Nature has the design of baby animals down to perfection.
They smell delicious, are irresistible and on holding a Labrador puppy in our arms we are overwhelmed with the need to protect him.
So why is it, that so many dogs, bought as puppies, end up being handed in to rescue centres?
What goes wrong in some families, between the arrival of this tiny creature, and his ejection from the family, less than a year later.
The answer I suspect, lies in the gap between our expectations, and reality.
I hope and believe, that if we can close this gap a little, more puppies will have a loving home for life.
We expect an awful lot from our puppies. Both when they are still very small, and especially as they grow bigger.
We expect that puppies will enjoy being cuddled, that our children will be able to play with them, that the efforts we put in to housetraining will be rewarded, that the puppy will listen to what we say.
We expect that our puppies will be happy to be stroked, and to join us for walks and games.
As he grows, we expect our puppy to return our love and affection, to respect us, be loyal, and obedient.
The reality of life with your first puppy, can be a bit of a shock. Many of us do not expect weeks of broken sleep, and tearful children that can’t play with, or even stroke, the puppy because he bites so hard.
Nor had we anticipated just how depressing it would be to clear up urine and faeces to clear up every time we get up in the morning or return from a shopping trip.
We hadn’t planned on the angry complaints from the neighbours about barking and whining whenever we leave the house.
And we didn’t expect to be dragged off our feet every time we took the dog for a walk, or to have to wait two hours for our new friend to come home when he is done chasing rabbits.
These things probably won’t all happen to you. But they are common reasons for people to become disenchanted with their furry companion
How can we close this gap?
One of our aims here on The Labrador Site is to help close this gap between expectations and reality. So that puppies go into their new homes, and stay there for the rest of their lives.
There are two way to close this gap. The first is to move the expectations of the new puppy owner closer to reality, and we do this by providing information. By letting people know what to expect from life with a new puppy.
The second way is to improve on the reality of life with a new puppy by preparing puppy owners in advance. This helps them to make decisions, and to provide for their puppy in a way that avoids problems arising in the future.
What to expect from a new puppy
This is important knowledge. It’s information that helps people train and care for their puppies successfully. If you know someone who is planning a new arrival, do pass it on.
There are a number of areas where puppies and owners may come into conflict, right from day one.
Forearmed is forewarned, and if you are aware of these, there are steps you can take to avoid them.
Sleeping and crying
Most new puppies have never slept alone. If asked to sleep alone on the first night in their new home, they usually cry. And a small puppy can make a surprisingly loud noise. Unless you live in a mansion, you will be able to hear him.
One way around this, is to have the puppy sleep next to you for the first few nights. There are other options too, and it’s helpful to consider them and plan how you are going to tackle the first few nights, before bringing your puppy home.
Check out this article for information on coping with crying.
It is important to be aware that new puppies learn very quickly. Whilst initial crying may be the result of fear or loneliness, puppies they soon discover that crying gets them attention.
If you have already got into a cycle of crying for attention with your new puppy, find out here, how to teach your puppy to be quiet.
Cleanliness and night waking.
A few new puppies can last six or seven hours at night without a wee. But many cannot do this until they are around ten weeks old. If you crate your puppy at night, expect to get up in the middle night and take your puppy outside for a wee, for up to two weeks.
Expect no more ‘lay-ins’ for at least the next four months.
During the day, some new puppies can last an hour or so between wees, but again, many cannot.
If you are going back to work, or want to leave your puppy for three to four hours before he is five or six months old, you need to arrange for someone else to take care of him during the day. Even for this short period of time.
Much of housetraining success lies in getting good habits established from the start. And this means getting that puppy outside to his toilet area, whenever his little bladder is getting full.
Leaving him in a large pen with newspaper down, will give him the opportunity to relieve himself, but puppies left uncrated and alone for long periods of time don’t learn clean habits, and may become distressed and/or destructive
Puppies need to learn to cope with being alone for short periods, right from the very start. But too much isolation is a common cause of noisy or destructive behaviour. Puppies need company.
Older puppies may cope happily with being left for up to four hours, but even an adult Labrador may become distressed or destructive if left alone for a full working day on a regular basis.
Labradors are very sociable dogs and they need to have people around them.
Essentially it isn’t appropriate to leave a Labrador home alone throughout the entire working week. No matter how many walks he gets at the weekend. If you intend to return to work full-time, you’ll need to arrange a dog walker or creche place for your friend.
Most people know that puppies nip when teething. What many people don’t know is just how hard they bite, and how much it hurts.
Most new puppy owners are shocked by biting, and by the noise which accompanies it. But fierce growling during play biting, is completely normal for small puppies!
Being aware of this doesn’t make it any less painful, but it does help you cope, and prevents family members resenting the puppy or worrying that he is abnormal in some way.
Again, most people know that small puppies chew things. However, it can be quite a shock to discover just how destructive a Labrador can be, both indoors and out, especially if left unsupervised for long periods of time.
Expect your puppy to destroy anything he can get in his mouth. Indoors and out.
Expect this to continue well past his first birthday. In fact many young Labradors become particularly destructive towards the end of the first year. Some even chew the skirting boards, rip plaster from the walls, and tear up carpets in their homes.
There is no need to get into this kind of conflict with any dog, and as it is so common in Labradors, I recommend that young Labs are crated when left alone in the house, until well past their first birthday.
I did not de-crate my youngest lab Rachael, until she was 18 months old. You can read more in this article: Destructive behaviour
Between 8 and 18 months of age, many young Labradors are extremely boisterous.
Expect that your young labrador will knock people over if you don’t teach him some manners.
Expect that he will jump up and scratch the paintwork on your car if you don’t teach him to sit next to it.
Expect that he will drag you around on the end of his lead if you don’t train him to walk to heel. Expect that he may even pull you off your feet and into the path of an oncoming vehicle. The solution is to teach your new friend to walk alongside you, on and off the lead. Preferably from a very early age. See Walking your Labrador on a loose lead
Tiny puppies have an automatic response with means that they follow people around. This response disappears by the time the puppy is around four or five months old. Don’t wait until then to let your puppy off the lead.
Labradors are gun dogs. They love to hunt and follow scent trails. Expect that an older puppy will want to explore away from you and get that off lead recall established well before he is six months old.
Expect that an older puppy will stray further and further away on walks if you are too predictable and just traipse along behind him.
“He doesn’t listen!” People say. Or, “My puppy was sitting, coming, giving paw, and everything a few weeks ago, but now he just ignores us. Why is he so naughty”
The answer is, he is not naughty, he is completely normal. He is also completely untrained.
Check out The Three Rs of Labrador Puppy Education to get yourself off to a good start with avoiding a naughtiness problem
Training is a long process. Getting a dog to respond to a cue such as ‘sit’ or ‘shake hands’ is the easy part. A dog that will do this in your kitchen is not trained. He has just learned to respond to a cue in your kitchen. Nothing more.
Proofing that cue against all the distraction in our daily lives is what comprises the bulk of dog training , and you desperately need the right information in order to do this effectively. You can find this information in our training section and on our sister site Totally Dog Training
Don’t be put off!
Raising a puppy can be a challenge, but if you are ready for the challenge, it is also tremendously enjoyable and satisfying. And most of the problems described above can be avoided with the right information!
You can do this if you are ready.
Do think about restricting your puppy’s access to certain parts of your home for a few weeks.
Much puppy naughtiness is linked to over-excitement. Focus on being calm around your puppy, and read up on how to train your puppy effectively.
The considered and appropriate use of a crate and baby gates, is a great way to prevent conflict between puppies and their families. Confinement is not a substitute for companionship and training though, and it is very important to be sure you have enough time in your life for a Labrador, before going ahead and getting that lovely puppy.
Do check out our article: are you ready for a Labrador, before you take the plunge.
Are you ready?
Are you ready to bring a Labrador into your life? Tell us about your new arrival in the comments box below.
If you enjoy Pippa’s articles, you will love her new book: The Happy Puppy Handbook – a definitive guide to early puppy care and training.