About Puppy Raising
There is an old trick to raising a pup how to be a great house dog. Take a newspaper or magazine, roll it up tightly and use tape or rubber bands to hold it together in a roll. Then every time your puppy has an accident, chews something he shouldn’t, gets into the trash or kitty box, or anything else you don’t want him to do, take the newspaper and smack yourself in the head with it while repeating “I should have been watching the puppy. I should have been watching the puppy.”
It’s important to remember that puppies are like kids. They don’t come into this world knowing how we want them to act or having any understanding of human expectations and rules. Perfect house dogs aren't born, they are made. Puppies don't get into trouble out of spite or because they are “bad”, but because they just don’t know any better. It is up to us to teach them what we want them to learn. Puppies also have very short attention spans and short-term memory. Correcting the puppy after the fact is useless. He will not associate the correction with what he did a few minutes or an hour ago. He will associate it with what he is doing at the moment the correction comes. Unless you catch the puppy in the act of performing his latest rampage of destruction, there is nothing you can do but clean up the mess and vow to keep a better watch of him next time.
The biggest key to raising a puppy is supervision. Whenever you cannot keep both eyes on what your puppy is doing, put him somewhere that he can’t get into trouble. Crates or small enclosures made with exercise pens are excellent for this. A pup can’t mess on the carpet or chew the dining room chairs if he is confined to a safe area. When your puppy is loose in the house, supervise him carefully. Keep him in the same room with you, so he can’t scamper off and get into mischief. Close the doors, put up baby gates, maybe even tether him to you using a light leash, in order to accomplish this.
Be aware that puppies are always learning, and it's up to us to make sure that they learn what we want and practice the behaviors that we want, and not what we don't want. Dogs are also creatures of habit. Once they have something in their heads, it can be difficult to break that habit. It is much, much easier to prevent a pup from developing a pattern of unwanted behavior from the start than it is to fix it later. Being proactive and setting the pup up to succeed and practice good behavior, and giving him constant supervision to ensure that he doesn't have the opportunity to develop bad habits, are critical.
It's an excellent idea to sit down as a family before the puppy comes home to decide what the rules will be, and discuss how they will be enforced. Be consistent with the rules, and make sure the entire family cooperates with this. If the family decides that they don’t want the dog to beg while they’re eating or cooking, having one person who always wants to share dinner with the pup will do nothing but confuse the pup and sabotage the rest of the family’s efforts to teach the dog not to beg. Consistency with all family members is very important. Likewise, when making this list of rules do so with an adult dog in mind, not just a puppy. When he’s small and cuddly it may be appealing to snuggle with the pup on the couch while watching TV. But before long he’ll be a full sized dog. If the idea of an adult GSD on the couch is one you don’t like, then don’t allow him up there when he is young either. It is unfair to change the rules on the dog down the road. He certainly won’t understand why it always used to be ok to get on the furniture, but suddenly now he gets in trouble for it, and it you will have a difficult and frustrating time breaking him of this habit down the road.
The old saying about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure definitely applies to puppies. Be proactive in preventing mishaps by “puppy proofing” the house as much as possible. Don’t leave anything valuable lying around where the pup can get to it. Use covered containers for the trash. Keep closet, pantry and cabinet doors closed. Make sure you’re puppy has plenty of toys to play with. Don’t use old shoes, slippers or rolled up socks as puppy toys. It’s expecting too much to assume that your pup will know the difference between the shoes he can chew, and the expensive new pair you just bought. Buy him his own, unique toys. Help your puppy build good habits by managing the environment to help him be successful in practicing behaviors you want. Keep special chew toys like bully sticks or knuckle bones on hand for times when you want him to be loose, rather than crated, but also need him to be calm and settled. Such as family TV time in the evening. Teach him to quietly lie on his bed during these times by presenting him with a special, delicious, irresistible chew toy that he can enjoy. Whenever your puppy does grab a hold of something that he shouldn’t have, remove the object he shouldn't have and trade it for one of his toys. Praise him lavishly, and even play with him a bit, when he takes the trade and redirects his attention to his toy. This reinforces for him what he can chew, and what he can’t, and makes chewing his own toys a much more rewarding experience than chewing other things.
Don’t forget to reward good behavior. Often times people get so caught up in the peace and quiet when the puppy is behaving, that they become complacent and forget to reinforce the good behavior that they are enjoying so much. When he's being good, let him know how pleased you are with him at that time. Dogs are social creatures, they crave interaction with their people, and they need feedback in order to learn. Their social nature also means that, in a dog's mind, while good attention is the best thing in the world, bad attention is better than no attention. If we don't praise and pet and talk to our puppies and tell them when they are good, they will often act out solely for the purpose of getting attention from us. Because to them, even being scolded is better than being ignored. When your puppy does do something that is clearly a bid for attention, such as jumping up or barking at you, turn your back on him and ignore him. Try to prevent him from getting any attention or positive reinforcement for that behavior. And then as soon as he settles down again to being a good puppy, make sure you tell him this and reward him for doing so with positive attention. It is certainly ok to give your puppy verbal corrections like "no" for inappropriate behavior, but we need to make sure that his entire puppyhood is filled with more than just a bunch of admonishments. Raising a puppy to be a good house companion is more than just teaching him what we don’t want him to do. We need to teach him what we do want him to do as well. When he is performing behavior that you want to encourage, tell him so. Praise him. It doesn’t matter what it is. Going potty outside instead of on the carpet, chewing his toys instead of the remote control, lying contentedly on his bed rather than doing laps around the coffee table… whatever it is and no matter how small, praise him. This positive feedback from you will go a long way in reinforcing the behavior and ensuring that he keeps it up.
One last point that bears mention is that puppies, just like human toddlers, are prone to becoming absolute heathens when they are either over tired or over stimulated. People seem to experience this mostly later in the evening, when their puppy who has been good all day suddenly becomes a rampaging, zooming, mouthing maniac. There is no reasoning with puppies when they are in this state and no amount of offering chew toys or encouraging calm behavior will have any result. They need to be put to bed and, like toddlers, once this happens they will typically be sound asleep in no time. Remember that puppies need a lot of sleep, and many puppies don't get enough of it. Most young puppies just can't stay up as late as many households, and this is especially true in cases where someone is home all day and the puppy has been awake all day and not had several opportunities for naps. So when your otherwise well behaved pup has a Jeckyl and Hyde moment and turns into a terror, put him in his crate for a nap before you lose your patience. Your puppy, and your sanity, will thank you for it!
Socialization is also imperative with young pups. Take your puppy everywhere and expose him to everything you can think of. Take him for car rides. Take him into stores and walk him down busy streets so he can get used to traffic, noise and unfamiliar smells and objects. Do your best to get him used to all aspects of every day life and the world around him, and teach him that the world is a good place, not a frightening one, by exposing him to as many different environments, people and situations you can, making sure he has lots of positive, enjoyable experiences outside the home.
If, and how, puppies should be exposed to strange people and dogs is a big topic of debate amongst many dog people. There are advocates of both ends of the spectrum; those who believe puppies should regularly interact with strange people and dogs, being petted by strangers and given treats by strangers and afforded opportunities to play with other dogs and those who believe that puppies should never socialize with those outside their family and that merely being around in the presence of nearby people and dogs, but not interacting with them, is sufficient. As with most dog related topics, our belief is that the best course of action is somewhere in the middle.
With regard to people, there are times in a dog’s life (at the vet, at the groomer, being boarded or having a pet sitter when the family is on vacation, and so on) where a dog is going to need to be handled by strangers and it is best that they are introduced to this in a positive way when they are puppies. But owners are wise to manage these situations carefully and ensure that nothing happens where the puppy is made uncomfortable, or outright frightened, by strangers. More than anything else, this means being selective about who is allowed to interact with the puppy and in what manner. There are many well meaning, but absolutely clueless people in the world, who want to swoop in, bend over a puppy, or even worse grab him and pick him up, and practically rub the fur off of him. Sure, some puppies are completely unphased by this. But many puppies, particularly those of working and herding breeds that tend to be more aloof toward strangers, are offended or intimidated by it. When we think about it from the puppy's perspective, this makes perfect sense. None of us would want some stranger rushing up to us, getting in our personal space and giving us a hug or patting us on the head when we are simply minding our own business standing in the check out lane at a grocery store. And we certainly would never, ever allow it to happen to our young children. We shouldn't allow it to happen to our puppies either. It is perfectly ok to just say "NO!" to people out in public who want to pet and fondle our puppies. And we should do exactly that if we feel that the puppy may be made uncomfortable with the interaction.
If we do wish our puppy to interact, and we have judged that the stranger is sensible and not overly pushy and that our puppy would enjoy the interaction, the best way to go about ensuring the pup has a good experience is to ask the person to crouch down a few feet away, and then let the puppy approach the stranger. This is far less intimidating to a puppy than a stranger person towering or bending over them, and allows the puppy to be in control of whether or not he wants to interact and the manner in which the interaction happens, and in doing so build confidence. Occasional interactions with people in this manner are great for puppies, but we also don't want our puppies to assume that every time they see a stranger that it is going to be social time and start dragging us over to every single person they see, and maybe eventually barking in frustration when we don't comply. Not only is this annoying for the owner, once the pup grows it can be downright scary to passersby. We have found that the best way to accomplish a good middle ground here is that most of the time when we have our puppies out and about in public, we just walk past and around people but don't interact with them. Instead we have treats and toys ourselves and interact with our own puppies when other people are nearby. This helps the puppies get used to being around strangers without becoming overly interested in them and allows them to grow into dogs that are used to having strangers around and are unbothered by strangers while at the same time not becoming overly excited in the presence of strangers. Then every now and then when we encounter a person who wants to meet the puppy and that we feel will do so in an appropriate manner and be willing to follow our instructions described above on how to best do so to ensure it is a good experience for the puppy, we allow those interactions. A favorite place for us to take puppies with the express purpose of interacting with strangers is to the vet clinic. We will take our puppies in to walk around, get some pets and treats from a few people, maybe hop up on the scale for a weight, and then we walk back out again. Most of the staff at vet clinics are dog savvy enough to handle this properly and ensure that puppies are scared or overwhelmed, and this has the additional benefit of providing the puppy with good experiences at the vet. If dogs only ever go to the vet to be poked and prodded and manhandled and given shots, it is little wonder many dogs come to hate or fear trips to the vet. But if those bad experiences are countered by lots and lots of good ones where it is just treats and petting and nothing bad happens during puppyhood it is much easier to have a dog who is at least neutral, if not outright happy, to go to the vet.
Exposure to strange dogs is an area where it is even more important to be extremely careful. Just as enough scary experiences of being manhandled by strange people can make a puppy wary or fearful of people, it only takes one or two bad experiences with strange dogs to have the same effect. Many cases of "dog aggression" in dogs are actually rooted in fear due to a puppy being injured, or even just badly frightened, by a strange dog when he was young. And unfortunately it seems that practically everyone at the park or at the pet store not only feels the need to let their dog run over to the puppy to say hello, but they are also convinced that their dog is good with puppies whether he is or not. My feeling is that unless I know the dog personally and therefore am confident that he is both healthy and well mannered with puppies, I do not allow any interactions between my puppies and strange dogs. It doesn't take an intolerant or aggressive dog to cause a bad experience for a pup. Merely being bullied by an older, larger puppy or bowled over by a 80lb Labrador that in true Lab fashion is both overly exuberant and oblivious at the same time is enough to terrify a puppy. When it comes to dogs we don't know, we stick with just getting our puppies out and about in public with strange dogs in the background but no interaction. While we do feel it is useful for puppies to have some play and socialization with other dogs, particularly adults who are good at teaching puppies manners and social skills, we keep this limited to dogs in our own home and a few dogs owned by friends and family that we know well. Puppy kindergartens that allow puppy play time can be good experiences for younger puppies too, provided the class is well managed and supervised and the puppies are split into play groups sorted by age, size and temperament to ensure that the shy puppies aren't overwhelmed by the high energy puppies and the small puppies aren't bullied by the large ones.
When taking your puppy out for socialization, it is important to watch him carefully and learn to read his body language so you can determine if he is ok with what is happening or not. Never assume he is ok because you think he should be, or because in your mind nothing bad has happened. Listen to your puppy and let his comfort level determine what happens. Different dogs have different temperaments and reactions to new things. Many puppies are bold from birth and nothing every phases them or gives them pause. Others a bit more cautious, and some are downright fearful. Your pup’s early personality is mostly a product of genetics, but as he grows his experiences will play a more and more important role. Whether he is naturally fearless, fearful, or somewhere in the middle, socialization is never a bad thing. It reinforces the bold behavior of confident pups, and helps instill more confidence in those who are naturally more shy or hesitant.
He may not be completely comfortable with everything at first, and that’s ok. He’s just a baby. The world is a very big and unfamiliar place to him and he will look to you for reassurance. Don’t force anything on him. Do things at his pace, and only so much as he is comfortable with. Reward confident behavior with praise and petting. If something does scare him, don't hesitate to go to his rescue and remove him from the situation and help him feel safe and secure so the experience ends on a positive note in his mind. Show him that he can count on you for protection and support in situations that may scare him and this will help him gain confidence that the two of you together can get through anything. Never, ever correct for fearful behavior or force him further into a situation that scares him thinking he will just get over it with more exposure or if nothing "bad" happens. The key to socializing is to ensure that our puppies don't have bad experiences, and to a puppy being scared IS a bad experience. So certainly is any sort of correction. Punishing him for being afraid or unsure is not only unfair to him, it will in fact make it worse by showing him that there indeed is something to worry about and he was right all along to be uncomfortable in this situation. Harsh treatment or punishment for fearful behavior will also teach him that he can’t count on you for guidance and support in a stressful situation.
Young pups are very impressionable, and just as good experiences during this time will help them to become confident, well rounded adults, traumatic experiences can cause lasting effects as well. So be aware of what is going on around and use common sense, and avoid any situation or person that might harm him or cause him to feel frightened, stressed or insecure. Socialize often and make every effort to make socialization as positive as possible, and your pup will grow into a confident, stable companion.
Raising a pup to be an excellent family companion isn’t rocket science, but it isn’t as simple of waiting until he grows up and calms down either. He must be taught what you would have him learn, and this takes a lot of time and patience on your part. In the end it’s worth it, and keeping these few key points in mind will help get you both through it smoothly.
Be proactive and try to prevent mishaps before they can happen.
Provide your puppy with feedback; positive as well as negative.
Socialize, socialize, socialize.