Early training and socialization of puppies is crucial for raising even-tempered and well-adjusted dogs. One of the most important aspects of buying a puppy is finding a responsible breeder who works with the puppies for their training and socialization when they are very young. All too often breeders leave puppy training solely to the new owners once the puppies go to their new homes. Since puppies usually go to their new homes at about seven and a half weeks of age, there is ample time before that for the breeder to train and socialize the puppies. It is then your job to continue that training with your dog and establish yourself as pack leader.
Here at the Flood Farm we breed German Shepherds and we follow the "Monks of New Skete" training and handling techniques according to their book, "The Art of Raising a Puppy." The Monks are from Albany, New York, and are famous for breeding even-tempered and well-balanced German Shepherd Dogs.
We know the importance of using these early weeks of the lives of our puppies, and we send our German Shepherd puppies home with extensive socialization, and the ability to perform the commands "come", "sit", and "down". Our pups are also about 85% house-broken when they go to their new homes. In fact, we have had several reports of new owners claiming their puppy has never had an accident in the house! Below are step by step instructions on what we do with our puppies and all though we start when the puppies are a couple days old this is all stuff you can and should do with your puppy when you first get them home.
Phase 1: Handling
We begin our extensive training and socialization process when our puppies are a few days old. We get the puppies used to being handled by picking up each one, laying them on their backs, touching the inside of their mouths, and cuddling with them. When they are a week old, we add in playing with each individual toe, lifting them in the air, placing them on their sides, and then upside down, and , of course, more cuddling. When they have graduated through these techniques, we have movie nights with them where we cuddle each puppy one at a time away from the litter for a longer period of time. All of this is, of course, very cute and fun, but it is also incredibly time-consuming. However, this important work must be done. It is very important to get the puppies used to people, being handled, and being comfortable away from the litter.
You can do all this with your puppy when you bring them home with a few adjustments to fit you and your puppy. For example, you do not need to lift your puppy if he is too big or heavy for you to do so safely. You should also add in playing with his collar and his food. Everyday make an effort to touch his collar, spin it around, and put your hands in it. At Flood Farm our puppies wear a collar for identification purposes from the second they are born but if your puppy is new to collars it is important to make sure he gets used to it. Every time you feed your new puppy you should send a couple seconds petting him while he eats, and sticking your fingers in the food bowl. Food aggression is very common but is also very easy to avoid if dealt with effectively.
Phase 2: Socialization
Once the puppies are old enough to start playing and walking, we bring them into the kitchen and get them used to hearing the blender, the vacuum cleaner, and other loud household appliances. We take them into the barn and introduce them to horses, cats, ducks, and tractors. We also make an effort to have our puppies interact with as many different types of people as possible before going to their new home, from retirement centers to groups of rowdy teenage boys.
This is an important step to do with your puppy in your home. He should be introduced to all the loud and scary things you use. Use your loud appliances near your puppy and offer him lots of positive reinforcement and pets. Take your puppy outside on walks or to crowded places to get him used to seeing and meeting many different people. It is a good idea, however, to do this once you have completed phase 1 and your puppy is comfortable in his new home and you two have established a good relationship.
If you have found your new puppy and breeder early on you may want to ask your breeder if you can come out for a visit to interact with the puppies and see how the breeder raises and interacts with them. You should bring out a towel or article of clothing that smells like you and your home as well as the dog bed you intend for your puppy to use. Have the breeder place the smelly article and the dog bed in with the puppies. This will get your puppy familiar with the scent of your home and allow him to get his litter's scent all over the dog bed. Bring these items home with you when you bring your puppy home and then your nervous new puppy will have a bed and a home that smell familiar.
Phase 3: Training
At about six weeks old, we begin the command training for "come", "sit", and "down". At Flood Farm we do this by taking each puppy, individually into a small fenced off room with no distractions and use an all-natural dog treats for motivation. We start off the training with the command "come" this is the easiest for the puppies because of their natural desire to run to people. We say "Puppy Come" and then when the puppy comes we give him a treat and say some variation of "good puppy!" it is important to use a different tone of voice when giving a command so that your dog knows your are asking him to do something and not just talking. It is also important to give the reward at the right moment. You must reward you puppy right as he does what is asked otherwise he will get confused with what you want him to do.
We then add in the command "sit". We say "Puppy come. Puppy sit" and offer the reward right when the puppy's butt hits the ground. We get the puppies to sit by placing our hand in front of their chest to stop the forward motion while at the same time holding the treat above their heads. This helps them naturally sit and eventually they will associate the word "sit" with this action.
Finally, we introduce the command "down". To teach this command we sit on the floor with one of our legs stretched out with a slight bend in the knee. We say "Puppy Down" while coaxing the puppy under our knee by leading him through with a treat. He is forced to lie down under our knee to get the reward and eventually will learn the word "down" means to lie all the way down on the floor.
This, of course, is all stuff you can and should do with your puppy even if your breeder hasn't started. We have a video of this training on the Flood Farm YouTube page for further instructions on how to perform this training. Once you have mastered these important commands you can then branch out to other commands you would like to teach your dog.
Phase 4: Continuation
Training a dog is an ongoing process. As a new owner you can't just stop when your new puppy has mastered "sit", "stay", and "come". You must constantly establish that you are the pack leader. Otherwise, the dog will take over that responsibility, and then neither you, nor your dog, will be very happy. At Flood Farm we require that all new families take their puppies to obedience classes, and continue home-training throughout the lives of their dogs. However, you should do this no matter what breeder you purchase from or how experienced you are because obedience classes offer a different environment for you and your dog. As a Responsible dog owner you need to make sure that your dog obeys when he is surrounded by new smells and other dogs, not just when you are alone in your house.
Places to avoid are dog parks and doggy day cares. These places may seem convenient, but they are detrimental to your dog's training in many ways. Dog parks do nothing to establish you as part of your new puppy's pack, let alone you as the pack leader. When releasing your puppy into that chaos, the puppy thinks that the pack is all those dogs running around. Dog fights are also common, and you can bet that a larger breed like German Shepherd Dogs will be deemed responsible for the fight, even if it is not true. Also, this kind of movement for a German Shepherd Dog, especially a young dog, may ruin his joints, even when he comes from long lines of certified hips and elbows. Doggy day cares are the same as dog parks, only these issues will accrue over an extended period of time.
How nice it will be for you when the time comes when a dog comes running up to you and your German Shepherd Dog, and you are easily able to get your dog to sit calmly by your side. Your dog should be allowed to run up and protect you, but we all know you would probably be liable, not the irresponsible owner who let their poorly trained dog off the leash. As a responsible new puppy parent, the best thing you can do for your relationship with your puppy is to research, and then buy, from a responsible breeder, a breeder who has made the most out of the early weeks of your new puppy's life. Then you can continue this responsibility to committed training and socialization of your new dog throughout their entire life!
About the Author
Author: Cindy Flood
Flood Farm German Shepherds have been breeding quality German Shepherd Dogs for over 35 years. We spend a lot of quality time with each puppy, socailizing and training them before they go to their new homes. Our dogs come from impresive working lines, and generations of certified hips and elbows.
Photo Credit: Jimmy Benson/Flickr