Key Points for Raising a Well-adjusted Puppy
© Brooke Taylor, Neigepearl Shepherds
Socialisation: learning how to recognise and interact with other animals and humans. By learning how to interact, the socialised dog develops communication skills which enable it to recognise whether or not it is being threatened and how to recognise and respond to the intentions of others.
Habituation: becoming accustomed to non-threatening environmental stimuli and learns to ignore them.
TAKING YOUR PUPPY OUT BEFORE FULLY VACCINATED
Many vets will tell you not to take your puppy out in public until it is 16-18 weeks old. This is way too old to start socialising and habituating your Shepherd puppy. Vets are not canine behaviourists and most are not knowledgeable about breed-specific behaviours, especially those common to the Shepherd.
It’s important that your puppy learns good behaviour by acting appropriately with other animals and different kinds of people and children. Shepherds are a particular breed where socialisation, habituation and training is critical for a well-balanced temperament.
The benefits of socialising your Shepherd during the critical period of 7–16 weeks, far outweigh the very small risk of it catching a virus.
More dogs are put to sleep for bad temperaments than they are from contracting a virus.
It’s a good idea to talk to your vets and ask if there have been any recent outbreaks of parvovirus in your area, and avoid those areas when taking your puppy out.
A Shepherd puppy that is not taken out or exposed to certain things until after 16 weeks, is likely to be reactive, aggressive, fearful, and is much more difficult to correct this behaviour, since the critical window has passed.
Remember, your puppy already has some antibodies from its mother, as well as its original 6 week old vaccination, so your puppy is not completely unprotected.
Ensure that you take your puppy to places where it is safe
Short walks up and down your street
Visiting friends / family / neighbours
Only take your puppy to places with other dogs who you know are friendly with puppies. Always supervise them, and if
the other dogs show signs of agression or discomfort, take your puppy away immediately. If socialising with other dogs/pups, always check with the other owner that their dogs are friendly and will not attack your puppy. Learn dog behaviour and body language so you can learn to pick a problem dog from afar. A bad experience can have long-lasting effects on the puppy and will more than likely make him nervous of meeting other dogs for a long time to come.
Having your friends visit you and your puppy at home
Avoid coming into contact with people’s houses who have had dogs with parvo, or people who have recently been around dogs who have been sick.
Avoid areas where the virus has been reported to be caught in. There have been cases though, where older dogs, who have been vaccinated against parvo, have still contracted it. The disease occurs more in lower socio-economic areas where fewer dogs are vaccinated.
There have not been any reported cases of parvo on a beach, which is interesting...
If you ‘play it smart’ whilst socialising your Shepherd puppy, you greatly reduce the risk of it picking up a disease!
A puppy learns from its experiences, so you want to provide only positive ones. Negative experiences your puppy has with an aggressive dog (even just being rushed at or lunged at by another dog), can severely alter their temperament.
This can have a permanent effect on them, and be very difficult to fix. Avoid places where there may be other dogs that could be aggressive with your puppy. If your puppy has had a negative experience such as a fright from something or another dog being aggressive, it’s crucial you remain as calm as possible. Your reaction can make it worse (say if you scream or console your dog). Your reactions will reinforce their behaviour and reactions.
It’s important that if your puppy is affected by a negative or frightening experience, please tell us so we can help or refer you to a behaviourist.
If you heed the advice about how to handle your dog in particular situations below, there should be no reason that your dog should be problematic in those situations. Remember, it is your responsibility to avoid situations where you put your puppy at risk of a bad experience.
As part of your regular routine, checking ears, eyes, teeth and paws (in between toes), bathing, grooming, should be done as often as possible. It is always important to be consistent with how you train and socialise your puppy and follow it up by joining a good training club.
A FEW HINTS ON SOCIALISING & HABITUATING YOUR PUPPY
Get your puppy focussed on YOU when working and socialising. YOU must be the most important person in their life – not anyone or anything else.
DO not allow your puppy to run riot and ignore you. Interrupt times where your puppy is distracted, by a fun game and getting their focus on YOU.
Never console the puppy or pat him if he acts nervous or snappy out of fear. By consoling or patting him you are telling him that that kind of behaviour was acceptable.
NEVER ‘BABY’ YOUR DOG! If he acts nervous – ignore it and let him work out that there is no reason to be scared.
Do not allow people or other dogs to force themselves upon your puppy. You would not like it if someone came up in your face and jumped on you or grabbed you!
Correct any bad behavior, such as nipping or biting out of fear. A good, sharp pop on the leash at the right time will help communicate to the dog that bad behaviour is not acceptable. In serious cases, see a behaviourist.
If your puppy is a little wary of people, do not console him or encourage him to interact when he doesn’t want to. Always allow the puppy to approach people on their own terms and when they are comfortable.
Never force the pup! A stranger looking down straight at the puppy making direct eye-contact is a very threatening thing in the dog world. Ask the person to not look or stare directly at the puppy. Tell them to totally ignore the puppy. Once he learns that strangers are OK and there is nothing to be afraid of, it should start to relax.
Learn how to interpret dog behaviour to avoid problems when socialising off leash. Personally I am not a fan of off-leash parks. Too many people do not have their dog under effective control and some dogs do not behave appropriately.
Do not let your puppy be aggressive with another dog or puppy. There is a difference between playing and getting too rough. No owner likes their puppy being beaten up by another pup or dog! Learn the difference between rough-housing play and aggression.
DAY TO DAY TIPS
Exercise and Getting Out and About
A well-balanced dog is the result of hard work and dedication by the owner. Dogs must always be under full voice control if off lead and must come when called. Remember, each time you take your dog/puppy out in public, your dog is a representation of its breed.
A build up of energy and lack of exercise can cause behavioural problems such as aggression, frustration, fearfulness and destructiveness, so make sure the dog/pup is well-exercised and stimulated. Shepherds are a working breed and were bred to have brains – and to USE THEM!
Take him out on daily walks and enclosed areas where they can run safely off lead (and not get hit by a car!).
Make sure that you don’t over-exercise your puppy though. No forced running i.e. jogging with you on lead or jumping until they are at least 12 months old, because their joints are still growing and over-doing it can cause permanent joint problems.
If there are other dogs around or loose, ensure the other dogs are stable and will not hurt the pup. Most people these days are courteous and will put their dogs on lead. Better to be safe than sorry in these situations!
If there is ever a fight or attack, the person who has their dog off lead, are the ones liable, even if their dog didn’t start it!
You and your family are the dog’s PACK, not every dog down the street or in the park. YOU are the Pack Leader.
During the walk or run, they must still be focussed on you when you request their attention. It’s fair enough to allow them to just ‘be a puppy’, sniff things etc, but ensure that when you ask for your pups’ attention that they give it to you immediately.
Give verbal encouragement and make things fun for them – if they are food focussed, use treats or if they are toy focussed, incite a game.
Puppies must learn how to act appropriately in different surroundings, so take them to these places.
Always end training sessions on a positive note!
When you get your dog’s attention and they do what you say, reward it with food, verbal praise and a ball / toy game. Be careful not to over-excite the puppy to the point where it loses focus on you altogether.
Different puppies and dogs respond different levels of praise, so depending on what yours is like, use whatever works for you and your dog.
Avoiding Separation Anxiety
When you come home or leave to go out without them, don’t touch, make eye contact, or talk to them. Don’t make time apart such a big deal.
If you do, it can develop behavioural problems such as separation anxiety.
Give calm and gentle attention once they settle down – this may take 5 minutes or longer!
Your dog must learn to spend time alone where they are not centre of attention.
Ignore bad behaviour. Reward the good!
If you have more than one dog, alternate the dogs inside and outside. They should not learn to be dependent on each other. It’s very important that when raising a puppy with your other dog around, that they are taken separately on walks so the puppy can learn how socialise by themselves and not rely on the other dog for confidence.
It’s also a good idea if you are not at home, to leave a bone or a toy like a kong with food stuffed in it. They’ll be occupied and busy for a while!
HOW TO GAIN YOUR DOGS’ RESPECT
No pulling on lead! Don’t allow the puppy to pull on the lead. The Pack Leader walks in front. Walk with confident posture and a calm, assertive attitude.
Train your dog the basic commands i.e. sit, heel, drop, come.
You don’t want to be dragged down the street! Join a local dog training club to learn how to make your dog do these things.
No jumping! Your dog should always be prepared to accept a reasonable measure of control and when young children or elderly people are around it. A boisterous young dog can easily knock down the very young or elderly. Children may become frightened of dogs for life and the elderly are very prone to injury.
Getting up on couches or beds! What’s cute as a puppy is not cute at 30kgs! Don’t encourage behaviours that you don’t want the dog to do when it is older.
Feed your dog after you and your family! Pack Leaders eat first. If it’s not dinner time for you and the family, even eat a biscuit or something small yourself then prepare the dogs’ meal.
Never give up if you give your dog a command and he/she ignores it! Every time you give a command, you must always carry it through to completion. If you give in, the dog learns they can get away with ignoring your commands and will not take you seriously and they think they are the Pack Leader. If commands keep getting ignored, you can use different methods or a combination of methods to communicate with the dog and make him do what you want. Don’t give up and let the dog get away with ignoring an instruction! Make the dog do it! Reward the dog and praise him when he complies.
Never give your dog anything if they are whinging or carrying on! Whinging and barking at you is DEMANDING behaviour. Don’t give in to this behaviour as it will reinforce it and they will keep trying it! If you must, put them outside and ignore them.
Do not give the dog attention/affection unless it is deserved. Reward the dog if it has done something very good. Make them work to gain food or praise.
Making them sit, drop, stay or heel. Attention is not a given right – it’s something they must earn.
In a pack environment, food and respect doesn’t come for free! If the dog is in your way and not moving – walk right through it! As pack leader, you have “right of way”. By walking around your dog, this is you submitting to your dog. When pushing through with your legs – don’t fall over!
There is no such thing as “problem dogs”. Negative behaviours are always the result of poor leadership, socialisation, habituation and training.
WELL-TRAINED DOGS CAN ONLY COME FROM RESPONSIBLE OWNERS WHO ARE WILLING TO INVEST TIME & EFFORT INTO THE DOGS TRAINING PROGRAM!
TRAINING NEVER STOPS. IT’S AN ONGOING JOB. ROUTINE AND CONSISTENCY ARE THE KEYS!
These hints and tips are a general guide only. Please seek the services of a behaviourist if you have any serious behavioural or training issues