The Three Rs of Labrador Puppy Education


Labrador puppies are adorable.But they can also be a lot of trouble! Educating a puppy takes time and patience. Sometimes it can feel as though your puppy will never behave nicely.

Natural behavior

Puppies bite when they play,  chew your best shoes, and dig up your lupins. These are all natural, instinctive behaviors that most new Labrador puppy owners are keen to prevent.

Learned behavior

Puppies also learn very quickly,  to behave in ways that you do not approve of.

The three Rs of puppy educationYou think he should sleep on the floor,  he thinks he should sleep on the sofa. You think he should eat out of his bowl,  he thinks he should eat out of the bin. This is what we might call ‘naughty’ behavior.

The concept of naughtiness is actually a bit flawed. Usually,  we have ‘trained’ the puppy to behave in a particular way, by providing a reward for that behavior.

If a puppy climbs on a sofa and gets a nice cuddle or a nap on a cosy cushion,  he has received a splendid reward.  And we know that rewards ‘reinforce’ behavior.   So the puppy is likely to do it again. If a puppy gets into the kitchen bin, he will be generously rewarded by some smelly and delicious leftovers.  Another splendid reward.  Again provided by you. So although you did not intend to train your puppy to do these things,  you inadvertently did so.

The three Rs

Whenever you are tearing your hair out and feeling frustrated by your puppy’s behavior,  it is a good idea to think of the 3 Rs. Whenever a puppy behaves inappropriately,   we have three important lines of defence.

  • Restriction
  • Redirection
  • Retraining

In that order.


The first thing to ask yourself is: “Does my puppy need to have access to this part of the house/garden/person? There is little point in trying to teach an eight week old puppy not to chew/dig/chase/bite  all in the first week after you collect him.

We need to remind ourselves from time to time, that a puppy that chomps his way through our chair legs and steals anything that is not nailed down, is not being naughty, he is being a puppy. Trying to train him not to do all of these things at once is exhausting and unnecessary.

Restricting your puppy’s access to your precious things takes the pressure off the two of you and allows you to train the puppy at his own pace. We have talked about the importance of restriction for puppies quite a bit on this website.   Last week we looked at protecting your garden  from the attentions of your young hooligan.  And there are several articles on puppy care and adult dog behavior that apply this approach. Puppy crates and baby gates can make your life a whole lot easier, and help you to raise a happy puppy, if used appropriately


Natural behaviors have a way of expressing themselves.  If you prevent your puppy from chewing altogether he may become distressed.   Puppies need to be able to chew, chase sunbeams and play. Your second  priority therefore is to ‘redirect’  natural behaviors like  chewing, from your own stuff,  onto more appropriate items such as kong toys.


There comes a point of course,  when your dog begins to learn new ways to behave that the two of you can’t agree on. And when you want to teach your puppy new and better ways to behave. When you have reached the limits of what you can achieve with redirection and restriction,  or when your puppy is ready to learn a  new and better way to behave,  retraining is the answer.

You can find information on training your puppy on this page:  Labrador puppy training

In your absence

Remember that ‘self-discipline’ does not come naturally to dogs, especially puppies.  Dogs need supervision. If left to their own devices for long enough, most young dogs will get up to mischief. No matter how well you have taught him, if you are not in the room with him,  your dog will not be able to say to himself “mmm,  that sofa looks mighty comfy,  but I had best lie on the floor as I am not permitted on the furniture.”

Dogs are also poor at predicting delayed consequences. He is unable to figure out that “If I am caught on the sofa during my nap,  I may be punished.” Dogs lack the moral code required to power such behavior. Your dog is not physically capable of rationalising in the way that an adult human might do. He has no concept of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ only of what is likely to be rewarded or punished. And delayed gratification is not his strong point.

So if you are going to be out for any length of time, put your puppy or young dog in a safe place where he cannot investigate the potential of ‘mains’ electricity or dismantle your precious collection of photo albums.

Keep things simple

Remember,  if you are coming into conflict with your puppy,  whether it is over the contents of your dustbin,  or  ‘digging rights’  in your precious flower beds,  think of the three Rs

  • Restriction
  • Redirection
  • Retraining

In that order Keep things simple and you will both be happier.

More help and information

Happy Puppy jacket imageIf you enjoy Pippa’s articles, you will love her new book: The Happy Puppy Handbook published  in 2014. Now available in most countries, the handbook is already a bestseller in the UK.

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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


  1. Hello,
    My boyfriend required a black and silver puppy lab,,actually it was dropped on him from a family member who couldn’t do it anymore!!
    This pup is off the hook,,,you can take her out side to potty, she will do her business,5 to 10 minutes later,she will do her business again in the house, she will/has chewed up every thing she can,,even the sofa,chairs,cushions, shoes, you name it! She has chewed it,,
    She knows that she has done wrong because she will run straight to her bed with her head/ears down. Potting and her disruptive behavior has made it to where I don’t want to come around anymore…
    Any advice???

  2. My 4month old lab does whatever he can naughty, when I am gone for a few short seconds. Jumps on sofa, chews thongs he wouldn’t if I were watching, knocks over ny water. I reward him with praise, when I catch him being good when I’ve left and returned. Am I doing the right thing? I want to give him short opportunies for Him to be good.

  3. Hello, we have a 14 week old golden labrador, he is
    Constantly chewing
    Through wires and things he is not allowed, no matter how many toys chews bones we give him he still goes for things he is not allowed, we have moved as much as we possibly can, he has exercise everyday, we just don’t know what else to do as me and my
    Husband are getting sick of it, it’s getting that bad are friends won’t even come
    Round no more because of the puppy!

    • . One of my yr. old sister lab’s is chewing the other one’s neck. She does this while they are playing. I do not particularly like combing large scabs from Bella’s neck. What can I DO.

  4. Hi Sue, the solution depends on why she is doing it. Shutting down on walks can be caused by the dog feeling unwell or being in pain, so it is good to get your vet to exclude these. It can be caused by anxiety or fear about going out or going past a particular object or place. Or it can be that the dog has trained you to go the way she wants to go! If she is quite well, not anxious and just prefers one direction over another you can ‘sit it out’ (i.e. sit down or stop when she stops, and refuse to move until she gets up again) then mark and reward any progress in the direction you want to go. A harness will avoid the collar slipping issue.

  5. When can you trust a lab to stay at home outside of a crate? I have a 3 month old black lab that is crate trained and therefore does not mind going in his crate when we leave, but I would eventually like to let him have access to the house.

    • Hi Katie, it depends what you mean by ‘trust’. Some Labradors will still chew your possessions if left alone for long, until well past their first birthday. I would not recommend de-crating much before 12 months, and then on a ‘try it and see’ basis for very short periods of time to begin with. Pippa