up with her once a night and take her out for a potty break. At the time of this writing, we have had her for 4 weeks, and she will be three months old this week. She only cried the first night we had her, and since I began giving her a potty break in the middle of the night, she very rarely has accidents.
In addition to being alone at night, there may also be times that you have to leave her alone during the day. For the first week or two try to be home with your puppy as much as you can. This is the time she is bonding with you and you want her to learn that she can rely on you.
When you do have to leave your puppy, make sure she is in a safe and secure area. A puppy can be crated for about one hour for every month old she is. For example, a 3-month-old puppy can be crated for about 3 hours. You don’t want to crate her for longer than this because she doesn’t have great bladder control and you don’t want her having an accident in her crate. If she is forced to relieve herself in the crate she will no longer see it as a clean area and may continue to relieve herself there.
Another option is to leave her in the area you have created for her. This is what we do. This way, she can sleep or relax in her crate but can also access her pee pads and water.
If you have to leave her alone for more than a few hours you should arrange to have someone check in on her. They can take her out to pee and give her some attention. If your puppy spends too much time alone she will get bored and may become destructive.
Alone time can increase as your puppy gets older. Remember that the first few months are the most important for training your puppy.
Confinement and Crate Training
As I mentioned earlier in this article your puppy should have a space that is set up exclusively for her. This space will give her an area where she can play, eat, and sleep but also stay out of trouble. You can enclose a room, like the kitchen, using a baby gate or you can use a corral or exercise pen to create an area for her.
Try to pick an area with tile or linoleum floors for easy clean up as there will certainly be accidents. You will also want to choose an area where the puppy will still be able to socialize with you and your family. We set up a corral in our breakfast nook near the kitchen. Since people are constantly in and out of the kitchen, she gets lots of social interaction.
It is important for your puppy to be around people as much as possible. If she doesn’t learn to socialize she can become aggressive. To give our puppy more opportunities to be near our family, we bought a second corral for the living room. This way, she can be with us even when we watch TV. This corral is on the carpet so we make sure to put her in there only after bathroom breaks when she is less likely to have an accident.
You need to make sure any confinement areas you create are safe. There shouldn’t be any cords she can chew on or anything poisonous, like cleaners, that she can get into.
Crates are also very helpful for times when you need to confine your puppy. You may see the crate as a cage but your puppy sees it as a nice den where she can sleep and feel secure. There are many types of crates you can choose from and you can learn all about them in my other article on Essential Supplies for Your Labrador Puppy. We chose a wire crate for our puppy as she loves to see everything that is going on around her.
You should put a bed and a couple of chew toys in the crate for your puppy. The best way to get her used to the crate is to leave the door open and throw a few treats inside. This will entice her to go in and explore the crate on her own. We have our crate integrated into the puppy corral so that our puppy can go in and sleep whenever she wants.
After she has explored her crate and seems used to it, you can try closing the door for just a few minutes. Talk to her calmly and give her a few treats. Each time you close the door try leaving it closed for a little longer. She will get used to this and should adjust easily.
Teaching your puppy to accept a crate now will help immensely when she is grown. You may not plan on crating your Lab when she is alone but there may be instances when you need to crate her for travel, or if she is ever ill she may need to be crated to help her heal. Our adult Labrador gets very anxious when we aren’t home and needs to be crated so that he doesn’t cause damage in the house. He feels more secure when he is crated and is able to stay calm.
More Advanced Training
Once your puppy is about three months old, she can begin learning slightly more advanced behavior. You may be able to introduce some of these things in small ways even before she reaches three months. In this section we will look at a few behaviors you can begin teaching your puppy:
- Walking on a Leash
- Basic Commands
Walking on a Leash
When your puppy is about three months old she will be ready to start learning how to walk on a leash. It will take a little while for her to understand exactly how a walk works. She will want to stop and investigate every little thing. Start with short walks – about 5 minutes for every month of your puppy’s age. For example, if your puppy is 3 months old you should walk her for about 15 minutes.
One thing you can do to help your puppy get used to her leash is to attach it to her harness and let her wander around the house. This will help her get used to the feel of it. Make sure you supervise her the entire time to make sure the leash doesn’t get stuck on anything. This may work for some puppies but not for all. Some puppies will just chew on the leash instead of letting it drag behind them. Our puppy loved chewing on her leash, so this was not a method that worked for us.
We began using a leash every time we took her out to relieve herself. This helped her get used to it before she was 3 months old and also gave us the ability to keep her on task.
When you take her for her first walk try moving just a little ahead of her and calling her to you. If she comes to you reward her and repeat the action. Then gradually increase the distance. After a little while try just walking and see if she comes along. Be patient, it may take her a few times to get the hang of it.
You also want to train her not to pull ahead of you. The best way to do this is to stop every time she starts pulling ahead. Wait until she comes back to you and reward her. Then start to move forward again. Repeat this as needed. If she doesn’t respond to this technique then it’s time to take her home and try again at another time.
Our new puppy was having a hard time learning to walk on a leash. All she wanted to do was stop and eat everything she found on the ground. We decided to try walking her with our other dogs and this solved that problem. She wanted to keep up with them so she followed right along with us. So, if you have other dogs you might want to try walking your puppy with them.
Socialization begins early in the training process but you will also continue this training as your puppy gets older. When you socialize your puppy you are training her to behave in a way that is acceptable to others, especially when introduced to new situations.
In the beginning, every sight, smell, and noise is new to your puppy. You will teach her how to adapt to all of these new things. Let her explore and guide her in how to react. Calm her when she gets anxious or when a noise startles her. Help to make her new experiences as enjoyable as you can.
Over time, she will also have to learn to socialize with other people and animals. Always supervise these new encounters and reward her when she behaves well. Don’t let her jump on new people. Let her sniff their hands and give her time to adapt. Help keep her calm when she encounters other dogs. If either your puppy or the other dog starts behaving aggressively then end the encounter and try again later.
The more you train your puppy to socialize with people and other dogs the more confident she will be in new situations. Puppies who aren’t socialized can be shy and fearful. A socialized puppy will be a happy, well-adapted puppy!
You can start teaching the basics of retrieving to your puppy when she is about 8 weeks old. Many Labrador puppies adapt to this game very quickly.
Inside your home, you can use a tennis ball or something softer if you prefer. Show it to the puppy and roll it a short distance in front of her. If she goes after it, give her lots of praise. If she doesn’t, then guide her over to it and try to get her to pick it up. Repeat these actions until she goes after it on her own. Make sure to reward her with treats and plenty of praise.
Once she has the ball in her mouth, walk several feet away and call her to you. If she comes to you praise and reward her. If she doesn’t, keep trying. Eventually, she will pick up on how the game works.
When she comes to you, use the command “out” or “drop” and gently tug on the toy. She may release it or she may hold it tighter. Help her release it and then praise her. Then toss the ball again and start the game over.
Eventually, she will come to realize that she gets a reward when she retrieves the ball correctly. She will also enjoy the play time. As she becomes more proficient at the game, you can extend the distance that you throw the ball.
If you are outside in an enclosed area you can follow this training as well. However, if you are outside in an open area you should keep her on a leash and run with her to retrieve the ball. You can use a 10-foot leash or longer to give her more leeway to chase the ball.
Keep in mind that your main goal is to play with your dog and have fun. Perfect performance is not crucial.
Once your puppy is about 3 months old you can begin teaching her basic vocal commands. Since her attention span is still rather short, keep the training to once or twice a day, and about 5 minutes at a time.
Spend several days working on one command to keep it fresh in her mind. Most commands should have just one or two words. You want to keep it as simple as possible. Reward her when she does well and correct her gently when she goes off course. You don’t want her to think she can play and mess around during these training times.
When your puppy reaches 6-8 months of age you can start extending her training times to 15 minutes, once or twice a day. Watch for signs that she is becoming tired or getting bored. Once this happens you will lose her attention.
The first command that you want your puppy to learn is “Watch Me.” She needs to learn to give you her attention before she can move on to other commands. After that, you can move on to the other basics like “Sit”, “Stay”, and so on. You can find the first 8 commands you should teach your puppy along with some training tips in my article, 8 Basic Commands Every Labrador Should Know.
I believe “Sit”, “Stay”, “Come”, and “Leave it” or “Drop it” are the most important commands to teach your puppy. “Sit” and “Stay” are important because these commands teach your puppy to remain in one place when needed. This can keep her from jumping on people, chasing something into the street, or leaping into a situation that can cause her harm.
“Come” is important for getting her away from dangerous situations or other animals that you may not know. “Leave it” or “Drop it” will teach your puppy to drop things she has in her mouth. This is important as your puppy will tend to eat anything she finds, including rocks and trash. This command will help keep her from ingesting harmful objects.
Even a young puppy can start learning important behavior lessons almost immediately. As she grows, she will be able to learn more difficult things, but start small. Teach her the basics when she is young and you will have a good foundation to build upon. As with most things concerning a puppy, patience and consistency will produce marvelous results!