Adopting a new Labrador puppy is one of the most exciting things you can do! While waiting to meet your new furry friend, you might feel equal parts excited and nervous—do you have what it takes to care for a Labrador puppy?
Care for your Labrador puppy by feeding them high-quality dog food, providing plenty of exercise, and training them as early as possible. Provide your puppy with plenty of toys, a puppy-proofed space, and a large yard to run around in. Groom them and bring them to the veterinarian regularly.
That may seem like a lot! Don’t worry, though—we’ve got you covered! In this complete guide, we’ll talk about how to take care of your Labrador puppy step by step.
This includes basic care, training, and more!
Table of Contents:
1. Feed them a High-Quality Dog Food
One of the most important aspects of Labrador care is providing a rich, healthy diet. The best puppy foods list meat as the very first ingredient.
You can feed your dog kibble, wet canned food, or a mixture of both.
Kibble tends to be cheaper for these large dogs that need more food than your smaller breeds. However, you may need to soak the kibble in water so that it’s soft enough for your puppy to eat, depending on their age.
One thing to keep in mind is that Labradors are extremely food motivated. This is great when it comes to training, but can also quickly lead to an overweight pup.
My Labrador mix will literally eat until he pukes, if he’s allowed to, and will then turn around and eat some more once his stomach has been emptied!
This isn’t unusual for these dogs, so it’s important to know how much to feed them. A dog who says they’re hungry isn’t always!
I’ve been advised my veterinarian that packaging isn’t always accurate, and often suggests more food than a dog needs—for this reason, I recommend consulting with a veterinarian if you’re uncertain about how much your Labrador should eat.
Bring a bag of their food, or an empty container, with you so that they can advise properly, with all of the information at hand.
Lastly, keep in mind that your Labrador’s required food will change as they age and as their exercise regime changes.
A puppy’s energetic, growing body requires different amounts of nutrients and calories than a fully grown adult, which is again different to an aging Labrador who’s getting less exercise due to joint problems or other conditions.
Each change in diet should be discussed with your veterinarian to ensure you’re doing right by your furry friend!
2. Give your Puppy Plenty of Exercise
The next aspect of Labrador care and health is giving them plenty of exercise. This is a high-energy breed—they aren’t couch potatoes!
Each dog is an individual, but in general, a healthy, adult Labrador needs around an hour of exercise daily.
This is important to keep in mind when adopting a puppy. However, it’s also important to note that puppies can’t be exercised the same as adult dogs.
When it comes to walks, you should start small—around five minutes of walking per month of age.
This allows you to keep your puppy’s short attention span on track and avoids over-exercising your puppy. Too much exercise can damage your puppy’s joints and bones, so it’s important not to overdo it.
When your puppy gets a little older, tolerating say 20-30 minutes of daily walks, break this up into two daily walks rather than one long walk.
Once your dog is fully grown, you’ll be able to go for longer walks, runs, or hikes.
Of course, no matter your dog’s age, these walks should also be supplemented with play, free time to run around the back yard, and any other activities you decide to implement.
I’m a big fan of incorporating their natural instincts into their play. For instance, Labradors were originally bred to hunt waterfowl.
My dog gets a small kid’s pool and time to run around in the sprinkler every summer. You can also try allowing them to swim if you have access to a larger pool.
Try playing fetch and allowing your Labrador puppy to retrieve a tennis ball from the water!
3. Establish a Routine
Now that you know what to feed and how to exercise your Labrador puppy, the next step is establishing a routine. This should fit around your everyday routine.
For instance, you might walk your puppy in the morning before work, have some playtime in the yard after returning home in the afternoon, and then take them on their final walk before bed in the evening.
Puppies—and dogs in general—thrive on routine. The more your puppy knows what is coming, the better!
Of course, not all of us can stick to a specific schedule. Maybe this is difficult for you, or impossible due to an inconsistent schedule at work.
You can keep things somewhat flexible in this case. For instance, maybe the timing of your first walk varies depending on what time you wake up that day—but your puppy knows that when you wake up, it’s walk time!
Of course, some things are non-negotiable. For instance, Labrador puppies need to eat at least 3 times a day until around 3-6 months, when they can begin to eat two daily meals.
You’ll need to ensure these meals are fairly consistent so that your puppy isn’t going too long without food, nor eating too often.
Potty training is another routine that needs to be kept consistent. Puppies can only hold their bladders for one hour per month of age. This means a two-month-old pup will need to be taken to go potty at least once every two hours, or they’ll have accidents and potty training will take longer to achieve.
4. Socialize Your Labrador
Socializing your puppy is one of the most important aspects of training. All dogs should be able to confront new situations without fear. This is especially important with large breeds, as they can get into a lot more trouble if that fear turns to aggression.
If you don’t know what socialization is, it’s introducing your Labrador puppy to a variety of experiences while young so that they grow into confident adult dogs.
They should learn how to be alone, how to interact with all kinds of people and animals, and to feel confident in various environments.
Some things you may socialize your Labrador puppy to include children, other dogs, and veterinary care.
They should learn to interact gently, not to jump up on people, and to be handled (such as during grooming or by a veterinarian).
A lot goes into socializing a puppy, and you don’t want to overwhelm them with too many new experiences at once. Take it slowly and remember that things that seem small to you might be big steps for them!
5. Teach them Basic Commands
Some basic commands to teach your Labrador puppy include:
- “Down” or to lie down on command
- Recall, or to “come” to you when called
- Leash training
Always use positive reinforcement techniques when training. Never use harsh training methods such as dominance theory and don’t punish your puppy for misbehavior.
Keep training sessions short and try your best to end on a positive note each time. This keeps it fun for both of you!
Stop training and take a break if you or your puppy is getting overwhelmed or frustrated.
Labradors are intelligent dogs, but remember that they won’t learn each trick overnight, nor can they learn everything all at once! Training takes time.
6. Potty Train your Lab Puppy
Potty training requires time and patience. Luckily, these intelligent pups will catch on fairly quickly!
Here are some tips for potty training your Labrador puppy:
- Puppies can hold their bladders for approximately one hour per month of age. (Two hours at two months, three hours at three months, etc.)
- Create a schedule. Once you know how often your puppy needs to go, create a schedule. For instance, bring your two month old puppy outside every two hours and wait for them to pee before going back in. Remember that your puppy will also need to go out during the night!
Taking them out first thing in the morning and last thing before bed is also important, and will allow you to sleep longer between outings.
- Watch for signs that they need to go! When your puppy starts sniffing around the house, begins to squat, or lifts their leg like they’re about to pee, act fast! Take them outdoors before they have an accident if possible.
- Don’t punish your puppy for having accidents. Never yell at, hit, or rub your puppy’s nose in their mess. Remember that they’re still learning, and punishments don’t teach them anything. At worst, punishments may make your puppy fearful and more likely to have accidents indoors.
- Clean accidents thoroughly. Instead of punishing your puppy, ignore them and focus on the mess. Clean it thoroughly using enzyme cleaners to eliminate any leftover scent. If a puppy can still smell urine, they will pee in the same spot again.
- Create a meal schedule. Like we talked about above, sticking to a feeding schedule is important for puppies. It will also help with potty training, as a pup who eats on a schedule will also use the bathroom on a schedule.
7. Teach Bite Inhibition
Another thing your Labrador puppy will need to learn is bite inhibition. A puppy with bite inhibition knows not to bite people, and instead to chew toys.
This takes time to train, and in the beginning, your puppy will definitely bite! This is natural, especially when they are under six months old. Puppies of this age are still teething!
Here are some helpful tips for teaching bite inhibition:
- Don’t adopt before 8 weeks. Puppies who are adopted too early tend to bite harder because they don’t get the crucial learning experience that comes from growing up with their mother and siblings.
- Consider adopting two puppies. Puppies learn from one another, and thus they’re less likely to show bite inhibition when raised in single-dog households. Adopting a second pup will also help to meet their needs for play and socialization. They might even learn manners, tricks, and household rules from one another!
- Don’t punish a biting puppy. Punishments and harsh training methods, such as trying to dominate your puppy, don’t work. These methods promote fear and aggression, which can make your puppy bite harder and more often.
- Instead, redirect your puppy’s biting to a toy. Make sure you have a variety of toys for your puppy to gnaw on—chewing is instinctual and necessary for dogs, especially during the teething stage. Keep a toy on hand and give it to your puppy when they’re about to bite or as redirection after they’ve already bitten.
- Remove yourself if needed. Sometimes, a puppy is too hyper or too focused on playing with you through biting. Show them that this play isn’t allowed by stopping play immediately and removing yourself from the situation. Walk into another room and close the door if needed. Return to play once the puppy has calmed down and the biting has stopped.
If your puppy is chewing destructively, the above steps can also be followed. Don’t scold or punish them, but simply take away the item and redirect your puppy to a chew toy.
Avoid toys that look similar to things you don’t want your puppy chewing, such as old shoes or toys shaped like a shoe.
However, if you find your puppy gravitates toward a specific material, especially while teething, buying a toy with a similar texture might help.
Related article: When Do Puppies Stop Biting?
8. Provide Plenty of Toys
Different puppies like different things, so it’s good to provide a variety of toys in different shapes, sizes, and materials.
Your Labrador puppy should have toys they can play with on their own and also toys they can use while playing with other dogs or people.
For example, chew toys and KONG toys are great to occupy your puppy while you’re busy doing something else.
Ropes for playing tug-of-war are great for two puppies to play with at once, or for you to play with your puppy. Balls or Frisbees for playing fetch are also lots of fun!
9. Give your Labrador Space to Run
Labradors need plenty of exercise. For this large breed, it isn’t enough to go for a daily walk and play around the house—they also need space to run freely.
A big, fenced-in backyard is best for this. You might also consider bringing your dog to a local dog park or even a friend’s house so that they can interact with other dogs.
Labradors are friendly pups, so it’s good to get them socializing once they’ve finished their vaccines and can safely be around other dogs.
Never allow your puppy to run off-leash in an unenclosed space, as they may get lost or injured. Most areas have leash laws as well, which prohibit you from allowing your dog to wander off-leash.
10. Spend Quality Time Together
My favorite thing to do with my Labrador in the spring and summer months is to go outside and explore the garden. He often walks the perimeter of the garden bed smelling the flowers while I tend to the plants. When it’s very hot, I turn on the sprinkler so that he can play and stay cool.
This quality time is so important, and the reason most of us adopt dogs to begin with!
11. Brush them Weekly
Weekly brushing keeps your Labrador’s coat healthy by distributing oils through their fur. It also allows the two of you to bond with one another and reduces shedding.
Brushing your puppy often also helps them learn how to behave when brushed, while dogs that are brushed for the first time as adults will be more prone to misbehavior!
12. Brush their Teeth Daily
Your lab puppy’s teeth should be brushed every day. Just like with people, brushing a dog’s teeth helps to reduce the chance of cavities and other dental problems throughout their life.
Never use human toothpaste on a dog, as our toothpaste isn’t meant for eating—and your puppy will almost certainly swallow it!
Instead, buy toothpaste and a toothbrush made for dogs.
Start brushing your puppy’s teeth early in their life so that they get used to the feeling of the toothbrush and having their teeth and mouth handled.
This will also help you later when they need their teeth and gums checked by the veterinarian, as they’ll already know how to behave.
Lastly, bring your dog to the veterinarian for professional cleanings once yearly.
13. Trim their Nails Regularly
Your lab’s nails should be trimmed before they’re long enough to touch the floor. This will stop them from getting stuck on things or curling into their paw pads.
Keep an eye on your puppy’s feet and, if you notice their nails nearing the floor, trim them right away.
Make sure you know how to trim a dog’s nails before attempting so that you don’t hurt them.
If your puppy’s nails are light in color, you’ll be able to see the “quick” or a pink area toward the base of the nail. You want to avoid cutting into the quick or splintering it, which will cause your dog pain and make them bleed. If your lab’s nails are black, check out this guide to trimming black dog nails.
Always use clean, sharp trimmers and cut straight through the nail.
If you’re unsure of your abilities, have a veterinarian or a dog groomer trim your puppy’s nails for you.
14. Create a Plan for Leaving Home
Puppies need a lot of interaction, exercise, and many potty breaks throughout the day. Young pups also need 3-4 meals daily, which can interfere with the average workday.
We don’t recommend adopting a Labrador puppy if you work full-time outside of the house and don’t have family to care for them while you’re away.
If you do adopt a puppy, you’ll need to hire a pet sitter or dog walker to spend time with your puppy while you’re gone so that they are cared for.
Even if you have family or work from home, you will need a plan for leaving the house! It’s necessary for puppies to be alone sometimes, as we can’t be home with them 24/7. (Though some of us might prefer spending all day, every day around our cute pups!)
It’s also good for them to learn that being alone is okay and that you’ll always come back home.
After that, they’ll need a potty break and some interaction.
Your plan for leaving home should have multiple parts:
- Teaching your puppy to be alone by slowly introducing them to the experience.
- Puppy-proofing your home by removing anything that could hurt your puppy, or that your puppy could destroy while you’re away. Some people choose to crate train their puppy or confine them to a room while they’re away to make this easier.
- Providing for your puppy’s needs while you’re away including food, water, exercise, potty breaks, and social interaction.
15. Keep up with their Check-Ups
Lastly, keep up with your puppy’s medical care by bringing them to the veterinarian regularly! Your Labrador puppy will need vaccinations, parasite prevention, and regular check-ups.
You should also spay or neuter your Labrador puppy so that they live a healthier life—and don’t surprise you with unwanted puppies!
After your puppy has all of their shots, they’ll need to see the veterinarian every six months to one year for a check-up, to have their teeth cleaned, to renew their parasite preventative, and for any needed booster shots such as the rabies vaccine.