Puppy Care - First Things First
From Crate Training to Exercise to Nutrition, this page is for the first time Labrador owner as well as the experienced owner just needing a refresher on raising a Labrador Puppy.
Crate Training ~
We recommend that prior to bringing your puppy home, you acquire an 42" Crate that will serve your puppy through all life stages. Crates come with a divider that allows you to limit the available space for the puppy until such time as they require the entire crate for comfort. Crate training provides safety and security for puppy during the "rapid growth" period (from 8 weeks until approximately 9 months) it aids in "house breaking" the puppy as most will not soil their "den" and it allows for the confinement of the dog after spaying, neutering, or recovery from illness or injury. Labrador's are "piranha puppies" - the crate offers a safe place will limit the chance that shoes, books and other items will be destroyed by puppy teeth And it protects your puppy from any older dogs you may have in your home; from over-stimulating attention that might be given to the puppy by your children or visitors to your home; and finally, it is a sure way to protect them from ingesting things that are dangerous or that may require surgery to remove. Raising a puppy is very similar to raising a toddler; silence is not always golden and nap-time is looked forward to by the parents!
Setting a schedule ~
Use the natural sleep wake play routine to set the schedule. Young puppies sleep 18 - 20 hours a day, make sure it is done in the crate and house training is going to be so much easier. Sleep then Wake/Potty, Eat/Potty, Play/Potty and Repeat - Set your schedule according to that already ingrained schedule. Out of the crate - Outside for potty on demand (no play until potty is done/praise and say "free"), Outside or inside play for 20 - 30 minutes and (after potty if it was inside play) pop into the crate with a Kong because he is going to be ready to go sleep. As the days go by, work towards a schedule like this: 10 a.m. - Noon = Crate Nap 2 p.m. - 4 p.m. = Crate Nap. These forced rest periods will go a long way to avoid over-stimulating your young puppy and provide you with breaks for your own sanity! At about six - seven months, move to a 1 p.m. - 3 p.m. = Crate Rest schedule which we continue until 18 months to 2 years of age depending upon the energy level and reliability of the individual dog to behave. Continue to crate at night until at least 12 months.
Learning thru play~Toys
I mentioned earlier that Labradors are piranha puppies! Having a wide variety of toys available (along with crate training) will go a long way to helping you stay sane! Anything KONG. Just make sure it is for "the strong chewer" Nylabones Pull Toys Balls of all sizes Frozen Ropes. These help with teething pain. Ice Cubes. They also help with teething pain. An old milk carton. Just remove the cap and ring. Try to have as many textures as possible available for your puppy. You can substitute a nyabone when your puppy is chewing on a hard surface and a softer toy when they are chewing on your throw. For more ideas, check out our New Puppy Shopping List.
Feeding and Weight
The rapid rate of growth plus the high energy levels of most Labrador Puppies means that they are burning off calories at a near constant rate. Feed three - four times per day - multiple small meals act like a time-release capsule, ensuring that their energy is fed by the calories they take in each day with no slumps. Weight: Your puppy should weigh 2 pounds per week of life on average until nearly reaching their adult weight. Don't over-feed: 8 week old puppies need about 1440 Kcal per day. You can find the kcal per cup on the bag of food (if not, give the company a call). Divide however many cups equal this amount over the number of meals you have decided to feed. If your puppy seems to be growing too fast, immediately lessen the daily caloric intake by switching to an ALL LIFE STAGES food - NOT an adult food! And remember that TREATS count towards their daily calorie limits. If you must use "high value treats" in your training, give them less of their kibble during meals. Our Puppies weight between 65 lb. and 85 lb. at about 12 months of age. This is your goal for your own Aisling Puppy. A Lab that weighs 100 lbs is very likely over-weight - a heavy Lab is NOT a bragging point and in fact, may contribute to join issues. At 24 months, your Lab may weigh closer to 100 lbs but this will depend upon not only muscles but bones of the mature Labrador. Use a Body Condition Chart to determine if 100 plus lbs is a good weight for YOUR mature dog. Most Vets will allow you to stop in and weigh your puppy during the rapid growth period. In the beginning you can use your own scale by weighing yourself alone, then the puppy and doing the math to see how much your puppy weighs.
A Safe Environment~
In the context of raising a puppy, environment consists of everything that is not genetic. Exercise and Nutrition are included under the term "environment". Dysplasia is 30% a genetic predisposition and 70% the environment provided from birth to eight weeks by the Breeder and from 8 weeks to 12 months by the new family. Flooring: We highly recommend you place secure area rugs in rooms your puppy will be walking, running and playing in. TEACH them to stay "on the carpet" from DAY ONE. The slipping and sliding as a puppy runs through the home, making sharp turns as they go through a doorway can cause repetitive trauma to their growing joints. DON'T overdo leash training with lots of sits and turns during the early months. Never push on your puppy's hips to force a sit. Exercise: Are you a jogger? If so, when your puppy reaches maturity (18 months - 2 years), he or she will be a wonderful partner on those jogs...but not until then. Forced running on hard surfaces, and even grassy runs, are very damaging to a young dogs joints. Some Vets STILL recommend jogging with a Labrador under the age of two who is high energy - DO NOT LISTEN to that advice. Deal with excess energy with feed cubes, puzzle feeders and training sessions Mental exercise is as exhausting to a young puppy as physical exercise.
Teach House Rules FIRST
House Rules include but are not limited to the following: Not being allowed on the furniture No running from room to room No jumping up at feeding time "Just Be" - Encourage puppy to just be beside you rather than demanding attention
Protect Hips & Elbows~
5 Minute Rule: Limit forced exercise (leashed walking, retrieving etc.) to 5 minutes per month of age. (8 week old - 10 minutes/12 week old -15 minutes and so on. Don't rush the "trick" training either; it is much more important that your puppy learn the house rules the first month home than it is that they learn to roll-over or shake paws.
No Stairs until 12 Weeks!
Carry your puppy up and down staircases until after 12 weeks; then progress to walking them up and down while on a short leash to control their speed. Teach your dog to WALK up stairs and not to run or jump down them; if they begin to run up or down when they reach adolescence (8 months or so), go back to the leash until they are in the habit of walking the staircase in both directions. Restrict the use of stairs to only when it is necessary i.e. down in the morning and up for bedtime. We have a crate on each floor for our puppies.
Many people schedule play dates or dog park visits into their week to help socialize their dog. Again, this is very good but must be done with caution. Try to match the age of the dogs your puppy will be playing with; research shows that there is much less damage to the joints, tendons and muscles when growing puppies play with others at or near the same age. Also, evaluate the play style of the dogs involved; some dogs play much more aggressively, mouth grabbing legs or deliberately taking the feet out from under their playmate. This need for caution is not permanent....but is necessary to give your puppy every advantage in attaining maturity without longterm physical damage. Avoid being a weekend warrior! If you work full time and your dog spends 40 - 50 hours a week alone or crated with about an hour each evening devoted to exercise, don't exercise it for several hours on Saturday and Sunday. Remember the "5 Minute Rule". A consistent schedule of balanced exercise and activity is best for the growing Labrador. Of course, this doesn't mean that you can't take them to the beach on Saturday (take plenty of fresh water and limit the beach trip to about two hours) or on a hike on Sunday. It just means that you need to be careful not to overdo the activity. If they get an hour a day Monday - Friday, then they should have only a hour or two a day of heavy exercise on Saturday and Sunday until they are 2 years old.
Monitor Free Play~
Free play is important and allows the dog to adjust its own turns and stops safely. Swimming is a great energy burner. Labradors have a very high pain tolerance and love to have fun so regulating their exercise will be up to you! They WILL continue playing even after an injury unless it is very severe.
Introduce this early but limit the number of times you request a retrieval and the distance required for it to what is appropriate for the age and development of your puppy. There are some studies that show that dogs that retrieve every day are more prone to dysplasia....so limit this until they are at least 12 months old. ROLL a ball rather than throwing it; save the frisbee until they are two years old; teach them to retrieve a thrown stick or bumper AFTER it hits the ground by training to a release command - all of this helps to protect your puppy's growing bones and muscles AND allows it to still have fun!
Consider a RAMP~
Jumping in and out of your truck may cause repetitive trauma to the knees and elbows. Along these same lines, do NOT allow your puppy to jump off beds, couches and chairs. Their joints cannot take repeated trauma without some damage occurring during their growth period. Hip and Elbow Dysplasia are not the only issues that this type of behavior can lead to; OCD is another concern. All large breed dogs, and some medium breeds, are susceptible to these conditions through repeated trauma throughout the rapid growth period and until maturity. Remember, healthy joints and bones are 30% genetic predisposition and 70% the environment you are providing them.