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.
Your job is a bit of a balancing act. Keeping him happy, whilst 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, 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.
Recreating this ‘nest’ in your own home takes a little time.
Your home seems strange and new to the puppy at first.
His new den won’t feel like home for several days.
Many new puppy owners nowadays, create their puppy’s den using a crate. There are a number of advantages to this. You can read about them in this article: The benefits of a dog crate
2. A calm environment
Little puppies are quite ‘reactive’. They 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!
This is unrealistic.
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, the more often you take your puppy outdoors and give him opportunity to toilet, the sooner he will be clean indoors.
You can read more about housetraining your puppy here: housetraining without tears
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.
Not to mention the work entailed in cleaning up after him.
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 small, washable part of the house. 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. And many people are tempted to cut their puppy down from four meals to three, far too soon. The result is often diarrhoea.
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 socialisation, 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.
You can’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.
A great way to get good behaviour established is to teach a puppy to sit every time he wants something. A bit like teaching your children to say ‘please’. Your friends and total strangers will love him for it and he will be able to bask in the glow of their approval.
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, it is time to start leaving him alone for short periods of time. This includes during the day. If you leave him with a nice frozen food filled Kong, he will learn to enjoy these ‘quiet times’ and not to fear your departure.
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 behaviour.
Check out my video below for help and 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.
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
The Happy Puppy Handbook covers every aspect of life with a small puppy.
The book will help you prepare your home for the new arrival, and get your puppy off to a great start with potty training, socialisation and early obedience.
The Happy Puppy Handbook is available worldwide.