There are many opinions out there on how to train a lab puppy and what the best age is to start.
Much of this advice seems conflicting and ranges from starting training the instant you bring your new puppy home, even as young as 8 weeks old, to letting them be a puppy for the first little while and holding off on formal training until they are 6 months old.
In order to best determine what method to choose for your puppy, it is important to take into account your individual puppy’s disposition and temperament.
Also, it is important to decide up front how much effort you wish to put into training during those first weeks of establishing your new puppy as part of your family.
To help you make that decision it is also helpful to understand the reasoning behind these drastically differing opinions and where they came from.
6 Month Rule
The 6-month rule originally sprung from professional lab trainers and field trial.
Many, if not most of these trainers still choose to postpone training until 6 months of age. The thought behind this is that up until 6 months of age, a puppy is not believed to be physically, mentally or emotionally capable of handling the harsher and more intense processes of field training.
For example, field training teaches a puppy to stay on command by repeated and forceful actions, such as jerking and dragging, and moving them back to the starting position until they learn to stay until given permission to move.
These methods are thought to be too physically and emotionally taxing on a young pup and these trainers maintain that it is best for the pup and most effective to not introduce them until the pup is old enough to handle them.
6 months of age is deemed the appropriate age for this.
8 Week Rule
As effective as the field methods can be, there are much gentler methods of training available. Due to these possibilities, many experts promote starting training for your lab puppy at the much younger age of 8 weeks, the same age that puppies are weaned and removed from their mother and litter mates.
It is important that a puppy remains with his mother and litter until at least 8 weeks of age. During this time it is learning important basic lessons like bite inhibition, pack order, how to appropriately receive and accept discipline, play, and canine communication as well as other valuable knowledge.
Removing a puppy from this environment earlier than 8 weeks of age can be very detrimental to their development. Once the puppy reaches the appropriate age for leaving that environment, they are also developed enough to begin learning beyond this.
Training Your Lab Puppy
Now that you are aware of the two main opinions for training age, it is up to you to decide when to start and how much effort you wish to put into it.
Keep in mind, however, that as soon as you have brought your new puppy into your home, regardless of its age, you are training them with every action that you choose to take, whether intentional or not.
Every experience, whether good or bad, that you allow them to have or put them through, trains them in some way. Much like children, puppies are naïve, they cannot care for themselves, they know absolutely nothing about behavior and interaction with people and they are extremely observant and will be watching your every move as they develop.
It is up to you to be their new pack leader, teacher, and parent and they will be looking to you for cues on how to respond to everything they encounter. With this in mind, let’s take a look at a few effective ways to train your new little lab companion.
If you should choose to begin training your puppy at the young age of 8 weeks, it is important to remember that not too much should be expected of them.
Just like a child, a puppy that young will have a very short attention span and will be very impulsive and have very little self-control. And just like when dealing with a child, consistency is key.
Setting your expectations too high will result in frustration for you and stress for your puppy. This is not a good way to start out your companionship.
If you choose to postpone training until 6 months of age, either simply due to preference or because your puppy doesn’t join your family until later, then keep in mind what was mentioned earlier.
By this point your puppy will have many months of indirect and unintentional training built into them from their previous experiences and a similar approach will likely be needed as with a puppy starting at 8 weeks.
Remember to keep age-appropriate tasks simple. Set them up to avoid failure. Work very slowly and patiently with them until they have accomplished each new task.
What To Train Your Puppy To Do
Basic training includes responding correctly to such simple commands as ‘sit’, ‘lie down’, ‘come’, ‘stay’, ‘shake’ or ‘give paw’, ‘roll over’ and basic retrieving. Much more can be added as you continue to see progress.
Also important is the not as fun skills such as crate training, advanced bite inhibition, socialization with other animals and people and crate training.
Training Tips and Tools
Positive reinforcement is a popular method amongst trainers. The thought is that a puppy will react better, avoid aggression and unwanted responses, and learn more quickly if they are earning rewards and lavish, excited praise for obedience.
One option is to use a clicker during training. These are cheap, small handheld devices found at pet supply stores. The idea and purpose of this device are to mark the correct responses to commands with a sound. Using the clicker provides a more consistent sound to associate with correct behavior than a word or phrase from the puppy’s owner.
This makes it easier for your dog to understand that they have performed well. Once you have marked and acknowledged their behavior with the audible click, follow it up with a reward, like a favorite treat. This is a very effective method and will get you off to a great start with your puppy.
In regards to potty training and housebreaking, your lab puppy will require a special set of tips.
Due to the larger size of a Labrador, they can and will learn to hold their bladder and a much younger age than other smaller breeds.
Dogs are hardwired with a natural instinct to avoid messing where they sleep. Therefore, one of the most effective methods for housetraining is the use of a crate. This will provide your puppy with some structure and a place where they can feel safe to go during the day or even for sleeping.
Your puppy’s crate only needs to be big enough for them to be able to stand up and turn around. Rather than making multiple purchases to upgrade size while your puppy grows, a good tip is to simply invest in an adult-sized crate at the beginning and block off unneeded space with a well-sanded piece of wood or even some sturdy cardboard.
If you provide too much space for your puppy in their crate, it will find that it is able to do its business and then get far enough away from it to go to sleep. Limiting their crate space allows you to take advantage of the aforementioned natural instinct to keep their sleeping area clean. As your puppy grows, shift the barrier to allow needed space.
In order for crate training to be most effective, it is important to avoid using it as punishment.
You want your pup to view it as a safe, comfortable place that in time, he may even go to on his own throughout the day when he feels the need to rest or be alone. When you first begin crate training, keep confinement periods brief. Lengthen them gradually as your pup adjusts to its crate.
Eventually, when you use the crate for longer periods, such as when you are at work or out, teach your puppy that as soon as you open the door, it is time to go outside to do his business. Make sure that going outside is the first priority when you have let your pup out of its crate: delay can result in your puppy finding somewhere else to relieve himself.
Have a treat on hand, and the clicker if you have chosen to use it, for when they come back inside. Remember that consistency is key.
Labradors are highly intelligent, full of love and eager to please.
Gentle handling, patience, and consistency, as well as praise on your part, can and will go a long way towards shaping your pup into the well trained and wonderful pet that you need and want him to be.
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