Necessary Dog Supplies
You've made your home safe for — and from — your Lab. It's almost time to bring him home, but first you need a few supplies. Necessary items include a collar, tag, and leash; food and water dishes; food; a crate; and grooming supplies.
Collars and Tags
You can choose from a dizzying array of collars at the pet supply store. They come in leather, nylon, and chain, as well as every color and pattern you could imagine. The collar you choose should be attractive, to please you; sturdy, to survive being worn by your Lab; and functional, to help you control your dog.
The first thing you want to look for in a collar is a buckle. A buckle is adjustable, so the collar can grow with your Lab. Your dog should never wear a choke (chain) collar for everyday use. It can all too easily get hung up on something and strangle the dog. A flat buckle collar in leather is a classic look for a classic-looking dog, such as the Lab. If you prefer something with a little more pizzazz, look for a decorative nylon buckle collar.
Because Labs are big dogs and tend to be pullers, you might want to consider a martingale collar for use in training class. A martingale collar has a double loop design that gently tightens around the neck when the leash is taut and loosens when the leash is slack. It has no buckles or snaps, but slips on over the dog's head and can be adjusted for comfort. The advantage of a martingale over a choke collar is that it provides even pressure to the neck rather than pulling at the throat. The dog can't slip out of this type of collar, and it's a good training tool for preventing pulling. Martingales can be made of nylon, chain, or nylon and chain. Don't choose a martingale as your Lab's everyday collar.
Take it off when you end your training session or walk, and replace it with his regular collar. Of course, your Lab's everyday collar needs an identification tag. Tags can be made of metal or plastic, and they come in a variety of shapes (bones, shamrocks, round) and colors. You can purchase a tag from a machine at your local pet supply store and have it engraved right then and there. There's only so much information you can fit on a tag, so only include the most important: your name and phone number. You might also want to include an additional phone number, such as that of your office or your vet's office.
Some dog experts recommend putting only your name on the tag, rather than your dog's name. Learning a dog's name by looking at its collar can make it easier for a thief to lure your dog away.
Like collars, leashes come in leather, nylon, and chain. Leather leashes look good and are long-lasting, but your Lab will love to chew on one — so keep it out of reach when it's not being used. A nylon leash is also durable and can be chosen to match your dog's collar. It probably doesn't smell quite as good as leather to a Lab, but it's still chewable.
Chain leashes are heavier than leather or nylon and they can be clunky-sounding. You probably wouldn't want to use one for a puppy — too heavy — but if your Lab is a puller, a chain leash might be useful in restraining him. Chain is also unlikely to fall apart if your Lab decides to chew on it.
What about an extendible leash? These extend out up to 16 feet and allow your Lab a greater degree of freedom than the typical 4- or 6-foot leash. A brake in the handle allows you to lock the leash at a given length, or to stop the line from reeling out if you need to haul your dog back to you.
The advantage of an extendible leash is the freedom it offers the dog. You'll quickly learn to hit the brake fast if you need to stop your dog. A disadvantage is that some communities limit the length of a dog's leash, so it's possible you could be fined for letting the leash all the way out. The extendible leashes are also not permissible in the show or obedience ring. Consider having an extendible leash for “fun” time and a regular leash for “work” time.
Your Lab's crate should be just large enough for him to stand up and turn around in. This provides a cozy feel and — in the case of a puppy — ensures that there's not so much room that he can eliminate in one corner and sleep in the other. That's important, because the crate serves not only as your Lab's bed, but also as a housetraining device, which we'll discuss further in Chapter 7.
Two types of crates are available. Airline-style crates have solid sides and are made of hard plastic. These are a good choice if you know your Lab will be traveling by air at some point in his life. Plastic crates are usually sized from 100 (small) to 500 (giant). The appropriate size crate for an adult Lab is usually a 400 or a 500.
Wire crates give the dog a better view of what's going on around him. They're nice for hot climates because they allow more of a breeze to enter the crate, and they can be covered on chilly nights. A cover also gives a wire crate more of a denlike quality. A good size for a Lab would be 19 inches by 24 inches, or 24 inches by 36 inches. You can use the smaller size in the car and the larger size in the house.
Crate your Lab when he's riding in the car. Not only does this keep him safe in case of an accident, it also keeps him from chewing through the seatbelts and the door. Yes, Labs have been known to do that very thing!
No matter which style you choose, you're probably best off buying a large crate that comes with a divider so you can add space as the puppy grows. You'll probably want to put some kind of bedding in the crate to make it soft and comfortable for your new Lab. Just be aware that it's likely to get chewed up quickly. Use old blankets or towels that you don't mind having ruined instead of an expensive bed. Another good option is artificial lamb's wool, which Labs seem less likely to chew.
Food and Feeding Supplies
For your Lab's intestinal comfort, start by feeding him the same diet the breeder gives. This will prevent any vomiting or diarrhea that could result from a too rapid change in diet. If you plan to feed your puppy (or adult dog) a different brand, choose a high-quality food that's specially formulated for puppies. Make the switch over a seven- to ten-day period by gradually adding the new food to the old diet. Ask the breeder what she's feeding, and make sure you have enough to last for two weeks.
Besides food, the food and water dishes are sure to be one of your Lab's favorite items. Dishes can be made of metal, ceramic, or plastic — and all can be put in the dishwasher, which is a plus. Wash your Lab's food bowls daily so they don't become encrusted with food. You wouldn't want to eat off grungy dishes, and neither does your Lab.
Some people might consider toys nonessentials, but Labs are playful, energetic dogs. They need rough, tough toys that can stand up to their play and keep them entertained. Toys that Labs might not destroy immediately include Kongs, Nylabones, Giggle balls and Buster cubes, tennis balls, and stuffed toys that squeak or make other noises.
Kongs are great because they can be stuffed with peanut butter or liver sausage and dog biscuits. Freeze the stuffed Kong and then give it to your Lab. He'll spend hours trying to work all the yummy stuff out of the hole. Kongs last a long time, but they can eventually be chewed up. Giggle Balls, Buster Cubes, and similar toys have holes into which dry dog food or small biscuits can be placed. As the dog rolls the ball (which makes a giggling sound as it moves) or pushes the cube, food falls out. Some people keep their dogs occupied for some time by putting a meal's worth of kibble in this type of toy.
What grooming supplies should Labs have?
Fortunately, it doesn't take much to keep a Lab looking his best. A curry brush and nail trimmers are all you need at first. As your Lab grows, you might want to add some more specialized tools, such as a shedding blade and a toothbrush.
Labs love retrieving tennis balls and field bumpers (oblong plastic training devices for field dogs). You can buy plain old tennis balls for your Lab, or choose one of the many tennis ball toys with attached ropes or handles for throwing ease. Look for field bumpers in pet-supply catalogs or hunting supply stores. Many Labs also cherish stuffed animals — they sleep with them, carry them around, and offer them to guests. A very large stuffed animal — as big as or bigger than the puppy — can give him something to snuggle with in his crate and help fill up the empty space.