Ages and stages in Labrador puppy training

It is very tempting to get carried away with puppy training.

These little Labradors are so willing to please and such fun to be around.  But it is important to go at a ‘happy’ pace.

Obviously we don’t want to be ‘correcting’ tiny puppies.   And this can easily creep in if we ask too much too soon.

So what should we be doing with a puppy at two or three month’s old?

What are the stages in Labrador training ? No two trainers will ever agree exactly on this one!

An approximate schedule

I cannot tell you what you should do with your puppy except to give the above general advice.  stages in labrador trainingBut it might help to see what I currently do with mine.

This may not be exactly the same for each Labrador puppy,  especially with retrieving.

However, it gives you a rough idea.

 

Housetraining/cratetraining  is not included

8-10 weeks

  • Follow me: Encourage the puppy to walk after me and keep close to me outdoors, by walking a few steps one way, and a few steps another.  Constantly changing direction.  Stopping frequently for cuddles and rewards.
  • Recall: Lots of puppy recall ‘phase one’  training.  This means I blow the recall whistle whenever the puppy runs towards me, no compulsion,  and no whistle unless the recall is already underway.
  • Socialisation: Lots (almost daily) of outings to different places rural and urban (carried) Visits to family and friends.
  • Bite inhibition: Discourage hard biting, allow mouthing

10-12 weeks

  • Walk next to me: Introduce clicker heel to get the puppy walking alongside me in the heel position on my left hand side.
  • Recall: Now I start introducing the whistle as a ‘signal’  to trigger the recall.  I still give the puppy lots of encouragement by running away as soon as I blow the whistle.
  • Socialisation: More socialisation, at least twice a week to busy public places
  • Bite inhibition: Discourage hard biting, allow gentle mouthing
  • Retrieving: Encourage chase and pick up (retrieve drive)

3 – 4 months

  • Walk on a lead:  If she is ready for this, I start to slip a lead over the puppy’s head for very short periods as she walks next to me
  • Recall: Puppy recall continues,  reduce my run to a walk, avoid any distractions.  Still frequently blow the recall whenever the pup runs towards me of her own free will.
  • Socialisation: From ground level (after vaccination).  Attend events/take into town. No other lead walking at all
  • Bite inhibition: No biting, gentle mouthing allowed.
  • Retrieving: Build drive.

4 – 5 months

  • Heel: begin to practice heel work more purposefully. Add mild distractions
  • Recall: Fade additional cues.  Begin to whistle the pup and stand still.  Add mild distractions.
  • Socialisation: One or two short outings into crowded/public places
  • Bite inhibition: No more mouthing
  • Sit/stay: Simple short duration sits, in low distraction environment

5 – 6 months

  • General obedience:  Gradually advance the ‘heel’ and ‘sit’.  Gradual introduction of distractions
6 months onwards
  • Gundog training begins in earnest

Some people train a good deal faster than this and achieve quite impressive results with quite small puppies.  I come from an era where gundog puppies were left ‘untouched’ until 8 or 9 months of age.  They were given time to mature and just be puppies before training commenced.

This was partly because training methods were much harsher in those days,  but there is also some virtue I think, in not expecting too much of a small puppy

Early starters don’t get there faster

As far as I’m aware,  there is no evidence to suggest that puppies that are ‘hot-housed’ from an early age,  make more obedient, or better mannered dogs.

So don’t worry about rushing your Labrador into ‘school’ at eight weeks old.

You have plenty of time to enjoy  your puppy and work slowly through a gentle but effective long term training programme.

Your puppy

What are you doing with your puppy right now?  Are you having fun?  Drop your comments into the box below.

More help and information

If you enjoy Pippa’s puppy articles, you will love her new book: The Happy Puppy Handbook – a definitive guide to early puppy care and training.

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Pippa Mattinson

The Labrador Site is brought to you by Pippa Mattinson. Pippa's latest book The Happy Puppy Handbook is a definitive guide to early puppy care and training

by Pippa on October 21, 2012

{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

jane vdp October 21, 2012 at 11:55 am

Willow is 11 weeks.
She is good at recall and will ‘fetch’
I am just starting to teach her to ‘sit’ using small treats. I wouldn t leave it till she was 4 months old I don t think. Am I doing it too soon?

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Pippa October 21, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Hi Jane, if you are having fun, and the puppy is having fun, then it’s all good. :) Just remember not to expect too much, too soon, and to proof each command carefully and slowly over the next few months. Pippa

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jane vdp October 22, 2012 at 6:54 am

Thanks Pippa
We’re certainly having fun!! And I will take on board the stuff about proofing.

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shane October 22, 2012 at 11:49 pm

hi im hoping you can help last month i got a 2 year old labrador he has had obedience training he sits heels and stays when told to but when the kids or i start playing with him we all have fun for about 10 mins until he gets very excited and starts to jump up and nip us on the arm i hope you can help as we love our dog to bits he really is a good dog but i just dont like leaving him with the kids outside because of how excited he gets
thank you

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Pippa October 23, 2012 at 9:13 am

Hi Shane, this is a common problem and I have posted an article this morning which I hope will help you and others. It is called ‘How to play safely with a Labrador’. Pippa.

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Debs October 23, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Hi Pippa , we have a gorgeous chocolate boy named Errol 12 weeks old, he sits for us and is brilliant at his puppy recall as you say he doesn`t want to lose me . I have learned such a lot off this site , although I think he is really clever he does occasionally have his chocolate moments !! The one thing i am struggling with is using a clicker , errol totally ignores it , once he has seen and eaten the first clicked treat he won`t leave me alone for couple of minutes and then when I try clicking when he has engaged in something else he doesnt respond , ive read how to proof the clicker but what ever I try he doesnt react to it .He isn`t deaf ,thats for sure , what do you think I am doing wrong ?

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Pippa October 23, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Hi Debs,

It sounds as though you are making long gaps between one c&t, and the next one. So that Errol is losing heart in getting any kind of interaction from you.

I think perhaps that is my fault for the way I have worded the charging instructions. You need to get the puppies interest for him to learn the connection between click and treat.

So I suggest you get him interacting with you by rapidly clicking and treating many times for a minute or so. Repeat several times a day. And don’t ‘spread out’ the C&T until he has really grasped the connection.

Use something really tasty to help quickly form the link between the click and the treat.
Pippa

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Don October 31, 2012 at 2:55 pm

I just ordered Total Recall. Are the articles on this site covered in the book? When you say blow a whistle do you mean an ordinary athletic whistle and can a clicker be used instead? Is this better than using the command “come”.

Don

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Pippa October 31, 2012 at 8:40 pm

Hi Don
The equipment you need is covered in the book. The role of a whistle and a clicker are totally different with respect to recall. The whistle is a cue (command or signal that the dog needs to take some action) a verbal command such as ‘come’ is an alternative cue.

A clicker is normally used as a reward marker, not a command or cue. You do not need to use a clicker in order to use the recall training programme in Total Recall. All this is explained in the book.
The articles in this site cover many topics not just recall, so no, the articles in this site are not all covered in the book.
Hope that helps, and good luck with your training
Pippa

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Sue November 1, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Paddy will be ten months on 6th Nov,he has been an easy pup, hose trained within a week and did well at puppy and junior school. He is very sociable with any other dog and most people however, we have a couple of problems. When my husband walks him, Paddy will rush up to people and start barking, not polite and rather intimidating; he does not do this with me. My problem is that Paddy seems to spend ages going out for the last wee at night. He’s perfectly happy while I stand shivering on the doorstep! He tries to come back into the house without obliging and it has now become a battle of will! I take Paddy out for an hour and a half each afternoon, returning about 5.00pm. He does not go out again until 10.00 or 10.30 and is then in the kitchen until 7.30am. Surely 5.00pm – 7.30am is far too long for him to control his bladder?

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Rina November 9, 2012 at 2:17 am

Hi, I got a puppy at 4 months and I have been trying to get recall training into him. Unfortunately he still is a very stubborn little thing. Mouthing is ok but he will still bite my mum and dad, but not me. Lead walking is horrible as he’ll get too excited and get distracted it worries me when we start letting him roam free outside in the yard. This also means housebreaking has been an issue for me and he refuses to go outside but will do his business on newspapers in the house.

How do I make sure that the other two strays dogs outside(apparently they adopted us and have been around over the years,but have been protecting the home from strangers and small animals) don’t take him out on the road. Should this be part of the obedience training? I want to make sure he remains within the house compound and not leave whenever we’re at home or out of the house when we transition him from an indoor dog to an outdoor dog.

I got him so he’ll be a companion for my mum who’s retired and has a lot of time in her hands. But my dad thinks he will be good for mum so she’ll be a little bit more responsible at home. (Career woman, not house trained).

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Pippa November 9, 2012 at 8:04 am

Hi there, your 4 month old puppy is still very much a baby. Learning to recall, walk on a lead etc with distractions around him is a long process called ‘proofing’. You can read all about it here: Proofing: an essential part of training your Labrador.

There is absolutely no way of ensuring that the stray dogs outside will not take your dog off adventuring with them, or of ensuring that your puppy does not roam on his own initiative. The only way to keep a dog safe outdoors when you are not able to watch him is by providing a secure fenced area for him.

I recommend you keep your puppy as a house dog or, build him a proper kennel and run in your compound. You can find information on housetraining here: Housetraining without tears

Good luck with keeping your puppy safe and happy. Pippa

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Joanna Hopkins February 15, 2013 at 7:05 pm

My puppy Bessie is 8 months, we are working on recall as she was developing a habit of totally ignoring me, she was also pulling like a train on the lead. After a week of very intensive training she is getting better. I plan to get your book as soon as I can.

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Pam Lane May 7, 2013 at 2:45 am

A question about the length of TIME re continuing C/T for a behaviour (such as recall). I have a great little labrador X that is now 5 months (mainly kelpie) – I’ve had her since 10 weeks. Reading the amount of proofing you incorporate into training I see my expectations have been far too high. I only use COME as a cue around the house. I struggle with the proofing because I feel a need to give her lots of exercise (if she’s not asleep, she’s RUNNING) but lack areas without distractions SO .. I’m constantly running away and hiding behind trees and signs then whipping around and pretending I called her when she charges back to me. I do short sit/drop proofing sessions while out on her walks tied on leash to a pole (maybe 3 min max at a time). I do think I’m progressing but she remains SO interested in EVERYTHING (ants on the ground, birds in the sky, etc) !!! My last dog was trained with positive reinforcement/food rewards but was older and picked things up very quickly. I faded the food rewards quickly (replaced with life rewards and occasional food surprises) so the amount of treating that goes with the clicker and proofing makes me nervous. I do vary it (e.g. sometimes just verbal praise and a little play) but is it okay that I’m still C/Ting her almost every time. She sits or drops/waits for door, food, lead, etc – 10 seconds only – plus lots of other behaviours in progress (touch, on your mat, fetch/retrieve – in play only, weave – play with a toy only, spin/twirl, heeling – short bursts, loose leash, etc). Should I be backing off on other behaviours until sit, drop, recall and leashwork is solid? P.S. I live alone and she has access to me all the time (except 5 hours a day at work and when I am in my office which she is blocked from except when being supervised).

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Pippa May 7, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Hi Pam, that is a busy little dog you have there. I tend to work on one or two things at a time but if you and your dog are happy with your fairly intensive programme of behaviours, there is probably no need to ‘back off’. I seem to remember one recent study did show that dogs that had a couple of breaks in training, each week retained information better than dogs that train every day without fail, so you might want to take that into account.

You wouldn’t normally move on to an intermittent schedule until the dog was 90% reliable at a task, so if you are struggling to get to the 90% level, try and simplify the task a little (reduce distractions/duration/distance etc)

Pippa

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Neva Cirkveni June 23, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Hy,
my puppy is a mixed breed, his mother is a Croatian Sheepdog, but the father was a Labrador. Most of his characteristics are like the ones of a Labrador. He is only three months old, and he already knows how to walk on a leash (without pulling) and the basic commands (sit, lay dowm, stay) and even the give me your paw command. He is extremely smart and fairly obedient.
Our only problem is the nipping and when he gets mad he something bites me, very lightly, but still unacceptable. I don’t really know how to deal with that problem.
Also he still sometimes pees and poops in the house… Advice?
Thanks, N.

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Pippa June 23, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Hi Neva, congratulations on your bright puppy. Here is information on biting and this is all about house training
Pippa

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Lyndsey August 7, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Hi there, we have an 8 week old puppy that we have just bought home, he is adorable and we are all gettin used to each other. My question is, what age should we be thinking about taking him to puppy classes? The class teacher said that as long as he has clearance from the vet then he can come before his 2nd jabs, is 8 weeks old too young for puppy classes, should we perhaps wait until he reaches 12 weeks? Thanks.

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Laetitia September 7, 2013 at 9:29 am

Hello, my 8 week old lab Diesel wont stop biting wood and other rough things, this is not a problem as long as im with him but when I have to leave the house I cant be sure of what he’s doing. I tried keeping him outside when i leave but hell just start barking and do all he could to come back in again. I really dont prefer to crate him, so do you propose any good solution to stop this biting cause im worried he might swallow something bad for him.. and thank you.

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Pippa September 9, 2013 at 9:03 am

Hi Laetitia, crating is the right solution for this problem. Pippa

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Cindy Ferguson October 1, 2013 at 7:12 am

I have a 3 month old pup from the shelter. He has been crouching to play, jumping, growing and biting hard. How Do we stop the biting behavior?

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Pippa October 1, 2013 at 9:25 am

Hi Cindy, check out this article. Good luck with your new puppy. Pippa

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Kelsey October 2, 2013 at 11:32 pm

Hi, I have a 26 week old German Shepherd/Black Lab mix. We rescued him at 11 weeks old. We have successfully taught him sit, down, and paw. We are really working on leave it, drop it, and here/come. However, he seems to have some tricks of his own… He likes to eat the decorative rocks we have in our fron yard. He chews them and either spits them out or swallows them and poops them out a few days later. He does not like the bitter apple spray so we do use that, but he stops for a second and continues again! Our other problem is that he get random bursts of energy and starts “attacking” us. Sometimes even biting so hard that he punctures (slightly) through the skin. Another thing he des is jump up on the counter to sniff around. He just reached 45 pounds and is tall enough to reach the counter by jumping perfectly! We have tried loud noises and sternly saying off, but usually these methods of training do not work. We do not want any of these things to turn into something worse and would appreciate any help you can give. Thanks!

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Pippa October 3, 2013 at 9:20 am

Hi Kelsey, biting is a normal puppy behaviour, check out this article for more information and help. You might also find this article The Three Rs of Puppy Education helpful. Join us in the forum for help and support from other puppy owners. :)
Best wishes
Pippa

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Richard October 24, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Hi pippa. How do you handle the puppy when doing urban or rural socialisation before formal heel training? I found with our black lab that early lead work introduced very bad heel habits that took a lot of time to put right. I regret using a lead and taking her out so much before 6 months in the name of “socialisation”. Would love to hear how you do this.

Our dog is great now. Strong retriever. Test winner so in the end all was ok.

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Sandra November 29, 2013 at 3:20 am

Hello!
We have a black lab cross (Australian Shepard) who is 10 weeks old and we have had him since 7 weeks. He goes to work at a shop where my boyfriend is manager everyday and loves kids and adults. He is socialized reguarily with other dogs, is house trained within 3 days of us having him and is a very good listener. My only concern is he does not like being alone. We do not crate him, he sleeps on the floor at night. We have tried crating him for 30-45 minutes each day to get him used to it… And he cries until he puts himself to sleep. Is this normal? When he cries we leave him be so he is shown no attention as a ‘cop out’.
His dandriff is also really bad, but being in Canada and it being winter, is it because of the cold and dry air?

Please let me know!! Thanks

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Pippa November 29, 2013 at 8:43 am

Hi, it is normal for a puppy to not like being alone. He needs to get used to short periods of alone time now whilst he is small, or it could become a problem later. It is upsetting to hear him being sad, but you are right not to get up out of his crate whilst he is crying. If the duration of the crying does not soon lessen (and it almost certainly will) you can help him with this technique Click For Quiet. Pippa

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Chris December 9, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Nessa, my chocolate bitch is 9 weeks old. I’ve only had her just over a week and she is doing marvellous, slowly getting there with her puppy pads before I start moving them into the garden in a couple of weeks after her second jab. My question is regarding exercise- I’m very conscious of over feeding and exercise and want to take her running with me – approx 3 miles. I’ve heard its 6 months, but is that too early when she is still a pup? I’ve been told it’s 5 mins per month so at 5 months she can have a 25 min walk but that at 6 months there is no limit? Is that correct?? Any advice greatly appreciated

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Pippa December 9, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Hi Chris, many experts feel that demanding exercise, including jumping, and distance running, should be left until the dog has finished growing (12-18ms). Six months is probably too young. Best wishes, Pippa

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Kayleah January 6, 2014 at 8:04 pm

My lab pup Molly is a month and she’s still in the habit of biting ur hand when ur playing. She knows how to “sit” and “shake” she still has accidents in the house. But when she goes to other houses like my moms she goes to the door and whines. How do I fix her potty training to wear she does it at home too?

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Pippa January 7, 2014 at 11:42 am

Do you mean she is a month old? Or that you have had her for a month?

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Tony January 30, 2014 at 7:06 am

Hi
my lab puppy is 8 weeks and he is very cute. he’s been my apartment only for 5 days. during these five days, im training him ‘sit’ and potty. he did these two work very good. but he likes bite everything and even bite my hands when we are playing. could you please tell me some ways to discourage this bad habit
thank you so much

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Pippa January 30, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Here you go Tony, this article will help

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Jhous April 10, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Why would you teach sit at four months? Makes no sense at all. If you are rewarding the puppy while teaching commands then what is not fun about that? Plus the puppy sees it pleases you and that’s what a puppy wants! If you are happy with what the pup is doing and rewarding along with affection the puppy will love it!

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michael May 27, 2014 at 2:15 am

I have a 12 week old black lab. I read a lot of people are feeding they’re dogs roughly 4 cups of food a day, instructions on my bag suggests 2 2/3 cups a day (science diet ideal balance) he was weighing 26lbs at just under 12 weeks. what do you think?

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Harish June 1, 2014 at 8:05 am

I have 50 days old labrador puppy he is always biting humans, clothing could you please help me to recover from biting. . .
Thanks

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Pippa June 1, 2014 at 8:20 am

Hi there, your puppy is quite normal. Check out this article: Teaching your puppy bite inhibition

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ekant June 19, 2014 at 7:42 pm

Hey, Thanks for your valuable article. My male lab is in his 11th week. We took him out like once, to a private garden and he pretty much had a field day. Just wanted to check, as of now, is there a need to take him out everyday? We do have enough toys at home, play fetch, he’s also quite obedient, but gets very aggressive sometimes. Barks really loudly. Should I be worried or is this normal

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Pippa June 21, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Hi there, please check this out: Help my puppy is aggressive and this The importance of socialisation

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maxine s June 26, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Just writing for a bit of advice, I have an 18 week old lab cross yorkie, and he constantly barking at me, I have tried everything even ignoring his barking, but he will constantly bark for over an hour straight he has toys, he goes for walks we play all the time I don’t know what to do

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priya June 27, 2014 at 9:49 am

hiii there my dog is 1 year old but does not listen or obey . is it too late or can he still be trained ?

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supriya saha June 30, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Hi, i have 3 months old female Labrador. I have done her potty training in bathroom as i stay in an apartment alone.But some times if she pees in the room she goes and sleeps above it.she has been doing it since i brought her.i don’t know how do i change this habit of her.

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Lauren September 28, 2014 at 1:17 am

Hello!
We have an awesome 6 month fox red pup. At home she is really good, calm, great recall. But whenever we go to my boyfriend parents house they just have so much going on that she pays absolutely no attention to us! We’ve started keeping her on a leash when we go for walks or just hanging out in the yard but she starts pulling on the leash when she has been getting better about pulling and heeling at home. It’s almost like all her training she has been taught just went out the window.

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Pippa September 28, 2014 at 8:05 am

Hi Lauren, have a look at this article – Proofing: an essential part of labrador training

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Ankur October 28, 2014 at 9:15 am

I purchase labrador 6months male dog yesterday can i teach command him or is it too late or can he still be trained ?

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