On the day you bring your Labrador puppy home, his needs are few. Essentially, a happy Labrador puppy is a puppy that feels safe.
Preferably in your arms, or trotting along at your feet.
He is just a baby, and needs to be warm, well fed, and loved.
But he also needs to learn to cope with the new and strange things that life will throw at him.
A balancing act
Your job is a bit of a balancing act.
Keeping your little one happy, while ensuring that he is educated in the ways of our curious human world, and that he learns to behave himself
Here are a few tips to help you along the way.
In addition to food, love and protection, there are 10 things that you’ll need to provide, in order to have a truly Happy Puppy!
1. A place of safety
Puppies enjoy being close to their grown ups. This is natural and normal. It makes them feel safe.
Puppies also feel safe if they have a den, a place of safety, like the whelping box or nest where they were born, to rest in when they are on their own.
Recreating this ‘nest’ in your own home takes a little time because your home seems strange and new to the puppy at first.
Many people use a crate for their puppy’s new den. It will take several days for the crate to feel like ‘home’. But you can hurry that process up by leaving the door open all day and leaving food and nice toys in there for your puppy to find.
2. A calm environment
Little puppies respond to and reflect the atmosphere around them. If you or your children are very excited, your puppy will get excited too. He may get very overexcited, which is when biting can get very out of hand.
Puppies find it quite hard to ‘calm down’ and so it is important to try and be fairly calm around your small puppy.
Of course, there are bound to be times when, despite your best efforts, your puppy gets a little too over-excited. And you can find out how to deal with this here: How to cope with an overexcited puppy
3. Lots of opportunity to toilet outside
I get a lot of questions from people that are struggling with potty training because they are expecting a new puppy to go too long without a wee during the day. Sometimes two or three hours.
Some eight week old puppies will empty their bladder in the garden, come indoors and wee again just 15 or 20 minutes later! This is very annoying, but it is a short-lived phase.
In the meantime, you’ll experience success much faster, if you take your puppy out very frequently to begin with. Especially for the first two weeks when your puppy’s ability to wait, is very limited.
4. Restricted access
Many people find it hard to cope with their puppy simply because they are giving him access to too large an area of the family home.
He has no chance of learning to be clean if he cannot be watched constantly by a family member and is far more likely to have accidents on carpets, than on hard floors. That’s because puppies like to pee on soft surfaces.
He will also be constantly in trouble for chewing things he should never have been able to reach.
Baby gates are a brilliant way of restricting very small puppies to a fairly small designated part of your home with washable floors. The puppy can then be gradually introduced to more rooms as they mature.
5. To be fed little and often
Puppies often have sensitive tummies. Especially in the first few days and weeks in their new home.
Most Labrador puppies are greedy and will eat large meals. The quantities on food packet are daily rations and should be divided into at least four portions to begin with.
It’s tempting to cut your puppy down from four meals to three, too soon. And the result is can be a nasty attack of diarrhea.
Be kind to your puppy’s tummy and feed him little and often. He may look hungry after a meal, but he’ll soon forget about it after a cuddle and trip into the garden.
6. To be taken out
Puppies need to be out and about. There is a small period of time during which puppies can easily accept new experiences, and after which they become fearful of strangers, strange objects, and strange experiences.
This unique time slot is called the window for socialization, and it is all but closed before the puppy is 14 weeks old.
So you need to get your puppy out and about, meeting all kinds of people, vehicles, shops, machinery, and so on.
Most experts recommend that you don’t put your puppy down on the ground until his vaccinations are complete, but you can carry him in your arms, or in a strong shoulder bag.
If you don’t take your puppy out before this window closes he may be somewhat fearful for the rest of his life. So don’t be tempted to cut corners with this one.
7. To be shown the right way to earn rewards
Nowadays we train dogs using positive reinforcement. Essentially this means with rewards. These rewards can be anything he enjoys, from toys, to food, to simply running around.
But puppies need to be shown how to earn rewards the right way. So that we get the right responses from them. It is all too easy to reward a puppy for doing the wrong things. Lots of puppies learn to bark to get attention for example or to jump up to get a stroke.
There are lots of games you can play with puppies to help them learn how to earn rewards. We teach these in my Puppy Parenting course, but the principle is the same throughout. Let the puppy know what you like them doing (with a marker word like YES) and follow it up with a treat.
You can start rewarding your puppy like this, for making eye contact with you, right from the very first day.
8. To learn to be alone
All companion dogs need to be alone at times. Even if you don’t go to work, your puppy needs to learn to cope with your absence from time to time. And the best time to learn this skill is when he is small.
As soon as your puppy has settled in to his new den, after the first few days it is time to start leaving him alone for short periods of time. Pull up a chair and start by getting the puppy used to being shut in the crate with you next to him. When he is happy to be crated while you are there, you can start leaving him for very short periods of time. Just a few seconds to begin with.
9. To be let off the lead
Small puppies have a powerful following response – I call this the safety response because they do it to feel safe. If you put and eight week old puppy on the ground and walk away, he will follow you.
If you keep your puppy on a leash for the first six months of his life, when you let him off he will no longer have this following reflex, and you will have wasted a great opportunity to establish this good behavior.
Check out below for a demonstration, on teaching a puppy recall.
And don’t forget to let your new little puppy off the lead whenever there is a safe place to do so.
So that he can learn to follow in your footsteps as you lead the way in exploring the great wide world. Obviously this needs to be done in a very safe space. Later on when you take your puppy into a more distracting environment, you should attach a trailing line to their harness for safety.
Just like small children, puppies need consistency. If your little one is allowed on the sofa today, he may think he is allowed on the sofa tomorrow. If you feed him from the table today, he’ll beg at the table tomorrow.
Decide what your rules are, and work out how to achieve them. Find out everything you can about how puppies learn so that you can teach your puppy how to live in our world, with love and kindness.
Not only will you have a very Happy Puppy, but you’ll spend many happy months and years, looking after him.
More information on puppies
Many of you have written to tell me that you’ve enjoyed the Happy Puppy Handbook, and I’ve been looking for ways to share puppy tips and training information in a more detailed and interactive way.
In November 2019 I launched the Dogsnet Online Training Program, and in May 2020 we launched our first Puppy Parenting course for our online students. You can join the course via those links. And you can email me firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you may have.
Enjoy your new puppy and do join my free forum if you need help and support
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website