Labrador puppy: first days at home

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the first few days with your labradorThe first few hours and days in his new home mark a major life change for your little Labrador puppy, and probably for your family as well.

In this article we will take a look at what you will need to consider when you first walk through the door with your new puppy.

We will also make a note of some important ground rules, which you will need to establish from the start.

There is no doubt that being separated in an instant from everything he has ever known and cared for is a potentially stressful experience for a puppy.

If you have been able to visit your puppy on a regular basis before collecting him, so much the better, but for most people time and distance make this an unlikely option.

Ready to be friends

Fortunately, most puppies leave their mother and siblings at an age when they will readily accept their new friends and family, and what would be a shockingly traumatic experience for a human child, if sensibly managed will have no lasting effect at all on your puppy’s confidence or happiness.

This article is not about feeding or training your puppy, these issues are covered elsewhere in this website. Our subject for now is enjoying and making the most, of those first precious hours at home with your enchanting new friend.

Taking your labrador puppy to the toilet area

When you bring your puppy out of the car he will probably need to empty himself. Carry him in your arms to the designated toilet area and put him down there.

As long as you stay there with him, he will probably trot about near you and hopefully relieve himself.

You have made a start on house-training.

This is a long journey, so you will need to be very patient.

Puppies vary widely in how often they need to empty their bladder. Some may last an hour or more from day one, whilst others seem to need to go every 15 minutes or so to begin with.

Take the puppy to the toilet area at regular intervals (half hourly at least to begin with). In addition, take him there every time he finishes a meal, every time he wakes from a sleep, and every time he has been playing excitedly for more than a few minutes.

If you do this you will find that in time, he will be able to last longer and you will be able to gradually stretch out the gaps between ‘toilet breaks’


There will be ‘accidents’, probably on a daily basis to begin with. It helps if you remember that each of these is your fault – not the puppy’s. He has no idea whatsoever what you are trying to achieve, and you are responsible for ensuring he has sufficient visits to his ‘toilet area’.

Never punish a puppy for house-training accidents, it is pointless as at this point he has no control and no understanding of what is expected. What you are doing is establishing good habits, which will last a lifetime.

Try not to get frustrated if house training seems to be taking an unreasonably long time. You may be lucky, but some puppies take several months to get the hang of this. You should certainly not expect any progress in the first two or three weeks. If you catch him ‘in the act’, scoop him up and carry him to his ‘toilet area’.

Nothing else is required. When he relieves himself in the right place say a word or phrase that you want to use later on as a cue to get him to empty himself. I use ‘hurry up’.

This means nothing to the puppy, but over the next few months if he hears the phrase ‘hurry up’ every time he does a wee, the two will become associated in his mind, and eventually you saying ‘hurry up’ will prompt him to empty himself if he needs to.

Quite useful on a cold or rainy evening when you don’t want to be standing outside for ages with the dog waiting for him to ‘go’.

Cleaning up

If you use a disinfectant that is not ammonia based to clear up accidents, this may help reduce repeat occurrences, as a dog’s natural tendency is to relieve himselves where he can smell a previous ‘puddle’. You can buy disinfectants especially designed for this purpose from pet shops.

If the weather is fine and you can leave a door open many puppies will quickly get used to taking themselves to the toilet area which will save you time. Bear in mind though that if you need to have the door shut for any reason, a small puppy will not try and attract your attention.

He will simply relieve himself by the door.

A crate is an excellent source of help with house-training provided it is small enough and the puppy is not left inside it for longer than his immature bladder can physically contain its contents. And for some puppies, this is not very long at all. We look at crate training in this article.

First Meals for your Labrador puppy

Hopefully your puppy’s breeder will have given you plenty of advice and enough of the puppy’s familiar food to last you for a few days. Now is not the time to change his diet.

There is quite enough going on in his little world for the time being. A new puppy usually appreciates a small meal on his arrival. Even if he has been car sick, he will recover rapidly and familiar food is the first step in showing him that your home is a great place to be.

Puppies need feeding little and often. Breaking his daily allowance into many small portions for the first couple of days will also give you a chance to begin to establish a relationship with him as the provider of good things.   You can find more information about feeding your labrador through the link.

Establishing good habits

Your Labrador puppy when full grown will weigh some 70 or 80lbs and be capable of creating a great deal of noise. For many people, life with an adult Labrador is not the pleasurable experience they anticipated when they first brought their puppy home.

To co-exist happily with a large dog, there are certain behaviours which you should establish in your puppy from the very first minute that he arrives home.

One of these behaviours is ‘keeping his paws on the floor’, and another is ‘keeping quiet’. If you intend to use your puppy as a working gundog when he is older, you will also want him to get into the habit of carrying things in his mouth.

These important characteristics of a well behaved and useful labrador are probably the ones most frequently interfered with by the inexperienced owner.

The Quiet Dog

One of the most common problems people have with their dogs is noise.   Barking at neighbours,  whining and yapping in the home.  These are habits that owners often unknowingly encourage from an early age.

Although making a noise comes more naturally to some dogs than to others, it is often possible to prevent a noisy habit from developing by paying attention to a few simple rules from the very first day.

‘Training’ a puppy to make a noise often starts very innocuously without the owner realising what they are doing. All puppies make a noise, from whimpers to general whining, to a full blown barking session.

Your puppy will probably make a noise within his first few hours in your house. Puppy noises are often quite cute. He will look at you, wag his little tail furiously and make sweet little sound.

Most owners see this as an attempt to communicate, which of course it is, and immediately respond. “Hello then, are you hungry?” “ Let’s get you some dinner shall we?

Already, training has begun, but it is the wrong sort. The puppy has just learnt that making a noise gets him some attention. This can quickly lead to constant whimpering, yapping, and whining. He has been given a powerful reinforcer; he is now likely to repeat the behaviour in the near future.

If you would like to have a well-mannered dog, it is a really good idea to be ready to ignore any noise your puppy makes, right from the start. He will quickly learn that there are better ways of interacting with you.

You and other members of your family will be tempted when your puppy ‘talks’ to you, to talk back. If you want to avoid having a whiny or yappy dog,  it is a good idea to resist the temptation to engage your puppy in conversation.

When he is sitting quietly for example, or carrying something in his mouth, is the perfect time to chat to your dog.

You might also like to read our article on how to cope with a crying puppy

Carrying things

Many Labrador puppies just love to carry things around. If you would like to have a go at gundog training with your dog in the future (and I strongly recommend that you do) you will want him to be willing to retrieve.

The retrieving instinct is very powerful in some Labradors and in some individuals, and rather fragile in others. It is also extremely easy to damage in the first few weeks and months of a puppy’s life.

There is a chapter on retrieving in ‘The Right Start, but right from the beginning you need to know that you should never let ‘carrying’ be associated with anything unpleasant or your puppy may well stop doing it – sometimes for good. Labrador puppies will pick things up.

Make sure you put away what he should not have. If he picks up something, which belongs to you, bite your lip and tell him how great he is. Pet and praise him for carrying and don’t take anything off him until you have read up on retrieving.

Opinions on this are mixed, but it may be better to avoid play tug of war with a Labrador puppy intended for gundog work.  You should certainly avoid snatching or pulling anything from his mouth.


The next rule for a well behaved puppy is equally important. The rule is ‘never call the puppy by whistle or by his name unless he is already running towards you’. And never chase after the puppy.

Puppy recall training starts right from day one, with building an association between the act of running towards you, and the sound of the recall word or whistle.

If you call the puppy and he does not come, you will have begun to teach him that the recall command is optional. This is to be avoided at all costs.

You can find out more about building a great recall from the beginning in Total Recall but for now, in these first few days at home together, make sure that no one calls the puppy to them. When they want him they can simply pick him up.

If he runs away, all they need to do is run in the opposite direction and he will come chasing after them.

Making Friends

For the first few days after bringing your puppy home your main objective is to concentrate on making friends with him.  Spend lots of time with your puppy.

Make him feel at home. Pay him a lot of attention when he is quiet, fuss and praise him when he wees outside, feed him often, and clear up accidents without comment.

Talk to him when he is sleepy and dozing in your arms. Say his name softly and often as he eats and as you cuddle him. He is very new and hasn’t a clue what you want from him. Be patient and calm, and he will too.

Once he has settled in you can begin to think about training, but for now just enjoy his Labrador puppy loveliness, and that scrummy new puppy smell. It will be gone all too soon, replaced by a bouncing, boisterous, and joyful friend who all too often smells of pond water.

More information

This article is adapted from Pippa Mattinson’s book, The Right Start: raising gundog puppies for fieldwork

If you enjoy Pippa’s puppy articles, you will love her latest 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 November 18, 2011

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