This is the 1st blog in the Life With a Lab series, featuring Ember. The intention of this series is to be used as a reference point as to what one can expect or do with their puppy at each stage of development. All puppies are individuals, so this should be used as a guideline and not a rulebook. To see all posts in this series, click here. For more posts on puppies, check out our Resources sections.
Welcome home, Ember!
I have never been a fan of labs until I met working line labs. The difference in the average pet lab and a well-bred working lab is astonishing and has really challenged my view of them. When I met Grayon's Althea, I couldn't help but fall head over heels for her. Althea is an invaluable resource in our daily lives: she's great with all dogs, helps teach puppies to swim, encourages hesitant bird dogs to want to retrieve, she recovers endless lost game, she not only flushes birds but can be so valuable when teaching pointing dogs, and she is the best shotgun rider. I have such a huge appreciation for her versatility and her ability to do anything you ask of her, or be just as happy doing nothing at all. That's not a quality I have looked for in my pointing dogs (over my dead body would Blitz be happy doing nothing at all), but is a quality I admire in a "do-it-all" kind of dog. That's what led me to want not only a lab, but an Althea type lab of my own!
Ember is a British Lab (like Althea) that was bred locally by a friend of Grayson's, Logan Sheets of Gray Light Kennels. Ember's litter was a repeat breeding of the first Rudy x Ella litter, which produced our friend Jimmy's puppy, Denly. Grayson and I agreed that this breeding had the potential to produce a very "Althea" type dog, which is how we chose the litter. After months of waiting, Ember was born on January 10th and came home on March 5th.
The First Week Ember is 8 weeks old and is doing super, super well. If you haven't checked out my Puppy 101 post, I will be referencing that quite a bit throughout this series. That blog outlines what I focus on with new puppies and why. Here's what the practical application of those topics looks like:
I say it over and over and over again, but crate training is the single most important thing you can do with your puppy. Ember has been spending a lot of time in a variety of crates in a variety of situations. She's always crated in the car and overnight, but is also crated at various times throughout the day. Anytime I can't give her 100% of my focus, she's crated. This allows me to prevent naughty behavior (chewing on things she shouldn't and having accidents inside), and also sets the tone for her being calm and relaxed throughout her life. She does not need to be entertained 24/7 and she can work through the frustration of not always getting what she wants. These are important life skills for developing an off-switch, especially in high energy breeds!
Ember is currently using a 26" crate, but a 24" would be plenty big if I had one. I don't keep a towel or bed in it so that she doesn't chew on it and risk ingesting something she shouldn't. The first few nights she howled and screamed for a good 10-15 minutes before quieting down. I let her out every 3 hours the first two nights, then moved to every 4 hours after that. At almost night weeks old, she is now going into her crate without protesting at all, sleeping for 5 hours and is quiet throughout the night until I get her up. Being so quiet in her crate is a combination of training and genetics. I don't let her out for screaming and she spends lots of time in and out of her crate everyday, so it's already become habit for her to go ahead and get calm to hang out in there. But, there is also genetic component to this, as well. If your puppy continues to scream and cry and make uncomfortably angry sounds for a few weeks, that isn't necessarily implying that you're not crate training them properly. You have to stick to it and work through that. Some puppies just take longer to adjust to dealing with their frustration.
Crate training and potty training go hand in hand. Having our puppies in small enough crates that they can't potty in one part and move away from it to sleep in another part is really important. We can encourage good potty training habits by implementing good crate training habits. What that looks like is taking your puppy outside anytime they come out of the crate. Since you should be crating them on and off frequently throughout the day, that will help establish a routine of when they can expect to go outside to potty.
Giving a puppy too much free time in the house can lead to poor potty training habits. If you have had your puppy loose in the house and you take them out but they don't potty, immediately crate them for 5-10 minutes, then take them out of the crate to go out and potty. So, so much of potty training is good crate training practices! But there is a genetic component to potty training, too. Some dogs are okay with going potty in their crate and standing/laying in it. Those can be some of the hardest dogs to potty train because that's our biggest leverage in getting them to hold it to go outside. When a puppy has become conditioned to being comfortable in their crate if they have had an accident or if they have become conditioned to the process that going potty in their crate gets them out of their crate, it can be nearly impossible to change that behavior.
Ember has been an absolute angel and has yet to have an accident. I am fortunate enough to be with her all day so she gets out regularly, but there are absolutely some great genetics and foundations of not wanting to potty anywhere but outside.
Socialization is one of my favorite parts of puppy raising! There's a great video in my Puppy 101 post that defines socialization. It is not just people and dogs, it's places, things, textures, sounds, experiences, etc. Critical socialization period typically ends around 16 weeks, so it's important to do as much as you can with your puppy before then.
In Ember's first week of life with me, here are some things we have socialized with:
-Environments (three houses, three parks, two farms, a dock diving facility)
-Surfaces (carpet, hardwood, laminent, vinyl, rubber, gravel, blacktop, etc)
-Dogs (this isn't just interacting with my dogs, but seeing dogs at the park and different locations that she cannot go up to)
-Events (a field trial, pack socialization with dogs)
-Sounds (barking dogs, cars, music, children, washing machine/dishwasher, vacuum)
-Grooming (bath and nails)
Ember has been riding with my on a daily basis. She is now super, super comfortable hanging out in my car while I run errands, work other dogs, hang out at a field trial all day, etc. Being calm and quiet in her crate in the car is just a part of life!
*Some vets don't recommend socialization until a puppy has had all of their shots, which will be 15 weeks old. With critical socialization ending at 16 weeks, that's one week of socialization. When I take Ember out, I do it to places I am comfortable with. I would NOT take her to a dog park or pet store, but feel comfortable allowing her to interact with dogs that I know are healthy and vaccinated in low-traffic areas. There will always be some risk, but you have to way the risk of an unsocialized puppy, as well.*
Right now I am just introducing the clicker and doing some very basic work with her. I feed most of her meals by hand as a way to promote engagement with me and work ethic. My main focus is the foundations of shaping, targeting and luring. Some of the behaviors I have been marking and rewarding are: enthusiasm, targeting my hand, eye contact, sit, place, recall and touching an object with her front feet. This is all just for fun to build a foundation of solid communication and engagement. She can do no wrong and there are no expectations.
Here is an unedited video of one session. Ember eats 3 times a day and at least 2 of those meals she works for. She doesn't eat much, which keeps the sessions short, sweet and successful. I want her to always be wanting to do more at the end of a session! Because she's so small and quick, my timing isn't perfect for everything. But this point, there is very little risk involved. That's the beauty of a reward based system! Even if my timing isn't perfect, the worst thing I can do is teach her something I don't mean to, which can always be changed. Right now I want to keep the reward rate high so she stays interested and engaged and feels confident, rather than waiting for the perfect repetition to reward and risk her giving up before getting there.
Week 1 with Ember went better than I could have expected and I am so excited to see what week 2 has in store!