Right, firstly don’t despair. Labrador puppies are not the easy puppies some people (who have never owned one) like to tell us. But they do grow into the most wonderful dogs. Yes at 8 months old she is still a puppy, but she’s not too young to start learning manners. It’s all about shaping behaviour into what you want. And thats all about training. You cant sit back and expect changes to just happen, you have to show her what is acceptable and what is not. Otherwise how will she know?
You have asked a number of questions, which I’ll answer in order of importance, not necessarily in the order you feel is most important.
Firstly, you say she has not been off lead yet. This is a big mistake which you need to rectify ASAP. Normally my pups go off lead on their very first walk at around 9 or 10 weeks old. The reason for that is because at that age they know nothing of their surrounding so the apprehension keeps them close to me. I’m the only thing they know so they don’t want to lose me. At 8 months old Belle’s confidence level is much higher, so she is more likely to range out further than a 10 week old baby. But her confidence is growing all the time and the longer you leave it the more confident she will grow. My normal way is to take my pup to a safe place at a time when there is unlikely to be anybody around to cause a distraction, And preferably somewhere she has never been, because a strange place will reduce her confidence level slightly. Walk her on lead into the middle and simply take the lead off. Have a pocket full of some nice tasty treat and make sure she know!! After a couple of minutes call her back and give her a treat. If she does not come immediately walk, or better run, in the opposite direction. Whatever you do, don’t chase her, she can run faster than you and will consider it a great game! I then slip the lead on and do a little training. Say a minute of heelwork, maybe a few sits added in, then slip the lead off again for another little free running. I repeat the calling back and training several times during the walk. Dont just let her have a run then put the lead on and go home. You don’t want her to associate the calling and lead going on as the end of freedom or she could say, “I’m not ready to go home yet!” And make the training a game, something where she does not even suspect that she’s being trained! Use lots of praise as well as treats. Personally I don’t use many treats with my pups, my voice and my hands are the reward.
Heelwork training should be in short doses. Never walk far in a straight line. Walk in circles and squares. Straight lines are boring! Turning helps to keep her interest. Heelwork should start with a sit and finish with a sit, (And probably a few more sits along the way!) I also mix some sit stays in with the heelwork. Sit stays are important because they train patience. Imagine your dog sitting quietly beside you while you stand talking to a friend, or at a distance from you while you clear up the floor. Training should be used both indoors and out. But it also starts getting the relationship right. Humans give the orders because humans appreciate the dangers. Imaging your dog running towards the road as a number 9 bus is approaching. Your command must be obeyed instantaneously. Anything else will result in a dead dog! It’s that important. Orders are orders, not debating points!
I teach a command “Leave” Leave means “Whatever you are looking at, leave it alone!” Make sure you have some treats in your pocket and when you see something approaching that you think she is going to pull towards or jump up, tell her to leave, make sure she does leave and then tell her she’s a good girl and treat her for leaving.
All this training will have the effect of upping your status and making her more tuned in to obeying your instructions, making her easier to handle when your niece and nephew arrive. Children are always “Interesting” because they are nearer to her size, miniature humans, and with exciting voices and fast actions! Great fun to be around! So you will need to be a little firm with her. Tell her what you want and insist she does it. And this applies to everything. As I said above, a command is not a debating point. Try when you give a command to always be in a position to enforce it. If you are not in a position to enforce it, for whatever reason, too busy, too far away, then think, maybe it would be better to not give the command. Because for whatever reason, if a command is not obeyed then it is devalued as a command. Anything you don't understand or not sure how to tackle, just ask and I'll try to answer.