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If you have just brought an 8-week old Labrador puppy home or are considering owning one, you know that you’ve just added dog-training to your list of daily chores! What you might not know is how easy or tough your new job is going to be. So, how do you train an 8-week old Labrador?
To train an 8-week old Labrador puppy, follow these 3 golden rules; train your Lab puppy young, establish a steady pattern with consistent training principles, and target the five core areas of dog training. These are socialization, potty training, crate training, bite inhibition, and leash walking.
These three golden rules of dog training summarize the details you will find in this article. I’ll tell you why training your Labrador puppy young will yield success, the principles that you should follow when training your Lab puppy, and the core training areas that you should target as soon as you bring your pup home.
If you’ve never owned a dog before, don’t worry, as Labrador Retrievers make good first dogs. But you must have the time and energy to devote to them as early socialization and training leads to a happy and confident dog and a happy you!
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So, let’s go straight into the precise information on how to train an 8-week old Labrador puppy.
- What Age Should You Start Training a Lab Puppy?
- Are Lab Puppies Easy to Train?
- Principles of Puppy Training
- Initiate Your Dog to Being Handled Gently
- Teach Name Recognition
- Let Your Dog Know That You Are the Alpha
- Start With Basic Skills and Commands
- Use Positive Reinforcement
- Make Commands Only Once
- Discipline at the Precise Moment of the Unwanted Behavior
- Don’t Use Physical Punishment or Yell
- Be Consistent in Your Training
- Wean Your Puppy off Training Treats
- Labrador Puppy Training: Key Areas
- Final Thoughts
What Age Should You Start Training a Lab Puppy?
When it comes to dog training, the rule of thumb is that they are trained young. But how young should they be?
Labrador puppies should be trained as soon as you bring them home, typically around 8-weeks of age. This does not imply that older puppies or adult dogs cannot be trained; it simply means that it’s much easier to train dogs when they are young.
In fact, the American Kennel Club (AKC) indicates that the first key milestone when bringing a Lab pup home is 8-weeks, as soon as they have left their mother. This is an important time in laying the foundation for your Labrador puppy to integrate into the family.
When you bring your Labrador Retriever puppy home at 2 months, the dog has most likely interacted with a few situations and is eager enough to learn and follow the rules of a new home.
A recent study scientifically proved that 8-week old puppies are quite capable of learning at this young age as they easily learned to open a puzzle box baited with food and remembered the skill an hour later. Interestingly, these puppies learned the skill better from a human rather than their own mother.
Other studies have also proven that it is effective for future behavior to teach puppies socialization and other skills rather than adults. In this study, puppies who attended a command and socialization training class for one hour a day for six months responded better to strangers than adult dogs who attended the same classes.
Are Lab Puppies Easy to Train?
Lab puppies are easy to train. They are a working breed that enjoys physical and mental stimulation and have many positive traits. They are intelligent, devoted, friendly, highly social, and love to please. They are often used as guide dogs, therapy dogs, or in search and rescue due to their easy trainability.
Apart from the age factor, other breed-specific reasons make training a Labrador puppy easy. Here are 3 examples:
- Labradors are among the smartest dog breeds. In his book, The Intelligence of Dogs, canine psychologist Stanley Coren lists Labradors in the top tier of the brightest working dogs. So, even at just eight weeks, your puppy has it in his blood to learn and carry out commands.
- To perform their original working job of retrieving fish that came off the trawl, Labradors had to be watchful and enthusiastic. These are basic learning characteristics.
- As game and waterfowl retrievers for hunters, Labradors have to be obedient. This is another core training requirement that makes your Lab puppy easy to train.
To succeed in your training task, however, there are specific principles you need to follow. Read about these training rules in the next section.
Principles of Puppy Training
The purpose of any dog training is to have behavioral skills mastered. As in human training, a good dog trainer is one who understands that the trainee learns better when treated well, using patience, positivity, consistency, and with strong regard to the dog’s feelings.
I explain these training requirements in 10 key principles of successful Labrador Retriever puppy training.
Initiate Your Dog to Being Handled Gently
Labradors are great at hugs and showing affection. However, they also have to deal with grooming, which can make them feel uncomfortable. Your Labrador puppy can learn to handle this uneasiness if exposed to handling when young.
In one study, puppies that were subjected to early gently handling behaved more calmly at 8 weeks old than puppies who were not handled. You can continue to gently handle your pup as soon as you bring him home.
Teach Name Recognition
How does your Labrador puppy know you are talking to him if you just make commands? You need to teach name recognition as this is the foundation for their future training. Call his name first, then make the command. That way, your pet knows to answer when you call.
Let Your Dog Know That You Are the Alpha
In dog training, your Lab must know from the beginning that you are the boss. If this is done fairly, your dog won’t do things without first looking up to you and seeking your confirmation.
Never mistake being the boss with punishment. A good leader is fair and doesn’t use fear or physical punishment. An alpha leader teaches the dog to be happily submissive and shows approval at the behavior.
Start With Basic Skills and Commands
If you intend to make your Labrador the clever pet who hears “ahh ahh!” or “no!” and refrains from doing the unwanted behavior, you need to start with baby steps by teaching basic commands and skills.
Teach your pet to first obey simple commands such as “no,” “sit,” “come,” “stay,” and “lay down.” Advanced training should only begin at 6 months old.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement or rewards-based training is an indispensable approach in dog training. Rewards reinforce the behavior and they can be treats, a favorite toy or activity, and/or lots of praise.
So, if you are training your puppy to retrieve a ball, affirm him with a “good boy” compliment and reward him with a treat. By the time the command is executed thrice, your Labrador pup knows that it is a good thing to bring you the ball because it also produces good outcomes.
Make Commands Only Once
When it comes to training, what you give is what you get. If you train your Labrador puppy to listen to commands three times before obeying them, that’s exactly what he will learn. This is known as command nagging.
Teach your pup to heed a command at its first mention. If a command is not executed the first time, show your Lab what you want them to do and make the command again. Repeat that until they can learn to obey the first time the command is made.
Discipline at the Precise Moment of the Unwanted Behavior
Timing is crucial when disciplining your Labrador pup. It’s no good telling him “no” minutes after the event as he won’t realize what he has done wrong! Dogs will typically forget an experience in 2 minutes, however, they can recall your training commands through associative memory.
Once your pup has corrected his unwanted behavior with the desired behavior, reward him with a tasty treat and lots of praise.
To learn a ton more on how to discipline your dog, check out my top article, How to Discipline a Labrador: What Not to Do!
Don’t Use Physical Punishment or Yell
Never physically punish or yell at your Lab as this only causes fear and distrust. It can also cause aggression in dogs as found in this year-long study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania.
In any case, using physical punishment such as hitting, kicking, or grabbing the jowls and shaking, is simply animal abuse. Other unacceptable methods are physically forcing the dog down onto its side or back, growling at your dog, withdrawing food, using a shock collar, or tying him for hours.
Be Consistent in Your Training
If your puppy barks for a treat one day and you say “no” and withhold it till he is quiet, but you give it to him while barking on a different day, you’ll never achieve any positive results with your training!
Make sure your “no” always mean “no,” otherwise your poor puppy will be confused about what you expect.
Wean Your Puppy off Training Treats
At some point, your Labrador needs to learn that skills and commands are not learned or obeyed for the sole motive of a treat. For this reason, it is important to wean your puppy off treats when he has repeatedly performed the behavior and completely mastered it in different locations and with various distractions.
Nonetheless, your Labrador puppy is still a dog in training, and you still need to tell him that he has done the right thing. That could mean rewarding him with lots of praise or his favorite activity such as “fetch” or taking him on his favorite walk.
With these ten principles, you can now apply them to the key areas that your 8-week old Labrador puppy needs to be trained in.
Labrador Puppy Training: Key Areas
There are five key areas in which your 8-week old Lab puppy must be appropriately trained. In the next section, I tell you what training entails for each of these areas.
How to Socialize a Labrador
They say humans are social beings, but that is also true about dogs. Socialization begins with the breeder and continues with you. So, how do you socialize a labrador once you’ve brought him home?
To socialize a Labrador, expose him to many different places and situations. Include sounds, smells, other adults, children, animals, cars, objects, etc. Make each experience a positive one, and don’t rush the process. Dogs who are well socialized in the first 12 weeks will be set up for life.
- Dogs that are well socialized as pups will behave more positively with humans and are less likely to display unwanted behavioral problems such as fear and aggression.
- Socialized dogs are more likely to engage in positive social behaviors with humans. They also learn better how to play games with humans, helping them to establish a true bond with their owner.
As a puppy, you can teach your Labrador social skills and confidence through intentional training moments in the family. Once he has completed his vaccinations, take him to public places such as parks, or to puppy socialization classes.
How to Potty Train an 8 Week Old Lab Puppy
Those tiny packages that your Lab will leave around the house if you don’t teach him where to go are not a pleasant sight or smell to face!
To potty train an 8-week old Lab puppy, control your dog’s access to the house by attaching him to you with a leash or by putting him in a puppy-proof area. Put him outside hourly and learn to anticipate when he needs to go. Reward and praise him when he does go outside.
When housetraining your Lab, there are certain things that you shouldn’t do. Watch this 3-minute video from celebrity dog trainer Zak George on the 5 most common potty training mistakes that dog owners make:
You will also get to know your Lab’s potty routine. Usually, puppies will need to relieve themselves early in the morning, and after a meal. Use their natural rhythm for daily pee or poop-walks. Here’s a possible routine you could use to potty-train your 8-week-old Labrador puppy:
- Walk your pup first thing every morning to give him a chance to relieve himself. Dogs hate messing where they sleep and will usually hold it. Nonetheless, very young puppies might be unable to do so.
- Walk your Labrador after his morning meal and hang around for 15 minutes or so to allow him to do his thing. Repeat the same in the evening.
- Puppies will need to be allowed to relieve themselves every hour and for vaccinated dogs, a short walk every 2-3 hours is an ideal routine to prevent him from peeing around the house.
- If you crate your puppy because you need to go out, get someone to help you stick to the routine. Repeating this routine for the first few days will give your new furry friend a good idea of what is expected of him.
Don’t have unrealistic expectations as some puppies can take a few weeks to master potty training. Check out my ultimate guide to Labrador potty training here.
How to Crate Train an 8 Week Old Lab Puppy
Crate training is an essential element of house training, but it also comes with benefits for your Lab’s safety and comfort when he is left alone.
To crate train an 8-week old Labrador puppy, start as soon as you bring him home. Slowly introduce him to the crate by throwing a treat inside and let him explore the crate voluntarily. When you first leave him with the door closed, make sure he is tired as he will sleep and not be afraid.
Here are six key things you should practice when crate-training your Labrador:
- Keep your puppy in the crate at night. You shouldn’t let him sleep in your bed with you but you can have the crate near you if you wish.
- Initiate crate training from the very first day you bring your puppy home. It will be harder to succeed in crate training if your puppy gets used to other sleeping arrangements. You will likely hear your 8-week old Lab cry during the very first night, but don’t worry as this is completely normal and to be expected. My puppy cried during the first night, but after that, she was just fine.
- A rough guideline for Labrador puppies to be left alone in a crate is one hour for each month of age, up to a maximum of four hours. Check out this article for loads more info on this subject, How Long Can You Leave a Labrador in a Crate? Myths vs. Reality!
- Keep your dog in the crate when you are out of the house and for his own safety such as when you are cooking in the kitchen.
- Do not let your Lab out of the cage when he’s barking or giving you those eyes that seem to beg you to let him out. If you do, you’ve just sent a message that he can have his way. Instead, reward good behavior in the crate, i.e. as soon as he stops barking. He will quickly learn that being quiet leads to nice things.
- Keep your pup’s crate in the same place to avoid confusing him. He will quickly learn that this special place is just for him. Various toys and bedding will offer some comfort for your Labrador. Cover half of the crate with a blanket to give it a “den-like” feel as dogs love this.
When purchasing a crate for your puppy, the best ones will give your Lab enough room to stand, sit, turn, and lie down comfortably on his side with paws outstretched. A size 42″ is best for Labrador Retrievers.
There shouldn’t be too much room for a 2-month-old puppy to discourage him from pooping down the other end of the crate! Instead, buy a crate with an adjustable divider that allows him to grow into and choose a standard metal model with either a single or double door.
My favorite is the MidWest Homes for Pets Dog iCrate from Amazon as it’s strong and sturdy and ideal for medium-large breed dogs. It has everything you need and includes a divider and a removable plastic pan that’s easy to wipe clean. It’s also easy to put up, and you don’t need any tools.
Travel kennels like this Petmate Ultra Vari Kennel, also from Amazon, are also hardy when you are on the move with your dog. This one is even airline adaptable and meets most airline cargo specifications.
Check out the below video on how to easily crate train a puppy. It’s really helpful and features a cute American Cocker Spaniel puppy:
How to Train a Lab Puppy Not to Bite
Biting is part of being a dog and it’s completely natural for puppies to want to explore their new world with their mouths. Older dogs may refrain from biting because they have been trained not to hurt as they have learned their bite inhibition. This simply means that the dog has learned to control the strength of his bite.
To train a Lab puppy not to bite, let out a loud yelp such as “ouch” at the moment he bites, and let your hand go limp. This sends the message that the bite hurts. Persist by leaving your hand in his mouth until he lets go, then use lots of praise.
When your dog gets the hang of repeatedly letting go, this is a sign that he is beginning to learn his bite inhibition, also known as “soft mouth.”
Helping a dog learn to inhibit the force of their bite is paramount to living with humans. All puppies need to master this technique that they initially started to learn from their mother and littermates.
Here’s an excellent short video on acquired bite inhibition. It includes useful information on why puppies bite, why we shouldn’t try to stop it, and how to train puppies their bite inhibition:
Training your Lab puppy to soft bite must be done in puppyhood as an adolescent dog will not know how to adjust the force of his jaws when he has adult teeth and adult jaw muscles. This can be devastating for you both, should your Labrador go on to bite someone!
Have realistic expectations as it can take your puppy weeks to learn his soft bite.
How to Train a Labrador Puppy to Walk on a Leash
Walking on a leash is not a natural skill in dogs – they need to learn it!
To train a Labrador puppy to walk on a leash, practice at home first by introducing the pup to a collar and/or harness to let him get used to it. Teach a leash cue, then introduce the pup to very short walks. If the dog pulls, stand fast and wait for him to come back to you before continuing.
Consider the following steps:
- Introduce your Labrador puppy to a harness and/or collar and leash by first allowing him to get used to it gradually. Do this by letting him wear them for short periods inside the house and yard. I find the best no-pull harness to be those that are not rear-attached such as the Walk Your Dog With Love harness. They give you more control and are ideal for medium-large breeds.
- Teach a leash cue to call your pup’s attention when you want to put on the leash or to come to you as a way of learning to walk while on a leash. It could be a “come” while holding the leash, but most dogs will soon learn to associate the sound of you picking up his leash and collar with a walk. Give a treat when the command is obeyed.
- Introduce your Lab to short walks outside on a leash. It’s inevitable your puppy will get distracted and will try to pull. Don’t pull back, but stand still until he comes back towards you. When it appears he is about to lunge towards another dog or object, quickly distract him with a treat. Timing is crucial. Reward him every time commands are obeyed and gradually reduce the rewards as the art of leash walking is perfected.
You can start steps 1 and 2 when the puppy is young, but step 3 can only be commenced once the dog has been vaccinated.
Eight weeks old is the perfect time to train a Labrador puppy in key areas such as socialization, crate training, potty training, not biting, and leash training.
To successfully train your Lab puppy in these areas, you must follow good training principles such as using reward-based training, being consistent in your commands, and disciplining at the precise moment of poor behavior.
Begin with basic commands before introducing more complex or trick commands. Check out my complete guide, Lab Puppy Training Schedule: What to Teach Month by Month, when you’re ready to move to the next stage. Good luck with your new friend!
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