A Guide To Owning A Labrador Retriever Puppy
The Labrador Retriever
As a breed the Labrador needs no introduction. Probably one of the most famous, popular and widespread breeds in the world, they have been a familiar sight for decades by the sides of heads of state, on advertising and in the ring of honour at Crufts. They were developed in Britain as an all round gundog. As such they still retain the webbed feet and waterproof double coat of their forebears and their greatest joy in life is to go for a swim or to dash off and retrieve something for you. They are valued for superb temperaments and willingness to please which make them as good a family pet as a working companion.
Things To Consider Before Ownership
Is A Labrador The Right Choice Of Dog For Me? A purebred dog as versatile and talented as the Labrador Retriever attracts many admirers. Whether you are looking for a puppy for a family pet or house companion, a show dog, a field dog, or a competition dog, there are many serious factors you should think about. Do you think you have enough time to devote to your new Labrador? Even a pet Labrador will require considerable time to train. Of course, a field dog or obedience/agility dog will require hours of daily attention and special training. The Labrador is a demanding dog who will want to share his whole life with you, consider your choice carefully.
You can expect a Labrador to live on average between 10 and 12 years though it is very possible that they can go until there are 15. Do you know where you will be in a decade? You have to plan for a Labrador to be part of that picture. It is important to win the lifelong battle against the flab - they are a greedy breed. They are a breed that need a lot of exercise - as a gundog they need the stamina to go all day and keep to their master's side, always ready to dash off and retrieve.If you are not committed to the welfare and the whole existence of this energetic, purposeful animal, if in the simplest, most basic example, you are not willing to walk your dog daily, despite the weather, do not choose a Labrador as a companion. Ideally, long walks to keep them happy and busy are the best but failing that, some games such as retrieving or finding which occupy their mind and stop them from getting bored are good. A swim, especially in the summer is always appreciated but if it is the sea do remember to rinse them off afterwards so that the salt does not build up in their coat and cause skin problems. Labradors love cars and generally make very good car campanions. They are not a breed which is prone to carsickness and enjoy the stimulation that being in the car brings.
Along with all the factors above, there are the usual problems associated with puppies of any breed, one of these being the damage likely to be sustained by your floors, furniture, flowers etc., What about your freedom? Holidays or weekend trips will have to be planned, when owning a Labrador you have to take all this into serious consideration.
A Labrador is not a breed that enjoys being solitary. Their very nature and purpose in life demands close contact with their 'people' and they find it extremely stressful to be left alone for long periods of time. If it is absolutely necessary for you to do this then you need to think up some strategies to lessen the stress on your puppy and you need to be prepared for problems.
- A good idea is to provide an indoor or outdoor kennel available for when you are not there with your puppy. An outdoor kennel with a run; (Remember your fence will need to be at least five feet high and be strong enough to contain an adult of up to 40 kilos) would be the least stressful for them but an indoor cage or crate as long as it is large enough and they are used to it will be adequate enough. A stressed out Labrador can cause a lot of damage, so it is best to avoid leaving them for long periods of time. If you do come home to find a disaster area, try and look on it as a learning experience. Punishing your puppy when you come home will only teach him/her to be frightened of you.
- Leaving toys with your Labrador puppy is something to be treated with caution as Labradors have very strong jaws and could chew them up and cause themselves damage if they swallow them.
- Leaving them at night can cause problems too. Start as you mean to go on. Sometimes, by putting your puppy's bed by your bedside cures any separation anxiety but not everyone may wish to do this. If this is not for you, then putting your puppy in his or her crate/kennel is fine, and you will have to turn a deaf ear to the yelps for attention. Usually, after a few days, as long as you are firm but kind and provide a routine that your puppy can rely on, then they will accept going into their crate/kennel and start to treat it as their refuge and home.
- If you need to leave them in a car then a good strong guard is advisable. Leave them for only a few minutes at a time to start with and don't make too much of a fuss when you come back to them. A quiet word of praise if they have been good is sufficient, otherwise ignore any accidents or destruction.
Labradors are a breed, that want to please. As such, they are very willing and eager to be trained and in fact are a much happier dog if this is so. Also, it is as well to remember that an adult dog can weigh up to 40 kilos, and alot of people are not very comfortable with large breeds. To see a large dog bearing down on them can be a frightening experience for them and of course your dog will pick this up and his or her natural curiosity and friendliness will make them want to investigate. One of the endearing traits, it has been said, that if your Labrador detects a non-dog lover then they will immediately pester them in a vain effort to convince them how loveable they are! If you want to take your dog out out in public there are several things he or she must be able to do, especially if you want to let him or her off the lead.
1) Know his or her name and come at all times the instant they are called. Obviously, bribery in the form of treats is very good. Keep calling them back to you, get them to sit and reward then send them off about their business again.
2) Walk nicely on the lead without pulling or jumping up at passers by. Use only one word, such as heel, and when the puppy starts pulling administer a sharp tug and say heel. In time your dog will associate heel with walking quietly by your side. When this happens, you can move on to heel work - that is, take the puppy off the lead and concentrate on getting him or her to stay by your side. Say heel, reward with a pat when this happens and make sure your puppy knows the difference between staying by your side under control and going off and enjoying him/herself by sending him or her on ahead with a wave.
3) Go down on your word and stay. This takes work and patience but is very satisfying when it happens and can get you out of a lot of trouble if you need to control your dog from a distance. Once they have learnt the words down and stay, choose a peaceful environment they are used to which holds no distractions for them and practice the down and stay from a distance which you can increase gradually. Never push your puppy too far - if he or she is starting to lose their confidence go back to the previous step and start from there more slowly.
Remember all puppy training must be short at first, A puppy's concentration span is only a few minutes. Rewards and kindness always work better than fear. Simple activities such as sitting and knowing their name and retrieving are best to start with. A well-trained Labrador is a happy one, and you might find you get the taste for obedience work and competitions in agility.
House training is obviously a necessity if the dog is to live in the house. An indoor kennel or crate is the best way, some say, as a dog will not want to soil their own bed and so will try and hang on until you can release them from the kennel. when this is done, take him/her outside straight away, and wait until he or she has performed then praise them. Take them to the same place everytime, use the same words and they will soon associate the place and words with the action. Do the same after they have woken up and after they have eaten and when you see them running around and sniffing at the floor. Remember that until they are 6 months old they have little control over their bodily functions and so it is your vigilance, which is important. If they do have an accident, ignore it, clean it up and put them outside. It is usual for male entire dogs to mark their territory; the only way to prevent this is to have them castrated after they are 8 months old and are mature enough. The other advantage of this procedure is that it lessens their desire to wander!
Labradors are greedy dogs on the whole and it is more difficult to stop them from eating than not eating. It is important to give them a balanced diet with plenty of calcium until they have finished growing, which can be up until there are two in the case of a big male. It is recommended that you buy a good quality dog food, and you will find that most Pet Stores do a feed to suit your dog from birth to old age. Beware, some cheaper foods in the supermarkets can cause digestive upsets. If you are going to make up your own feed they need 30% meat to 70% cereals with a good vitamin .mineral mix, 2% of this should be a calcium supplement of some kind. It is very important that they get enough calcium in their diet, Labradors have a massive bone structure and need plenty of calcium during their growth period. Labradors are prone to worms and the runs because of their greedy nature. Make sure you follow a regular worming pattern with them and watch carefully for any signs of infestation. Fleas will also give them worms, so de-flea regularly. It can also be helpful to give them live yoghurt if they have a stomach upset or the runs. If you want to feed tins, you will also have to give a good mixer or puppy biscuit for their teeth.
Other foods that are appealing are vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, rice & pasta, wholemeal bread, croquettes and meat.
Remember, do not force your puppy to do too much exercise on the lead until they are six months old, as this will damage their growing bones. Just lead training in short bursts and exercise on grass will suffice.
Acquiring A Puppy
The safest way for you to obtain a puppy is to find a reputable breeder. This is also the case even if you are not looking for a show specimen or a top contender in field work. The novice breeders and pet owners who advertise at attractive prices in the local newspapers are probably kind enough towards their dogs, but perhaps they do not have the expertise or facilities to successfully raise these dogs. A insufficient diet can cause indigestion, weak bones, rickets, poor teeth and other problems. The colour of the Lab you choose, is strictly a matter of personal choice. While no importance is placed on colour in the breed, only the three colours - yellow, black and chocolate - are recognised as true Labradors.
There should be two important documents your breeder should give to you, and these are the pup's pedigree and registration papers. The breeder should register the litter and each pup with the Kennel Club, and it is necessary for you to have all the paperwork if you plan on showing or breeding in the future. It is best that you know the breeder's intentions on which type of registration they will obtain for your puppy. There are limited registrations which may prohibit the dog from being shown or from competing in non-conformation trials such as Working or Agility if the breeder feels that the pup is not of sufficient quality to do so. There is also a type of registration that will permit the dog in non-conformation competition only.
Your breeder should always be available for you, before and after you receive your puppy, and be willing to take your puppy back at any time if your circumstances were to change. They should be a reliable source of help as you and your puppy adjust to life together. By visiting litters in action you will be able to get a firsthand look as the puppy 'pack' and get to know what each of the pup's individual personality is like, you might have found a particular one that appeals to you. If you haven't found the puppy of your dreams, observe other pups in other litters, as this will help you learn and recognise certain behaviour, which will give you a good indication as to the personality of the pup. Some pups may be leaders, some less outgoing, some may be confident, others shy, playful, friendly, aggressive, etc.,
When you finally acquire your new puppy, he or she should be examined by your vet as soon as you buy him or her. Your vet will be able to tell you all about any possible physical defects as well as start your puppy on a vaccination programme. Your home should also have been prepared for your new puppy's arrival. Anything potentially dangerous should be moved out of reach.
Introducing Your Puppy To Your Family
Everyone in the family will want to meet your new puppy, but it is probably best to make the introduction low-key so as not to overwhelm your puppy. He will already be apprehensive as it will be the first time he or she has been separated from his mother and the breeder. The ride home in the car is probably the first time your puppy has been in a car, and this might have made him uneasy also. It's important for your puppy to have human contact, as at this stage an instant connection between your pup and his human family will be formed. Gentle soothing words and stroking will also help console your puppy, as well as putting them down and letting them explore his new home. (Under your watchful eye of course) Each family member should spend some time with your puppy, let your puppy sniff at their hands and stroke him or her gently. Puppies need human attention and need to be touched - this is how to form an immediate bond.
Here is a list of things that you will probably need for your new Labrador puppy.
- A crate
- Stainless steel water & food bowls. (These cannot be chewed)
- A light, thin, nylon lead and collar suitable for a puppy.
- Kongs, tennis balls etc., Whatever toys you buy, make sure they are fun, safe, durable and washable. You will need to teach your puppy that its toys are the best things to chew on, not the sofa or your furniture!
- Food. Select a high quality food, your breeder may have given you a few weeks supply so that you can continue it's normal feed, gradually changing to your chosen food if applicable.
- Bedding. The choice is up to you, but remember it may well end up being chewed.
- An I.D tag. (Micro-chipping is also a very good idea- speak to your vet about this)
- A good quality brush to groom your puppy.
- Poop Scooper and bags
- Some new towels as your old ones will be used for drying / cleaning your new pup :)
- Toothbrush (good to start this really early so he accepts it as normal)
- Baby Wipes - Usefull for cleaning all over your new puppy
- Big supply of Kitchen Roll - Handy for wiping floor from waterworks problems, mopping up drinking water, wiping muzzles etc
- You can now buy absorbent pads from most large pet stores, to absorb the odd little toilet accident your puppy may have.
It is also a good idea to get your puppy insured. Have fun with your new puppy, with your love, care and attention he or she will becoming a loving member of your family.
- A good camera and lots of film (If not digital) and batteries
Now go and read the follow up article in this series -> Puppy Guide Part II
We would like to thank Stephanie Godwin for some of the original material used in this article.