Is Puppy Fever keeping you up at night? Do you spend free time scrolling through breeder listings, asking friends where they got their puppies, and searching high and low for the puppy of your dreams?
Before you start reaching out to breeders, here are 5 things you need to learn, consider, and plan BEFORE you start interviewing breeders, and being interviewed by breeders. This blog is part of our Finding a Puppy by Finding a Breeder Series.
A puppy is a decade plus commitment to providing for another living being. By taking the time to fully consider this decision before jumping in you can stack the odds firmly in your favor and join the ranks of happy owners, whose dogs make their lives better, happier, and more complete.
Are you considering adding a German Shepherd to your family or searching for a German Shepherd puppy? Feel free to explore this site and Contact Us if we can be of any help.
The other day someone asked me if I thought a German Shepherd was the right breed for their family and this got me thinking about why some owners do so well with this breed, while others do not.
I certainly see a LOT of talk from fellow trainers on how many of their clients who have a German Shepherd should NOT have a German Shepherd, and while trainers and behavior consultants taking to social media to complain about their clients and client dogs is a subject for another day, their initial observations are sometimes interesting, and often accurate. Some owners seem to really struggle with this breed.
I also see lots of owners who do very, very well with this breed, after all the GSD is arguably the most popular (read numerous) dog breed in the world, and the vast majority of those dogs are nicely situated into pet homes.
While a very worthwhile subject is what traits does a German Shepherd need to be an easy companion dog, that won’t be my subject today. Instead I’m going to jump right in to an already crowded subject….Is a German Shepherd Right for you?
First, a super brief history of the German Shepherd Dog. The German Shepherd is a medium large herding breed in the tending style. Tending breeds work as a “living fence” by carefully trotting around large herds of sheep out on the graze each day. They also help the shepherd move the sheep from here to there, moving them through towns, on roadsides, until they reach the day’s chosen graze. This work required a dog of tremendous stamina, able to trot for hours and hours on end, intelligent enough to understand the work and to learn this work in a timely fashion, and biddable enough to restrain themselves from stressing, harassing, or bothering the stock (who need to graze calmly) while still containing them. Tending dogs often work in pairs, and must be able to be indifferent to any free roaming dogs they may come across in their day’s work.
More well known is the German Shepherd’s work as a sport dog favored for bite sports such as the sport formerly known as Schutzhund. Being titled in a bite sport OR herding has been required for prior to breeding in much of Europe since the end of WW2. Even European show dogs must have one of these two working titles to compete in the very competitive world of breed shows. This work historically involved passing a tracking, obedience, and protection test on the same day requires a dog of medium stamina, with tremendous sprinting power, enough intelligence to understand the training, and enough resilience to withstand often difficult training methods used by mostly hobby trainers ranging from unskilled to highly skilled. In modern times of course the GSD competes in a wide variety of sports, with protection sports being just a small fraction of those competing with this breed.
European FCI style breed shows have also helped shape the modern German Shepherd. Unlike the American Kennel Club shows we are used to here in the states, European dogs are gaited at the trot for extended periods of time, and are expected to show joy for this work. This means that show line dogs draw on the stamina and endurance from their tending heritage, they have tremendous joy in trotting, and are expected to gait and show for extended periods of time in very close proximity, often even bumping each other, sometimes off leash, with other dogs of the same gender, preserving the old dog tolerance the breed’s founding tending dogs had. Show line dogs are expected to enjoy this work for no other reason than the call of their owner.
While I know these histories are short and in no way due justice to the long and interesting history of this breed, they do explain the origin of our breed’s traits and some of the words that are often used to describe them and thus what type of owner and lifestyle suits them.
As I researched this blog I read about a billion other blogs and articles and lists about the German Shepherd and who is potentially a good owner for this breed and I noticed a lot of really generic words, and these often lacked really good explanations, or “real life” explanations. I’m going to run down some of these common labels, and give you some real world examples about what these words mean when it comes to living with a German Shepherd.
1. Intelligent: The number 1 most frequently used word I found to describe the GSD was Intelligent. Personally, I found this odd, because I just don’t think the GSD is any more intelligent than the average herding breed. All herding breeds are smart, they just have to be to learn this work, and in my experience the German Shepherd is of average intelligence for the herding group. What really sets the German Shepherd apart is it’s aptitude for training, it’s ability to forgive poor or average training skills of it’s owner, rough training techniques, and still maintain it’s keen interest in working. This determination is what sets this breed apart and very often what gets this breed into trouble with the average owner. The GSD wants what it wants, and it will pursue that no matter how difficult or unpleasant that process is.
So, instead of thinking about the GSD as some super smart dog, think of these dogs as clever dogs who are extremely determined to get what they want or need. This is great for you if you know how to harness that intensity, and control that learning. This is NOT great for you if you do not know how to do that, if you struggle with consistency, or don’t have much free time.
Real World Application: So what does this mean for you – the average dog owner? What this means is that if you don’t control and direct what your German Shepherd learns, it may learn behaviors that range from annoying to dangerous. Does your puppy learn that coming in when called means that you are going to leave the park? So, now your dog may not come in when you call. Does your GSD learn that children pinch or hurt or scare them? Your GSD may start to use aggression to defend itself from all children. Does your GSD run the fence line all day while you are at work, barking at every passerby, or fence fight with the neighbor dog? Oh yeah, you can fully expect your dog to do that behavior on leash too, and carry that frustration with them to walks and the dog park. “Reactive” behavior (barking, lunging, spinning, with and without fear or aggression) is one of the most common behavioral complaints associated with this breed. Much of the reactive behavior we see in the GSD is a direct result of this breed’s instincts interacting with things it should never learn, being allowed to be frustrated, scared, or practiced by running fence lines.
If you enjoy planning and directing your dog’s learning, and are good at meeting goals, you will likely do well with this breed.
This breed learns, it is designed to be active and determined, so if you don’t have the time or energy to control what your dog learns, or the interest to learn what the breed needs to know, this breed is not right for you.
2. High Energy: Another common buzzword used to describe this breed is high energy. And of course they are, almost all herding breeds and all tending breeds, have been selected for generations for their ability to trot all day long. While some sport bred or “working lines” have been selected, either deliberately or not, for their sprinting power and may be more easily satiated, the European show lines (ironically often recommended as “easier” to live with) and herding lines still posses the extreme endurance and love of movement breeders have selected for in these lines. While all herding breeds are high energy, the German Shepherd tends towards the top middle of these breeds, being lower in exercise requirements than the Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, Australian Cattle dogs and all the Belgian Shepherds, but more than the other herding breeds.
So, what does this mean in real life? While the GSD is a vast breed, made up of millions dogs, thousands of breeders, and hundreds of different lines, so variation in traits is to be expected, a healthy adult German Shepherd is a busy dog who wants to move, and move a lot.
Does this mean your GSD will make a good jogging partner? You bet! If full grown and healthy, a GSD is a good jogging partner, hiking partner, or running partner. But don’t count on your dog to create this habit for you. If you don’t exercise regularly, or don’t exercise outside, a dog may not change that habit.
One of the most common problems we see in this breed is too much repetitive exercise, the kind that makes dogs mindless. From running on treadmills to overuse of fetch, mind numbing forms of exercise do not make for happy and well adjusted dogs. Like salt, such activities are best in small amounts.
When we think about the exercise needs of high energy dogs we are not talking about trashing a dog’s body by playing fetch every day after work, road working, or hours on a treadmill until the dog drops. Nor are we talking about a walk around the neighborhood after work. We are certainly not talking about a run at the dog park on weekends or every other day full time dog day care. We are talking about regularly scheduled exercise from a variety of these and other activities that is built upon long periods of free movement.
What a GSD needs is like a well balanced diet:
Lots and lots of free movement such as hiking on a long line, long robust sniffing walks on trails where the dog can stretch out and trot along while investigating all the sights and smells. Long walks through a new neighborhood, training and games that allow the dog to work independently such as scent work, tracking, shed hunting. Think of these as the exercise version of vegetables. Very healthy, interesting without being crazy exciting, and making up most of the exercise diet. This needs to make up the bulk of a GSDs exercise plan. If you already enjoy such things, awesome! You will likely do really well with a German Shepherd. If those are things you do not enjoy, this breed is going to be a challenge for you, and your dog may not be happy.
While free movement, and lots of it, is the bulk of a GSD’s exercise needs, they also enjoy and benefit from, more intense forms of exercise in moderation. Many dog sports fulfill this need, sports like agility, bite sports, obedience, competitive herding, all offer high intensity “thinking” learning and exercise opportunities.
But dog sports are very time consuming and expensive, if you do not have the time, funds, and thick skin, needed to break into the world of dog sports, another viable option that is easily accessible are canine powered sports like canihiking, canicross, bikejoring, and etc. While some of these are also competitive sports, it’s very easy to train your dog and participate just for your own enjoyment. If you already enjoy such activities, you are an outdoorsy person, with lots of free time to travel to trails, to hike, or camp and want to include your dog, this breed is great for you.
But it’s not just about physical exercise, the GSD needs mental exercise and enrichment as well. Training and exercise are two forms of exercise that offer enrichment value, but every meal offers an opportunity to give our GSD an outlet for it’s natural species specific behavior, as well as it’s inherited breed traits.
So, if you would enjoy providing enrichment activities such as those found on the AniEd 100 Days of Enrichment Website (and FB) group your GSD will be happier for it.
If those activities and needs sound like a burden, or an activity that would cause tension or stress on your family time or budget, then a GSD might not be for you. If you don’t like to spend time outdoors, live in an urban area where open spaces are not handy, if you work long hours, don’t have a yard at all, or have a busy schedule of commitments already straining your free time, this breed at this time may not be right for you.
Finally, yes, a GSD will likely love playing fetch, and tug, and some even enjoy a day at daycare or the dog park, but such activities are like dessert, best enjoyed occasionally, and best not to over indulge.
3. Along with High Energy we often find the words “needs a job” or “needs to work” and while the meaning of these phrases depends greatly on who is uttering them, the grain of truth at the center of what is usually a long winded one sided discussion about how that person is an awesome dog sport trainer and thus knows everything about the breed and dogs, is that like all large and powerful dogs the GSD needs some serious skills to be a fun and pleasant companion. Think about all those needs we have already talked about.
Exercise in wide open spaces, on a long line or if appropriate offleash, around town for exploration walks, at training classes or clubs, remember all that your dog can’t enjoy these activities if YOU have not taught them the skills they need. Lack of training sentences a large dog to a small, boring, and diminished life at home, lack of manners, boredom, excessive energy, can lead to frustration (ie barking, aggression, compulsive behaviors) as the dog seeks to meet it’s own needs.
Frustrated, frantic, unhappy dogs are difficult to manage and often labeled as stubborn, dominate, hard, and this can lead to the use of painful training devices in an attempt to control the dog or “teach it manners” and such devices and their use often end with even worse behavior and welfare.
If you would not enjoy spending time EVERY DAY working with your GSD and teaching it skills, practicing those skills, and teaching more skills, this breed is not a great choice for you.
German Shepherds don’t need “a job”. They need skills, life skills primarily, that enable them to have a full and rich life, and allow them to have their considerable exercise, enrichment, and learning needs met. Teaching and practicing skills takes time and hard work, if you have both, the time and the enthusiasm to devote to this work , this is the breed for you.
4. The GSD “needs a leader.” This hearkens back to the old debunked dominance philosophy of dog behavior, that dogs are wee wolves and we should pretend to be dogs to boss them around, otherwise they will never be happy. And while some trainers and celebrity trainers are still cashing in on the old dominance/alpha philosophy, the rest of the dog training, dog behavior, and scientific community has left this nonsense behind.
While dominance/leadership/alpha philosophy is baseless and just plan mean, and while dogs don’t need to be bullied to be happy, they do need a owner they can trust and have a strong bond with. The best way to build a strong bond, and to earn a dog’s trust, is by being safe, predictable, and competent.
If your dog learns you are unsafe to be around,because you do scary or painful things to them, they will not trust you.
If your dog learns you are unpredictable, if you praise and punish the same behavior, they won’t trust you.
If your dog learns you are incompetent and doing what you ask leads to scary or painful things for them, they won’t trust you.
German Shepherds don’t need a leader but they do need a kind, predictable, and competent owner. If you cannot provide those things this breed may not be for you.
5. One thing almost everyone agrees on is that the German Shepherd is a big dog, with big hair. Now, what does this mean?
Big dogs need big crates, big toys, big chews, lots of dog food, and everything medical cost more due to their size alone. Boarding and day care will be more expensive.
So, if you have a family member who is afraid or uncomfortable around big dogs, someone who is frail, or if you are looking for a dog for your kids, this is not the best breed for you.
And the hair, yes, the German Shepherd sheds. They shed a LOT, they shed all the time, and it will never end. If you don’t want dog hair on your stuff, in your car, on your pants, this is NOT the breed for you. There is no way around it, this breed is a walking hairball.
While stock coat GSDs have a pretty low maintenance coat, requiring only weekly or monthly brushing, the increasingly popular long stock coat GSD requires the same time consuming grooming of a rough collie. As breeders are increasing breeding long coats for showy coats they are getting more and more hair. Expect to brush out a long coat GSD every day or their coat mats. NO, you can’t shave them, except for a sanitary trim (yes, some long coats are being bred for so much coat they now require a professional groomer to give them a sanitary trim or they will urinate on their hair and feces can get stuck on their bum) once or twice a year. They need to be brushed out to avoid mats. Long coat is softer than stock coat, so expect burrs, stickers, rocks, and small pets to all become entangled in the abundant coat.
To be easy to groom ALL GSD’s need to be taught to tolerate brushing, ear cleaning, burr removal, and yes, even nail trimming.
But can’t the dog just live outside? That leads us to…
6. The German Shepherd Dog is highly social and loves it’s family passionately. We often hear the GSD described as “loyal” and they are, so what does that mean in real life?
This breed was designed to spend all day with the shepherd, tending the flock, then after the stock were settled back on the farm for the night, the dog goes with the shepherd home to spend the nighttime with the family. This is not a breed that ever needed to spend time away from it’s shepherd and family and that is the root of it’s highly social nature to this day.
To be happy and well adjusted the GSD needs a loving home environment. This means your big hairy and muddy dog can’t just be left outside because that is convenient. Isolated this breed quickly loses mental health and is prone to a variety of compulsive behaviors, such as barking, pacing, digging, spinning, shadow chasing, and fear aggression. If you would not enjoy having a large hair machine in your home, on your furniture, in your car or bed, this is not the right breed for you.
When not bred and raised effectively this breed can also develop separation problems, these can lead to highly destructive behavior, and a phobia of being alone. This just highlights the importance of finding a reputable and skilled breeder AND doing the needed training and exercise.
While this breed is intensely loyal to it’s family and familiar friends, the breed is not always open or interested in making new friends. While this is a correct trait for our breed, what does this mean in real life?
What this means in real life is your GSD may not like their vet, they may not like your step kids that visit only in the summer, or your relatives that come for Thanksgiving every other year. They might take offense when the plumber comes inside too.
At the extreme end, some GSDs will be aggressive to strangers, or afraid of them, at the other end they might be neutral (as our standard describes) or neutral but easily offended. Where a particular dog falls on the spectrum, from friendly to aloof to suspicious, depends greatly on the traits they inherit, but also on what they learn when they are trained and socialized.
If you want your GSD to welcome your step kids each summer you will need to do A LOT of work socializing your puppy around children, and be darn sure your puppy has a GREAT time and only learns that kids are safe and fun. Want to have strange adults in your home at the holidays? Be sure sure you think about that when your dog is a puppy and spends a lot of time having company over when your puppy is little. Want your dog to be easy to handle and manage at the vet? Start training that day 1! So now we are back to training and planning again.
Are you excited and looking forward to spending time teaching your dog these skills? It’s never ending work, and if that sounds perfect and something you would LOVE to do, then this breed is for you.
Where a particular GSD falls, between friendly goof and serious as a mafia hit man, depends on both it’s inherited traits, mental health, learning, it’s pre and post natal environment, and early life socialization. So choose your breeder wisely
So, just what type of home IS great for a German Shepherd?
Are you the type of person who loves to plan things? Do you enjoy making goals and meeting them? Do you find it easy and enjoyable to do things on a schedule? If so you will likely also enjoy making and sticking to a training and socialization plan for your GSD.
A person or family that already spends a considerable amount of time outside, in natural places, doing activities that can easily include a large dog. Do you hike? Camp? Have a very large property that you enjoy tending? Do you walk every day and love to go walk in different areas? Do you live in a suburban or semi rural area with a plethora of parks and trails and wide open spaces to exercise your dog? Heck yeah! You will find it easy and fun to work a GSD into your lifestyle. If you describe yourself as outdoorsy, if you have designed your life to include natural places and exercising outdoors even when it’s cold or hot, the needs of your dog will line up nicely with your current habits.
Do you already enjoy learning about dogs and dog behavior and training? Are you spending time watching You Tube, or reading books, podcast, blogs about animal behavior and training? Do you have a history of training dogs as a hobby, for sport, show, or just for fun? If you are already devoting your free time to consuming all manner of dog related content you are very likely to enjoy spending that time actually training and practicing with your dog.
Are you someone who enjoys your dog as a friend more than a follower? A partner more than a subservient? Are you empathic, patient, and understanding of Big Emotions? If so, you’ll do great.
Do you like big dogs and don’t care about dog hair? Yes, awesome!
You are already disciplined enough to make and stick to a socialization plan that will allow your GSD to be socialized effectively to the things and situations you need them to enjoy or tolerate as an adult dog? Yes, fantastic. You have the “plan and proceed” habits needed.
Do you have the patience and tenacity to find a reputable breeder and Fear Free Vet? Can you afford to purchase and care for a well bred German Shepherd for a decade or more? Good.
Are you interested in and willing to commit to using modern, low risk, positive reinforcement based training methods with your dog, and working every day to reinforce habits and behaviors you value? Yes, perfect.
You are prepared to care for, train, socialize, and love your dog for a decade or more, even if your dog sheds buckets, is poorly, or otherwise fails to meet your expectations? Yes, excellent, because committed owners are how dogs stay out of shelters.
You are already active, outdoorsy, LOVE getting out there and doing All The Things, and WANT to make room to do these activities with your dog.
If you are not sure if you can do all the things a German Shepherds needs, “try one on” for a while.
You can volunteer to foster a dog in need for a local rescue or shelter. This doesn’t have to be a GSD, just treat it like one!
Not able to foster? That’s OK, you can still “try on” the responsibilities of ownership.
1. Start putting aside funds every month for dog supplies, such as food, toys, enrichment items, training classes, veterinary costs and etc. While this will be different in different areas a good rough average for the first three and final five years of a GSD’s life would be $250 per month.
2. Start putting aside TIME. If you are planning on exercising your GSD every other day during the week and daily on the week end then take that time and GO to those locations and walk, hike, or run. If you cannot maintain that habit now, it’s likely you won’t be able to maintain it later either.
3. Start attending local training classes in person (or join a dog club) and go without a dog. You can often audit for free, or pay a reduced fee to audit. This is actually a great way to check out local trainers or clubs.
4. Start taking some online classes, work through the content with a foster dog, a friends dog, or no dog at all, just devote that time to learning.
If you find that those tasks are enjoyable and fulfilling for you this breed is likely a great match for you. However, if you “never get started” or can’t maintain these habits, or you just find them a burden instead of an enjoyment, then this breed is likely not right for you and in this process you will likely be able to more easily identify what traits you would most enjoy in a companion dog, because there are so many wonderful and diverse dog breeds, there is no reason to choose one that won’t fit your needs.
Still not sure? Contact Us to learn even more about this amazing breed.
“Can you help me find a puppy?” I can’t even count how many times I get asked this question, and often as a breeder of German Shepherds, I can!
But often I can’t, and as our FB group Pandemic Puppy Raising Support Group grows and grows, nearing 10,000 as I write this, I am seeing some common problems faced by new puppy owners that could have been prevented, or decreased, if they had known how to find a breeder who valued some simple “ease of living” skills and traits. This is important because for puppies to have a good long term outcome, avoiding losing their homes, or being shuffled from one home to another, there are some really important things for people to consider BEFORE they purchase and bring home that puppy.
I didn’t want to make this another “how to find a good breeder” post because there are just so many of those out there, some are good, some are very good (but still want you to choose a rescue over a breeder), some are great, and some not so great, and to be honest they often fail to mention things that are actually really important to the average dog owner. So I’m hoping my view on how to find a puppy has not only a different point of view, but also very actionable steps.
The most important thing to remember about purchasing a puppy (from a breeder, rescue, or shelter) is what you really need to focus on are shared values. Finding a breeder who values the same things you do sets everyone up for long term happiness.
Here are some things I find are valued by most puppy seekers, and also by most responsible and ethical breeders, fosters, and shelters. Some of these apply only to breeders, but many will apply to fosters and rescues as well.
Want the quick version? Look for “In a Nutshell”
Want a more in depth explanation? Look for “By the Bushel”
Want to know what to avoid? Watch for “Bad Apples”
Value 1: Long Term Health:
In a nutshell: Do you value owning the healthiest adult dog possible? If so find a breeder who values producing healthy dogs and knows how to do this work.
By the bushel: How to find a breeder who values health.
Start here: Go to the OFA website (www.ofa.org) and click the link for “health testing by breed” and find the breed, or for mixes all involved breeds, you are considering. For example, Border Collie and Whippet for a Border Whippet cross, or Golden Retriever and Poodle for Goldendoodle. Once you find this list, screenshot it. Be sure to note which tests are DNA tests, which tests are a medical evaluation, and which tests are recommended versus optional for your breed.
After That: Click each condition and read about it, and how, and how often, breeders screen for it. This is really important, if you don’t have a rudimentary understanding of how these diseases are screened for you won’t know what to ask the breeder, or how to know if you are being misled. Further, If you really want to understand this work, find and read the “best practices” for breeders content on the OFA website and then ask the breeder questions about not just the health screening but also their over arching plan for preventing or reducing the chance of such diseases occurring in the puppies they produce.
The Bad Apples (Avoid these breeders if you want a healthy dog).
A HUGE NOPE! Those who do not do the recommended health testing for the breed, or breeds. Period, end of story.
Caution! Beware breeders who do DNA testing and say “ Dog is tested and cleared for over 100 genetic diseases.” This is a deception. The big DNA panels include MANY tests that do NOT apply to all breeds, for example for the GSD only about 12 of the 100 plus tests actually apply to the GSD! And our most common health problem, hip and elbow dysplasia, cannot be identified via DNA test AT ALL! Breeders who imply that their dogs are “clear” of a hundred plus diseases when only a handful apply to their breed are misleading you, breeders who mislead people are either extremely ignorant, or deceitful, and neither shares your value of honesty.
Bad Apples: Breeders who don’t follow guidelines for health evaluations, for example, a breeder who does OFA Preliminary Opinions (or worse the “my vet says” hips are ok thing) on hips/elbows instead of OFA Certification, or a breeder who does an OFA cardiac exam via auscultation when ultrasound evaluation is the standard, or a breeder who has a general practitioner “check” eyes when a veterinary ophthalmologist is required for certification. Take time to read about each disease, and how it should be screened for, and use caution if a breeder seems to be doing half measures.
Take your list of tests from the OFA website and only consider breeders who can talk to you intelligently about these diseases and how they are inherited, how they are screened for, and how the breeder uses that information. Take notes and talk to several breeders to help you identify red flag behavior.
Do not complain about your adult dogs health problems if you did not purchase from a breeder who has a solid plan for breeding for health!
Value 2: Bringing (and sending) home a healthy puppy.
In a Nutshell: Another value you and your breeder should share is sending home the healthiest puppy possible
By The Bushel:
While producing long term health is about the health of the dogs in the pedigree, sending home healthy puppies is about puppy raising health practices and protocols. You will find that these protocols are different between breeders based on their own experiences, belief systems, and veterinary advice. There doesn’t need to be one “proper” way of raising healthy puppies, but YOU do need to be comfortable with your breeders protocols. One good way to evaluate your comfort level is to discuss these protocols with the breeder, and your own veterinarian.
Preventive health care, even if excellent, will not guarantee a puppy will not become unwell in the new home, puppies are prone to a variety of illnesses, so many responsible breeders will enroll in programs that provide their puppy owners with a complementary 30 days of health insurance policy (sometimes called an “offer”) and if you choose an puppy eligible for AKC registration it’s also eligible for the AKC policy.
Typical health care for puppies:
Preventive worming for intestinal parasites.
Vaccination against infectious diseases (often done by vet)
Veterinarian Well Puppy Checkup before send home.
Fecal Exam (ideally an ELISA Antigen test)
Cardiac exam via auscultation or ultrasound (if warranted)
Eye, mouth, ear check.
Abdominal Palpation and check for umbilical/inguinal hernia.
Evaluation of body condition, skin and coat health.
Normal body temperature, respiration rate.
Health Certificate (if needed for travel).
Caution: Breeders who do not do typical preventive care. If a breeder does not do preventive care, this warrants further discussion, there may be a good reason. Perhaps a particular disease is not active in their area (such as heartworm, fleas, or ticks, in some geographical areas, or their breed/line is sensitive to common preventive medicines. While lack of preventive care may be a red flag, there may also be a very valid reason for the lack of certain types of care. Politely ask the breeder they why behind their choices, and then run that information by a trusted veterinarian, once you have all the information you can decide if you are comfortable with the risk/benefit involved.
Bad Apples: Avoid a breeder who does not do any preventive health care at all, or who omits typical health care without any valid reason. Avoid any breeder who places a puppy too early (prior to 8 weeks) or without a well puppy check by their veterinarian.
Healthy puppies are raised in clean environments.
Those who value healthy puppies maintain their puppies in clean, sanitary, environments. You are looking for a breeder who understand the importance of cleanliness and has the skills to maintain their puppies in a clean puppy raising environment.
Observe: Look for a breeder who is transparent about where and how puppies are housed. Most breeders maintain social media pages, websites, or even webcams and this is an excellent place to observe the living conditions the puppies are kept in. Expect some degree of transparency. What should you look for?
Look for clean bedding, while puppies do potty a lot the breeder should also keep areas clean, so a poop is ok, but lots of poop is not. It should be obvious the breeder cleans up after puppies frequently.
Look for absorbent footing with traction, so puppies are not walking and laying in urine.
Look for a litter box, so puppies are not forced to walk about in their own waste. Litter Box trained puppies are cleaner.
Outdoor areas should be free of dirt, with a surface that can be sanitized, kept clean and as free of feces as possible.
Do NOT expect a pristine environment, puppies are messy, but DO expect cleanliness and obvious regular and complete cleaning of puppy areas.
Puppies should appear clean in photos and on webcams, and smell and feel clean in person.
Bad Apples: Avoid These Breeders!
Avoid breeders who refuse to discuss or provide examples of where and how puppies are raised or breeders whose puppies are obviously kept in dirty environments, cramped conditions, or cage like kennels.
Value 3: Ease of House Training
In a Nutshell: Everyone wants a puppy who is easy to house train and nobody wants a dog that soils the house long term. In fact, one of the leading reasons owners often give for relinquishing their dogs to shelters is house soiling. For this reason good breeders value ease of house training as much as puppy seekers. This is one area where good breeders and good dog owners agree, an easy to house train puppy that grows into a house trained adult dog is the gold standard. What makes a puppy easy, or hard, or impossible to house train? Two things, early puppyhood learning and the house training plan, or lack thereof, in the new home.
By The Bushel: What puppy raising practices make house training easier.
Keeping puppy pen clean and free of feces.
Keeping puppies themselves clean and free of urine or feces.
Keeping puppy bedding, crates, and toys clean.
Litter box training started early. Litter boxes kept clean.
Avoiding “pee pads” in litter boxes, using grass, pellets, or shavings instead.
Access to an outdoor area, when safe and weather permitting, so puppies can experience relieving themselves outside.
Breeder observing puppies going potty, so puppies are used to someone watching them void BEFORE they go to the new home.
Even better, if the breeder is rewarding puppies for going potty in the litter box, or outside, with treats and praise.
Even Even better, if breeder teaches puppies a “go potty” cue.
Keeps puppies a bit longer, because a slightly older puppy (9-16 weeks) will have more bladder and bowel control.
Bad Apples: Things that make house training harder.
No litter box training meaning puppies relieve themselves thoughtlessly and everywhere.
No Litter Box Training: Puppies end up resting, walking, and playing in and around their own waste and learn this is normal.
Infrequent clean up means puppies normalize being around waste.
Dirty puppies: Puppies learn that having waste residue on their body is normal.
Breeder never observes puppies going potty means puppy may be unsettled, even scared, when the new owners start staring at Puppy on potty breaks.
Breeder punishes puppies for going potty in some locations.
Breeder uses pee pads for the toilet area, meaning puppy thinks fabric is a toilet.
Puppies never have access to voiding outdoors.
Puppies are house in small kennels, so puppies think crates are ok places to void.
Puppies are placed too young, before the age of 8 weeks, or when still quite immature (rate of maturity varies by breed!)
Value 4: A well socialized and confident puppy.
In a Nutshell: Another area of agreement between responsible breeders and responsible puppy seekers is socialization. We know that early puppyhood socialization, starting around 21 days, is vitally important for the long term behavioral health of dogs. Those who breed dogs want to send home happy and well socialized puppies, and puppy seekers want puppies who have been socialized well and who are most likely to grow into pleasant and adaptable companion dogs.
In a Bushel: What to look for.
Breeder uses a well defined and evidence based puppy raising protocol (such as Puppy Culture).
Breeder raises puppies in the home, or a home like setting.
Breeder prioritizes the emotional health and wellbeing of puppies.
Breeder makes the most of the 3 week to send home “socialization” window.
Caregivers have positive and predictable interactions with puppies frequently each day.
Novel people are introduced to puppies at safe and appropriate ages.
Novel people interactions are fun, predictable, and pleasant for the puppies.
Food is used for all teaching and training, ensuring puppies are having fun.
Bad Apples: Lack of socialization, or “bad learning” can have lifelong negative effects on a dog’s behavior, intelligence, and personality.
No well thought out plan for socialization.
Very little interaction with caregivers.
Scary interactions with caregivers.
Caregivers who use punishments (physical or mental) or who are using outdated “dominance” or “alpha” techniques on puppies.
Caregivers who trap the dam in with puppies, forcing the dam to resort to biting, growling, and other punishments to protect herself from her puppies.
Lack of socialization with novel people.
Scary interactions with novel people.
Boring, bland, unchanging environments.
Breeders who place puppies too early, prior to 8 weeks, or too late, after 16 weeks.
Value 5: Puppy is easy to crate train.
In a Nutshell: Crate training is a valuable skill for dogs. Puppies who enjoy confinement are easier to house train (see Value 2), travel with, and care for if unwell. Puppies who have some positive associations with crates are easier for the new owner to crate train, and this means a happier puppy, and a happier family, during transition week. Easier transitions facilitate bonding, and prevent a plethora of behavioral pitfalls.
By The Bushel: Breeders can, and should, do some exposure to the crate, but not all exposure to the crate and confinement is positive for puppies or leads to a puppy who is comfortable being confined. Puppies must have positive exposures to the crate, and not scary or upsetting ones.
Has crates open and accessible in the puppy pen.
Has comfortable beds in crates, so puppies learn that crates are good for resting.
Feeds puppies meals, snacks, or chews in the crate.
Gives puppies treats for entering crates.
Ensures the crate is a fun and safe place to be.
Uses a positive reinforcement based crate conditioning plan like my own Crate Conditioning For Breeders and Fosters Blog and Course.
Place puppies who are slightly older, between 9-12 weeks.
Bad Apples: avoid breeders who…
Lock puppies in crates and leave them to “cry it out”
Punish puppies who vocalize when confined.
Allow puppies to learn how to climb out of puppy pens or escape from crates.
Allow puppies to scream or run along the side of the pen.
Place puppies too young, prior to 8 weeks.
It’s BETTER for breeder or foster to avoid any crate work at all than to teach puppies that crates are scary or unpleasant places to be.
Value 6: Ongoing Support
In a Nutshell: Responsible breeders want to help you, and you will need help.
By The Bushel: If you value having an ongoing relationship with your breeder choose a breeder who values having an ongoing relationship with you. It’s important for the long term success of your puppy that you have the support you need, for that a positive and productive relationship with your breeder will be vital. The breeder should treat you with kindness and respect, and you should treat your breeder with kindness and respect as well.
Bad Apples: Avoid a breeder who does not make it easy to stay in contact. Look for Facebook pages, Facebook Groups for puppy owners, websites, and other ways of keeping in contact. The absence of easy routes of communication should be a red flag. Avoid breeders who “blame” others for problems that occur, or who seem unwilling or unable to communicate or help you. Breeders who blame clients, “rant”, and otherwise seem frustrated with their puppy owners are a red flag.
Value 7: Standing Behind Their Puppy and Realistic Expectations.
In a Nutshell: Look for a breeder who has a written warranty/contract that reflects their values AND your values. Do not expect your breeder can guarantee a good outcome, perfect health, or behavior, or that a contract releases you from your own responsibility to do a good job with your puppy.
In a bushel: Contracts/warranties are a sticky subject but suffice it to say you should read and agree to all terms of the contract BEFORE signing it or paying any money. Do not agree to any contract stipulation you cannot happily accept. The breeder should discuss each clause, disclose any MLMs or affiliate programs they are requiring you to participate in, and answer any questions you have. Remember, the contract should be agreeable to both parties, it provides the framework for the breeder to stand behind the puppy they sell, and it outlines buyer responsibilities too. There are few “right” or “wrong” things, there are lots of points of agreement and disagreement, just ensure you are comfortable with the contract before signing it. If the puppy you are purchasing is quite expensive, more than a couple thousand dollars, or you are looking for a show, sport, or breeding dog it may be worth considering having an attorney review the contract and explain it’s terms to you, before signing. Once signed, be a respectful client and abide by the terms you have agreed to.
Bad Apples: Avoid any breeder who does not have a written warranty/contract. Avoid a breeder who demands you agree to stipulations you cannot happily agree to. If you do not want your breeder to come between your veterinarian and your dog, don’t agree to take your breeders medical advice over that of your vet. Don’t want to buy supplements, foods, or training that your breeder wants you to agree to buy via an MLM or affiliate program? Then don’t agree to do that. Whatever you agree to is between you and your breeder, so be sure that you actually agree, otherwise don’t purchase that puppy. Avoid any breeder who will not discuss the contract openly and allow you to preview it, or whose contract is overly restrictive to the point you are not comfortable agreeing to it.
Value Last and Most Important
In a Nutshell: Find a breeder who is producing the traits that are important to you. Are you looking for a companion puppy for your family, look for a breeder who values companion dog homes, and understand the traits a pleasant companion needs to have. Want a show dog? Look for breeders who show successfully. Looking for your next agility prospect? You need a breeder who values the traits needed to excel in agility.
By the Bushel: Here is a little known secret of dog breeding. Breeders apply selection pressure for traits, both behavioral and physical, that are important to them. Sometimes this means the traits you value and the traits the breeder values will match up, sometimes they won’t match up, and that’s ok. Don’t feel it’s only OK to get a puppy from one type of breeder. Look for a breeder whose values align with yours. Sometimes there will be crossover, and a great companion dog may come from a “show” breeder, but let’s face it, there are not enough “show” or “sport” breeders to even come close to meeting the demand for responsibly bred dogs, this can mean waiting lists are very long, and pet puppy seekers are usually lowest on those lists. Same for sport bred dogs. Additionally, it’s a falsehood that all show dogs or all sport dogs are easy companion dogs, many are not, and some breeders of show or sport dogs are so detached from the needs of the typical companion dog owner that they cannot really say they understand what traits a companion dog needs.
So don’t hesitate to enquire about a puppy from a show or sport breeder, but don’t overlook the companion dog breeders. Unlike show and sport breeders the FIRST consideration a companion dog breeder has is making healthy and pleasant companion dogs, for working and show breeders these considerations come after structure or working ability. Don’t believe the falsehood that show and sport breeders are the only responsible breeders, because that’s not accurate, and don’t believe the falsehood that companion dog breeders are always unethical.
If you are looking for a companion dog you are clever for seeking out a breeder who values companion homes, who understands what traits are needed to be a companion dogs, and who produces those consistently.
Do you want a pet that is good with your other dogs? Then be sure to talk to the breeder about if their their pedigree has dogs who are safe and tolerant of other dogs. Have children, be sure to make sure the breeder knows if their dogs are tolerant of children. Want to take your dog to work, be sure the breeder produces gregarious dogs. You get the picture right? Think about how you want to live with your dog and make sure the breeder understands those needs and the traits that go along with them.
If the breeder says their dogs won’t be a good match, believe them!
If you’re are looking for a companion dog for your family.
Choose a breeder who can discuss with you exactly what traits they produce that make their dogs good companions.
Don’t be afraid to ask what traits they think you need for your lifestyle and situation.
Choose a breeder who is interested in you and asks for lots of info about your life, family, and lifestyle.
Choose a breeder who keeps their dogs in their home and who raises their puppies in their home.
Avoid a breeder who makes it apparent their interest lies mainly in show or sport dogs.
If a breeder talks extensively about structural traits, or working traits, titles, scores, wins, and has little information for you about what the dogs are like to live with, avoid this breeder.
If the breeder considers pet homes as lesser, places them lower on selections lists, or talks down to you about “just a pet” avoid this breeder.
Avoid a breeder who does not live with their dogs and who kennel raises their puppies exclusively.
If you are looking for a show prospect puppy.
Look for a breeder who produces dogs that finish easily with owner handlers.
Look for a breeder who is willing to mentor you.
Ask the breeder if the puppy can be purchased on full registration, and if so, what are the requirements.
Avoid a breeder who is not producing dogs that finish easily with owner handlers (unless you want to pay for professional handling).
Avoid a breeder who is unwilling to mentor or support you while you show your dog.
Avoid a breeder who has outlandish contractual obligations for obtaining full registrations, or breeding your dog if it finishes.
If you are planning on competing in dog sports.
Choose a breeder with a history of producing dogs that make title in the sport of your choice.
Choose a breeder who is willing to mentor you in puppy raising and training.
Avoid a breeder who has no history of producing dogs that make title in the sport of your choice.
Avoid a breeder who is unwilling to mentor or support you as you compete with your dog.
I hope this blog has been helpful and has given you many things to consider, many things to discuss with your breeder, and the best chance of finding a fantastic breeder who will have the puppy of your dreams waiting for you.
When I was a girl and my mom would take me shopping (boring!) she would give me a new book to take along. I would happily sit in the corner and read this book while Mom took care of her shopping. No fussy child meant my mom was able to relax and finish her shopping faster. We would do the same for long car rides, or when my parents had parties. In this case the book (or coloring book and crayons) kept me busy and also taught me to enjoy these events that might have otherwise really disliked.
Our puppies and dogs are not so different from that hyperactive bookworm of a child that I was. There are just SO many uses for pacifiers. A pacifier is a toy or chew given to a dog or puppy to engage them in a quiet activity for a few moments.
Now, if my mom had given me a book way over my reading level, say an adult novel with no pictures, tiny text, and words I had not yet learned, I might have given up on books. I might have even thought that books were terrible and I was a bad reader.
We often do something similar with puppies and pacifiers. We give our puppies pacifiers best suited to an adult dog, and one with great skill, learned through many hours spent experimenting and learning what works, what doesn’t, and how fun it is to try.
But most puppies are easily discouraged if they can’t succeed, and further, they may learn to give up when faced with a too difficult pacifier, because they are never successful. Then they generalize that too all types of pacifier challenges and they give up more easily in future.
So when you bring your new puppy home, realize that one of the important things you need to teach your puppy is pacifier skills, and pacifier enjoyment. These skills are arguably as important as learning to sit, or down, or heel.
Today’s Tip Tuesday is beginner level quick and easy pacifiers, while these are “starter” pacifiers for puppies they are also great for adult dogs who have just never learned the joy of engaging with a pacifier, or even a pacifier savvy dog who just needs something to do for a moment.
Never underestimate the importance of having a shopping list for your new puppy!
Getting a new puppy? Congratulations! Your new family member will need some puppy-specific items to help them settle into their new life with you. Picking these items can be daunting, especially if you’re buying online, or not familiar with the various brands and marketing jargon.
After answering the same questions on puppy supplies over and over, we decided to make a list of our favorite puppy products. Products that we have tried and tested ourselves. Hopefully, you’ll find them just as reliable and useful as we did!
This is made with our clients in mind, so the products are German Shepherd puppy sized, as well as the diet our puppies are used to. So, if you are using this and don’t have an Austerlitz puppy, don’t worry! You may have to double check the sizing of products, and the diet section will be different.
Section 1 – Treats, Dog Food, Chews.
Your Austerlitz puppy will come home eating Purina ProPlan Sport, 30/20 Chicken. We recommend feeding this product for at least a month after the puppy comes home, to let your puppy adjust to their new home without also adjusting to a diet change.
No matter who you have a puppy from, it’s important to keep your puppy on the original food the breeder fed for at month, even if you plan on changing the diet. This allows the puppy to adjust to their new home without having the added stress of a new diet. This also will allow you to know more easily if your puppy is having GI upset from a new type of chew or treat, and not having to decide if it’s that OR the new diet you just changed them onto.
Additionally, we find having some canned dog food on hand during transitions is helpful. For stuffing pacifiers, training, or just jazzing up a meal.
You will want several types of treats to choose from, ideally purchased before your puppy comes home. It’s very helpful to bring high value treats to pick up your puppy. We want a variety of high value treats, that your puppy will be extremely excited about! Beyond making puppies happier about the transition to your home, it will also be more tempting for puppies who may be nervous and less hungry then normal.
First, think of treats as having an innate value for the dog, based on how tasty they are. High value treats are sometimes a single ingredient such as meat, or very smelly, such as cheese or prepackaged treats. They need to be pea or lima bean sized, and slightly soft. We do not want something very large or very crunchy, such as a MilkBone biscuit.
High value treats can be as simple as cooked chicken breast, cheese, ham dices, or plain meatballs. And honestly, this is the majority of treats we use and recommend. However, having self stable prepackaged dog treats is extremely handy and (ask any parent) variety is extremely exciting.
For puppies, chewing is a need just like play and exercise. Puppies need to develop strong jaw muscles, teeth, and relieve stress – and chewing does all of this! It also gives puppies a calming and innately pleasant way to pass time, which is helpful for crate training.
You’ll want several kinds of chews for your puppy, as variety is the spice of life. We recommend animal body part chews such as bully sticks, ears, horns, hooves, hides, tendons, snouts, and bones. Remember, the below are sized for German Shepherd puppies!
Section 2 – Toys
This is definitely where the fun begins! Toys are a puppy raising staple, and thank goodness for that – they’re very fun to buy!
Toys fall into a few broad categories.
First, there’s chewing type toys. While these are fun to chew, they aren’t edible like the chews listed above. This also means they aren’t particularly exciting – however, they can satisfied chewing urges. Toys in this category are marketing towards chewing, so it’s obvious what they’re for. You’ll want a good assortment of softer, “puppy” toys and harder “adult” toys.
Second, there’s soft toys. These are often for wrestling, squeaking, thrashing, and playing tug. They also are often destroyed, which is less of an issue with baby puppies. They can also be comforting, if puppies are missing littermate snuggles. When picking soft toys, pick something prey-like – remember, puppies are practicing their predatory behaviors when they play, especially when they play with soft, floppy toys. So fuzzy fur, interesting noises, and a good grip surface wins!
Thirdly, we have pacifiers. These are usually hard, plastic or rubber, and designed to have food stuffed or inserted. This includes Kongs, Kibble Nibbles, Squirrel Dudes, and much more. For puppies, we want a modest variety of pacifier toys for confinement training and enrichment. Remember, select ones that don’t have removable parts, seem easy to clean, and are hard enough to resist chewing.
And finally, we have everything else! Balls, discs, throwing sticks, tugs, flirts poles… Oh my! These are specifically for play involving the handler, and shouldn’t be left down all the time.
Section 3 – Collar, Leashes, Harnesses.
For puppies we want a very adjustable, budget friendly collar, as puppies are likely going to go through many collars before they finish growing.
We recommend you have two types of collars, both with ID tags with your current contact information. One flat, non-cinching collar for day-to-day wear. For baby puppies, choose a narrower collar (3/4 inch wide) with a plastic buckle.
The other collar is for outings and walks, and should be a martingale or partial cinch collar. This prevents the puppy from backing out of the collar and escaping. This is common in puppies, especially when their head is smaller than their neck. Choose a martingale collar with a buckle ideally, or adjust it so that you can slip it over their head when fully “open”, but cannot when it’s “cinched”.
It’s not strictly required to get a lightweight puppy leash, but consider it if you have a small breed puppy, or a sensitive puppy.
When choosing a leash, it’s mostly up to your own preferences. Nylon, biothane, leather, and rope all make fine leash materials. But if you have a large dog, look for brass or stainless steel hardware.
We do recommend you get two leashes – one that’s 5 to 6 feet long for regular outings, and one that’s 10 to 15 feet long. The latter is often called a “long line” and this is ideal for walks in controlled settings or in parks. We do recommend getting a waterproof biothane long line if you plan on hiking or getting your puppy wet.
Harnesses are great for walks and outings, and should be comfortable and very adjustable. They’re also a bit safer than a collar or martingale, as puppies are less likely to escape from one. They also make leash conditioning easier. We know they will likely outgrow a harness or two, so ideally get a budget friendly model if this is a concern. Look for something easy to get on and off, nylon, and lightweight.
Section 4 – Training
Puppies need training, that is pretty much a given. There are a few products that will make your job easier, for sure. First, you will need a few clickers, the type is not super important. However those with volume adjustment tend to break sooner then any other we’ve tried. Button style clickers are the easiest to use, but if you have dexterity issues a cylinder style clicker is something to try. Box style clickers are the default choice, and a good starting point.
You will also benefit from using a bait bag. While you can get a simple nail bag, the bait bags with a hinge closure is very handy, especially for rambunctious puppies. I prefer bags with an included belt, but a clip on style is easier to get on for some people.
Section 5 – Crates and Play Pens
Austerlitz puppies all receive crate conditioning from an early age. You will receive enrollment to our Confident Crating course on how to continue this work. We recommend you start out with two crates, one in your play pen and one in your bedroom for nighttime. See our Management Product Review for a more in depth crate and play pen review.
Section 6 – Odds and Ends
For your convenience, think about purchasing something to store pet food in. Make sure it it closes tightly, to prevent accidental meals. Speaking of meals, don’t forget to pick up some food bowls and a 1 cup dry measure.
You will also need some food bowls. I prefer metal, but these are noisy. If you don’t mind some chewing, plastic is fine also. I use a Neater Feeder for my water bowls, this cuts down on mess and spilled water!
I always keep a few dog items in my car, and they can really help keep a trip calm and orderly. For your first ride home, these items can make a huge difference for your comfort, too!
I keep a basic first aid kit in my car, along with clean up supplies. The clean up supplies are a roll of paper towels, several drawstring kitchen trash bags, poop bags, Wet Wipes, and several Puppy Pads. These can fit neatly into a reusable shopping bag. I throw in a slip lead, an extra flat collar, and seatbelt cutter, the latter being for emergency collar removal. Also be sure to bring a bottle of water and a travel bowl.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of things you will need for your puppy, this is at least a good starting point. Oh, and congrats on your new puppy!
For more product ideas and lists, visit our Amazon Storefront.
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Making the Golden Years the Greatest Years. 10 tips for caring for your senior dog.
Nick, enjoying his ball!
Throw us a bone? This blog may contain affiliate links, which means if you purchase a product from a link the seller pays us a few cents, but you never pay more.
This was one of our most popular notes on the Austerlitz German Shepherds FB page, so I’ve updated it and posted it here.
We have reached the point in our journey as breeders and owners of German Shepherd Dogs that we have now raised several generations of dogs from birth, through their lives, and finally to the end of their lives. We have learned so much from our dogs, including how to care for the special needs of senior dogs. We get lots of requests for information on how we care for our older dogs, from our clients with older dogs but also from people who get to meet our older dogs and see how healthy and active they are even at an advanced age.
10 Easy Senior Dog Care Tips
Physical Condition. Thin is IT! Keeping your dog in a lean body condition is the single most protective thing you can do to ensure your dog lives the longest and healthiest life possible. Researchers have proven that lean dogs live longer, and develop age related illnesses such as arthritis and cancer later than their litter mates who are maintained in “Ideal” body condition. Keeping a dog lean for it’s entire life is best, but as senior dogs age it can be harder to keep them lean because they burn fewer calories. Your senior dog may need fewer calories and so less food as they age. Use this tool to determine your dogs body condition. Senior dogs should be maintained in an Ideal body condition, while younger dogs should be maintained in a lean body condition.
At 9 years CH Pokatalica Toujours L’Audace is an example of a senior in perfect physical condition.
2. Targeted Nutrition. We generally do not use senior diets, instead we keep our seniors on either Pro Plan Sport 30/20 (if they are quite active) or Purina ONE Sensitive Systems (if tummy troubles occur, or they need fewer calories) but there are two specialized diets that are outstanding and worth considering.
Hills Healthy Mobility and Science Diet JD: If your senior dog has any type of joint disease or old injury (such as ACL strains, tears, or repairs) these two products are worth considering. Both have been extensively studied and proven to have therapeutic value, we have used both ourselves and seen nothing short of amazing results. Any senior dog who is experiencing stiffness can benefit.
Senior dog Baby enjoying a walk
3. Exercise – Physical. Dogs of all ages need more exercise than we think. Senior dogs may not be able to participate in the same activities and at the same level of intensity they did when they were young but they still require plenty of exercise to keep them healthy and mobile. As your sport dog ages consider lower impact sports so your dog can continue to enjoy training and attending trials. Senior dogs can take walks, maybe shorter in duration and more often and by all means, let your senior dog sniff! If your vet approves even fetch and tug games are okay. The most important thing is regularity, old dogs can’t bounce back from “weekend warrior syndrome” like young dogs. Always make adjustments and visit with your dog’s vet if your dog is stiff or uncomfortable after exercise. Remember, by the time you notice discomfort your dog has likely been in pain for a while. Older dogs may not be able to play with rough younger dogs, but they can enjoy socializing with very polite dogs under proper supervision, so continue to cultivate dog friendships for your senior dog.
An assortment of kibble dispensers
4. Exercise: Mental. Older dogs really need to stay mentally engaged in life in order to be happy. With their propensity to sleeping more it is easy to forget how important it is to keep older dogs mentally engaged. Dogs who continue learning new skills, solving puzzles, and visiting new environments have better mental health than older dogs who are allowed to spend too many hours laying around detached from their lives and people. While you might not be able to do all the high intensity sports and training you once did with your senior this is no reason to forget how much your friend enjoyed working with you! We find older dogs love playing the popular clicker game 100 Things To Do With A Box, targeting games (both foot and nose), Nose Games (such as tracking, and Scent Work) and Match to Type games (where dogs match items by type, fabric, shape, etc). You will find your dog will enjoy life so much more if you engage them in fun mental exercise games every day. This might be as simple as throwing that food bowl away and feeding your senior their kibble in a puzzle toy (we like Nina Ossmen, try rotating types for variety), treat mazes, kibble dispensers (we like Kibble Nibble), or even scattering it around the house or yard. Make a point of ensuring your senior dog has interesting experiences, and opportunities to learn new things every day.
At 13 years old Raine is still bright and engaged
5. Targeted Supplementation. Older dogs can benefit from a well rounded joint supplement. Since dogs are living longer healthier lives than ever, protecting those joints is even more important since they have to last longer than they used to. We use and recommend three products backed by research and manufactured under high standards by trustworthy companies. For potent Omega 3 benefits the product Bayer Free Form is the best we have ever found. For potent all around joint support Bayer Synovi G4 (a palatable chewable) or VetriScience Glycoflex 3 (flavored tablet and chewable) are both excellent options. It’s always best to start supporting your dogs joint long before age related degradation starts, we generally recommend starting at age 6.
Brego having a senior pet wellness check
6. Regular Veterinary Care. Healthy older dogs really do need to visit their vet once, or even better, twice per year. A good vet will keep on top of age related illnesses before they are advanced, check your dogs teeth, joints, and heart for optimal function as well as do some blood work. Be sure to talk to your vet about canine cognitive disfunction if your senior dog’s behavior seems “off” and review this list of Q&A as talking points with your dog’s vet. Your vet is your dog’s front line of defense, so trust them, and don’t begrudge your senior the health screenings needed to detect illnesses early. After a lifetimes of taking care of you and your family, your dog has earned some special care!
At 12 years old Arin’s coat reflects excellent care and attention from her owner.
7. Regular Grooming. There is nothing as pitiful as seeing a senior dog with long nails and “old dog hair” sticking out everywhere! Senior Dog grooming is important! Regular brushing, nail trims, occasional baths, and proper diet will keep your senior looking like they should, soft and shiny! Good grooming keeps dogs comfortable, gives you a chance to check for lumps and bumps (do NOT forget to check for lumps in your dogs breast area every time you brush and for intact males the testicles as well!) sores, parasites, and other “stuff”. Older dogs may not wear their nails down as quickly as they once did, so trim or Dremel those nails regularly. Long nails put pressure on the joints of the foot, wrist, and shoulder which may aggravate arthritis and decrease your dogs mobility! Consider teaching your dog to use a scratch board to trim it’s own nails, this counts as both grooming and mental enrichment. If your senior has dry, course, rough hair that does not shed as needed consider adding Bayer Free Form to grow healthier coat.
8. Pain Management. If your senior dog does suffer from the aches and pains of old age, don’t force them to live with pain. There are many pain control options for dogs that you can discuss with your vet. Dogs who worked hard and lived active lives or participated in high intensity sports may have had a variety of injuries. They may have some Degenerative Joint Disease, or other problems that may affect their enjoyment of their senior years. Medications are not the only options for pain control however. Many dogs benefit greatly physical therapies from acupuncture, chiropractic care, and laser therapy. Remember, observe your dog for subtle signs of pain, because by the time we notice our dogs limping, having trouble getting up, or getting snarky about being touched they have likely been in pain for a long time. Be sure to talk to your vet often and to observe your dog for signs of pain or discomfort.
Senior dog Baby
9. A soft bed, secure footing, and help with stairs. An older dog may need a supportive bed to sleep on. Older dogs may not be able to climb up on the bed or sofa any longer and need a bed on the floor. Look for a bed without sides if your dog is prone to tripping. High density foam work great for older dogs, make sure it is thick enough that the weight of your dog does not crush it. Older dogs may fall down or trip, so if you have stairs or steps your dog must negotiate to get in or out or around your house install grippy rugs, mats, runners, or ramps to help your senior get around without fear of falling down. Decreased range of motion, vision, or hearing may make these every day things a challenge for your senior so watch your dog for signs of hesitation or confusion, it may be that a few small adjustments are all that are needed! Older dog may not hear as well as they once did, please don’t assume your older dog is being stubborn, she may not hear your request! If your dogs hearing is suspect teach her visual cues such as a flashlight flash to come inside. Don’t forget to teach her a hand signal for “good girl” (she surely misses hearing it!).
10. Individual attention. The most important thing your older dog needs is your continued involvement in her life! She may not be as exciting as she was when younger, she may not be competing and you may even have a fun new young dog to train, but she still loves you just as much as she always did! As she nears the end of her time with you make extra special effort to provide her with the very best care you can afford, the most attention, all the patience you can muster, and some special care. Do your very best to make her final years the very best years!
At 16 Sage is living his best senior years.
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Wow! When we wrote this blog to help our puppies transition to their new home and retain their crate skills we never knew how needed this information was. After years of crate training our own puppies, and coaching clients through the crate training process with their puppies we now have an on demand course available year round! You can find information on Crate School: Confident Crating on our training website.
Crate training for puppies is long due for an overhaul. For too long a puppy’s first exposure to the crate was being locked inside, left to panic, and then being “taught” to be crated by being ignored until it ceased crying.
Too long has the crate training standard been to induce learned helplessness when confined by ignoring the puppies vocalizations, not to gradually acclimate puppies to confinement. Then we wonder why so many grown dogs exhibit behaviors associated with barrier frustration/aggression, separation distress/anxiety, and a myriad of other confinement specific undesirable behaviors later in life.
New puppy owners often feel overwhelmed by the crying, puppies already sensitive to stress while transitioning to a new home are stressed further, potentially triggering separation distress, and a myriad of other potential undesirable outcomes become more likely.
There is a better way. Instead of forcing puppies to give up complaining about confinement, we can easily condition them to be confident craters.
If you’re a breeder or foster who cares for puppies from birth, please use our Crate Conditioning For Puppies: An Incremental Approach.
If you are fortunate enough to be bringing home a puppy from a Puppy Culture or Crate School breeder, or a breeder who has used our (or a similar) crate conditioning protocol, you can easily continue that work by following these principles.
Leading Principle: Crates are where good things happen.
Make the crate the “best bed in the house.”
During crate conditioning, have the bed inside the crate be the only bed. We want our puppy to prefer to rest inside the crate, so make resting in the crate desirable with a good bed. It’s a very good idea to have both a smaller night time crate in the bedroom, and a larger daytime crate in the living area.
When your puppy falls asleep, gently pick it up and place it in it’s daytime crate to nap. Do this every time you find your puppy asleep outside it’s crate. Close the door if you will be nearby to release the puppy when it awakens, or place an x pen around the crate.
Feed your puppy in it’s crate if it’s eating from a bowl.
Gradually teach your puppy to expect a few minutes of confinement after each meal.
Large breed dogs, such as my German Shepherds, benefit from crate rest after eating. Teaching your puppy to expect to crate rest after eating also means you can feed your puppy right before the humans eat, and you can enjoy a “dog free” dinner time. Always provide puppies with a high value chew after eating, to help them relax and pacify themselves. Normalizing and using the expectation that grows from routine is extremely valuable. Consistency really does help puppies know what to expect. We build up to a two hour nap after each meal in our house. Dogs use this “digestion time” to nap, puppies need even more rest than dogs (around 20 hours per day as compared to an adult dogs 18) but scheduled nap time is beneficial for everyone.
Provide daily “chewing” sessions in the crate.
Dogs love to chew, and puppies especially require chewing. The crate is the perfect place to provide this activity. When you can’t directly supervise your puppy or when your puppy is due for a nap, pull out a pacifier and put your puppy in it’s crate for a chew session. By pairing HIGH value chews with confinement you make the most of both the pacifiers you invest in, and teaching your puppy that being confined is great. Puppies need a lot of rest time, so take advantage of that time to create happy associations with confinement.
Be prepared to pair all duration crating sessions with high value chews for the first few weeks.
Collect as many types of chews as you can, stuff them them yummy things if they are stuffable, and provide them only in the crate. Puppies preferences change and develop as they age, and just like us they can get bored of the same thing every day, chewing is a basic core dog need anyway, so don’t be stingy, invest in a wide variety of chews.
Puppies are sensitive to separation and will vocalize when they feel isolated. This is very strong survival instinct that has it’s roots in the dog’s evolution, long before it was a pet.
Here are some suggestions to bypass separation distress.
At night, crate your puppy on your bed, or place the crate at bed height right next to your bed. Your breathing and movement will help sooth a puppy and prevent it from feeling “lost” and alone.
Provide a large stuffed animal, or Snuggle Buddy, for the puppy to cuddle with at night.
For every night your puppy sleeps at least 6 hours without waking, you can move the crate 1 foot away from your bed until you reach the area of the bedroom where you would like your bedtime crate to be located.
Put a tired puppy to bed with the last person to retire for the night. Feed dinner at least 3 hours before bedtime, and take water up 1 hour before bedtime. Calmly walk the puppy for at least 10 minutes before putting it to bed.
If your puppy is fussing at night, offer it a chance to potty. Keep nighttime potty breaks “businesslike.” Simply carry the puppy out, clip the leash on, and stand in one place for no more than 3 minutes while the puppy relieves itself. Do not talk, play or feed your puppy. Doing these things distract from the purpose of the potty break and can teach your puppy to wake you up for play and treats.
Be consistent in the nighttime pottybreak protocol. You want your puppy to learn to “ask out” if it needs to void in the night (otherwise, it may learn to void in the crate) but you don’t want to teach your puppy that waking you up has ANY purpose other than going to the potty.
When 3 minutes is up, carry the puppy back to it’s crate on your bed, place it inside, close the door and turn out the lights and go back to sleep.
Repeat EVERY time your puppy vocalizes in the night crate, your puppy will learn to ask out only to potty during the night. This process may take a week, so be prepared.
Do not offer chews or pacifiers in the Night Crate. Nighttime is for sleeping, and sleepy puppies need to sleep.
Soothing music, scents (such as Adaptal) and a cool room will help puppies sleep.
Devise a routine and stick with it.
Puppies love routine because it’s comforting to know what to expect. Find a routine that includes crate conditioning time. Good examples are to crate your puppy after each meal, at human mealtimes, and the first 10 to 15 minutes after visitors arrive. Be sure to pair a high value chew with each duration session! Use the same routine when you leave the house – pair this with a high value chew and soothing sounds and scents.
Provide high value pacifiers for car crate time too!
Be sure to take the time to condition your dog to traveling in a crate. Not only can this prevent barrier aggressive behaviors from starting, but it’s safer for the dog and driver. Pair all car crate rides with high value chews at first.
Practice Crating on outings.
If you plan to travel or compete with your dog, it’s worth it to condition your dog to enjoy crating anywhere. Purchase a “tent” or cloth crate that’s easy to carry and take it to training classes with you. Crate your puppy (with a pacifier) during class down time when your instructor is teaching or other dogs are working. If your instructor includes mat training (yay!) place your mat inside your tent crate to do some of your mat work.
Some common and not so common sense tips.
Don’t crate your puppy too much. It’s unhealthy for their body and mind – a crated puppy isn’t being socialized or learning any life skills. Yes, puppies need crate time every day, but they do not benefit from being confined too often.
Play lots of crate entry games! Have someone hold the puppy while you run and put it’s food bowl inside the crate. Next, call the puppy with your crate entry cue – this is also your helper’s cue to release the puppy! Cheer the puppy while it’s running to the crate and praise while the puppy enjoys it’s meal. Play lots of these types of games.
“Bait” your crate ahead of time. If you put your puppy’s chew in the crate and close the door, the puppy will REALLY want to enter the crate! Plan ahead and bait the crate with your chosen pacifier 10 to 30 minutes ahead of scheduled crate times, then call your puppy to crate up with your crate entry cue, open the door, and voila…your puppy loves to run into the crate!
Don’t bribe your puppy to enter the crate. If your puppy is reluctant to enter the crate, do more of number 2 and 3, but avoid at all costs bribing your puppy to enter the crate. This will backfire! It’s actually better to pick your puppy up and place it inside the crate than to bribe it to enter the crate.
If your puppy is reluctant to enter the crate, figure out why and fix the problem! Don’t be tempted to bribe or trick the puppy to enter the crate, that will backfire! Consult with a skilled positive reinforcement trainer if needed.
Do you need help crate training your puppy? Or are you a breeder who wants help building a crate conditioning plan into your puppy raising protocols? Distance coaching is available and we are very happy to help, contact us to find out more!
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Enrichment for our dogs is the hot topic of the day! Blogs, workshops, seminars, and FB groups all devoted to this topic. But what about puppies? Can puppies benefit too?
As I do more and more with my crate conditioning protocol I have been using more and more pacifiers. Pacifiers are things we give dogs that are designed to amuse them for long periods of time, like chews, lick mats, and Kongs. There’s many more than just those types, and I have experimented extensively with all different kinds. I have been really interested to see some really beneficial “side effects” of the use of pacifiers in my puppies.
Puppies who are:
Calmer, in general and specifically when not ‘doing anything.’
Getting along better with littermates.
Learning more quickly and with less frustration.
Seeming more “thoughtful” with their actions.
This is undoubtedly due to the “Enrichment Effect” discussed at length in the puppy raising protocol Puppy Culture. As breeders, we know that an enriched environment is beneficial for our puppies physical and behavioral health. Puppies raised in enriched environments have bigger brains, learn faster, and have better behavior as adults.
I think the pacifier is a hybrid between Passive Enrichment opportunities (things like tunnels, and adventure cubes) and Active Enrichment (activities that involve learning, like clicker training.) Puppies are DOING something and learning something, but unlike clicker training the activity is completely self driven. Passive Enrichment is great, Active Enrichment is the “gold standard” for puppy raising, and I think pacifiers fall somewhere in the middle. They are just another tool to add to our toolbox as we seek to raise the best puppies possible, and make the most of their inherited traits. But if that wasn’t enough, there are huge benefits to your new puppy families too – but more about that at the end.
Here are my 10 tips for success with pacifiers.
Start Easy! Baby puppies learn fast, but there are limits to their motor and cognitive abilities.
Ensure Success! Make sure the food is easy to access.
Present one skill challenge at a time. Pick one skill: lick food out, sniff food out, push food out, move a thing to find food, tear something open to find food, sniff to find food, roll to find food, or remove food.
Use palatable easy to digest foods and mix up flavors. Variety is the spice of life, after all!
Choose materials carefully. Avoid things that could trap body parts, fracture teeth, abraid skin, or become ingestion risks.
Choose materials thoughtfully. Select things that are interesting or are novel to puppies.
Observe your puppies for success with any item. Remember, success is your puppies getting the food!
Adjust. If you observe your puppies don’t engage or give up on a challenge, next time make it much easier.
Adjust. If you observe your puppies have immediate success, next time make it slightly more difficult.
Keep Records. Keep track of your puppies favorites and preferences, so you can share what works for a puppy with it’s new family.
Here is my current list of items that work for my puppies. I often use these for crate training, but also when my puppies are getting quarrelsome, frantic, or having trouble calming down. I have both Group and Individual activities. I would love to know what you use for your puppies, please share in the comments!
KONG Quest Forager
Slow Feed Bowls
Single Puppy (Crate) Pacifiers
When to use them?
Pacifiers are a GREAT management tool to make your work as a breeder easier and more effective! Here are the most common ways that pacifiers make my work easier.
To teach puppies it’s great to run back into the weaning pen after an outing. I “seed” the weaning pen with a pacifier (like a snuffle mat) after I take the puppies out. Once they figure out the snuffle mat is always waiting for them, they are happy to run back inside the pen when I open the door.
To soothe puppies during the “witching hour” when they are bickering and frantic. These times are often predictable, think ahead and set up group activities about 30 minutes beforehand.
To prevent puppies from learning to scream and bark at movement outside the pen. I plop a pacifier like a few Kong Foragers in when I know I’m going to be moving around outside the pen.
A snack before bed. During weeks 4-8 I put down a snuffle mat to soothe puppies as we go to bed.
Rainy, cold, or blistering hot days. When walks and noodles outside are short and puppies get bored.
In the new home!
Falcon in his new home. Because he learned to use a variety of pacifiers when here, he was “primed” and ready to use pacifiers in his new home. This makes raising him much easier on his mom!
I can’t even begin to tell you how introducing your puppies to pacifiers early, while they are in the care of the breeder or foster, will help your new families.
Raising a puppy is hard work! Puppies are chew machines and almost every new owner struggles with the same normal puppy issues: chewing on things, mouthing humans, ‘getting into stuff’, and pestering humans or older dogs. These are all normal behaviors, and pacifiers are amazing effective ways to allow puppies to develop normally, while also fostering habits the owners LOVE. This helps ensure the puppy has GOOD interactions with people and not a bunch of “no puppy” “bad puppy” type interactions, it builds good recreational chewing habits, and it gives puppies a natural outlet for their chewing and foraging needs.
Keep a list, much like this one, of the types of pacifiers you have taught the puppies to use. Provide it to each new puppy family so they can learn the value of pacifiers, how to teach puppies to use them, and when to provide them for the most benefit. And BOOM, your puppy and it’s new owner are now set up for success and a happy life together!
If you’ve been breeding long enough, you have met “That Puppy”. That Puppy is one who, while his littermates are quietly napping or playing, is screaming at the top of his lungs. Maybe he hollers after midnight, or bellows in the morning, or has a midday tirade every day? Such a puppy can drive a breeder to distraction.
Of course when a puppy is vocalizing for no apparent reason we should first consider the puppy’s health. Is That Puppy gassy? A bloated gassy puppy has a very good reason to vocalize! So first run through a list of That Puppy’s basic needs.
Pain– Is this puppy in pain or uncomfortable? Is a vet check warranted? Could That Puppy be gassy, or have a stomach ache from weaning, or over eating, or parasites?
Hunger– is this puppy “hangry” because it’s been pushed off breakfast by larger puppies? Does it need a snack?
Thirst- is clean water available?
Warmth/cool- is the climate of the weaning pen comfortable? We readily think of puppy’s being chilled, no breeder wants that, but some breeds *cough Malamute cough* appreciate being able to get cool.
Rest- is there a place for this puppy to rest? Some puppies rest better in a “single size” bed, some really want to snuggle with other puppies. Further, can the puppy rest without being constantly awoken by playful siblings, household noises, nannies or over tending mothers?
If any of the Basic Needs are lacking, addressing those is our starting point.
But what if we’ve met all those basic needs? Indeed for skilled and responsible breeders these basic needs are second nature, attended to with great skill, and never lacking. But still…..That Puppy bellows!
This is when the train can fly off the tracks. Faced with That Puppy, that loud, loud puppy, breeders try to figure out why. Why just *That Puppy*?
At this point, faced with this difficult puppy we often get distracted and off track because we, even though we know more about puppies than anyone, start to assume that a baby puppy is like a tiny adult dog.
We don’t let adult dogs out of crates when they fuss now do we? (Let me add, I’m not advocating leaving any dog to scream it out, but that’s a subject for later). So great is the fear we will “teach” a dog to vocalize to control us that we forget that puppies are not tiny adult dogs. So entrenched is this advice to ignore, that we never question it.
We then start to throw out labels, now That Puppy is: Bossy, High Strung, Demanding, Manipulative, Dominate.
That Puppy is trying to CONTROL us, the human, heaven help us! But is it really?
First, remember that if we decide to frame a dog’s behavior (of any age) with a negative label we then tend to put ourselves in a dead end. After all, if a puppy is having a temper tantrum, being manipulative, demanding, bossy or whatever now we have suddenly made this “the puppy’s fault” or a problem with the puppy itself, we are now in a battle of wills with this puppy. We must win, right?
Labels are so limiting and they can close off how we think about behavior into one narrow road with few solutions.
The Puppy screams because he’s difficult, and he’s difficult because he screams. This offers us no path to resolution.
So if we think a puppy is being in any way “naughty” we start to think along the lines of “teaching the puppy a lesson”, that it can’t control us and that bad behavior won’t “work”. This limits us to basically one common answer, IGNORE the puppy (or much worse, punish the puppy by squirting it, or tossing a penny can, or scruffing it). Otherwise the puppy “wins” and that means we are the looser because the puppy learns to vocalize to demand release.
But, this is at best really limiting, at worse damaging, and may indeed completely miss the mark, the “point” or function of the behavior.
Always remember, puppies exhibit behavior as a response to the environment. How such a young puppy responds is less about high cognitive functioning, learning, and manipulation and more about basic instincts.
Puppies are hard wired to respond to distress vocally, this is basic survival advantage stuff.
Puppies are hard wired to want to “be with” humans and dogs (that order may be switched depending on the breed traits at play). We literally domesticated dogs so they want to be with us, they are driven to be with us.
This instinct combines with breed traits and developmental stages to create a variety of behaviors. Learning plays an increasing role as the puppy matures, but it’s not the primary player in baby puppies.
So instead of asking ourselves how we can punish a puppy (something we are inclined to do if we think of the puppy’s behavior as being deliberately bad) by ignoring it (removing something needed or desired) or punishing it (adding something the puppy would like to avoid) we do better work by the puppy if we look at the puppy acting this way and take the behavior “at it’s word” and think of the puppy as struggling, as an emotionally immature individual struggling with frustration, or perhaps separation distress, or fatigue, discomfort, or over arousal. When we frame our puppy in this light, we can see a variety of potential solutions before us, so many, instead of few.
1. Look for a pattern. Does the fussy behavior occur before meal time? In the evening? In the middle of the night? Jot down in your litter notebook when the fussy behavior happens and always confirm which puppy is vocalizing. This is really helpful in designing an intervention, but sometimes we don’t need at plan at all because the function of the vocalization becomes readily apparent in the pattern. For example, if a puppy eats and then cries for an hour after, our solution may be in the feeding. Puppy is under eating, or over eating, or the food doesn’t agree with the puppy.
2. Take advantage of visual blocks. Barrier frustration is a real deal in certain breeds and it can start young. I use sheets (I like sheets because they are easy to close and open) on the outside of the pen, this one thing has decreased puppy distress by 90% in my home. Use visual blocks strategically “in the moment” to help a puppy lower it’s arousal and distress at being separated from others in the household. If the pen walls are covered already, try uncovering it, or a part of the pen to make a window.
3. Dramatically increase novelty within the pen. Remove and rotate toys often, increase the cognitive effort a toy takes, use snuffle mats, novel odors, kibble dispensers, small platforms, really make the pen interesting and engaging and time these changes to right before the high risk times. In my own puppies, this is usually where my solution lies. German Shepherds are clever puppies, just tossing a few toys in won’t always be enough. But a snuffle mat? Or a bunch of horse hair stuffed into a toy, or a kibble nibble, yeah! Something that requires some sniffing and figuring out! That can help a puppy self calm and relax.
4. Spend more time with the puppies in the pen yourself instead of always taking them out. Mix it up a bit. How often do we accidentally teach puppies that being outside the weaning pen is better? Too often all human interactions are outside the weaning pen, all novelty is outside the weaning pen, and meals are outside the weaning pen. NO WONDER puppies long to be out of their pen! Make a real effort to condition puppies that being confined (in a pen at first, and a crate later) is WONDERFUL! Put the puppies OUT of the pen and then have a clicker training session INSIDE the pen, one puppy at a time. Sit inside the pen sometimes for play time and visitor time. Put novel smells and items in the pen for exploration sometimes. Now, I’m NOT saying “don’t take your puppies out of the weaning pen” , that would be insane, but I am saying to make your weaning pen just as much fun as the other parts of your house.
5. So, on that note, be sure your puppies time outside the pen, counts. Plan sniff walks in a puppy safe yard, or if it’s better, do a sniff walk inside! Collect novel odors (I use chicken feathers, bark from trees, horse hair, and cat hair often) and plant these along with some treats around your room. Start easy, and make each snuffle walk just a tad more difficult. Before you know it your puppies will be experts at using their noses to find the hidden novel smell. This type of “thinking” exercise will help puppies rest better when returned to their pen. Be sure to salt the pen with a snuffle mat, or kibble nibble, so when the puppies return they have an activity to help them calm down.
6. Have adult dogs help! If you have a safe skilled team of nannies, make sure they have a hop in (a low point in the pen that allows a nanny to enter AND LEAVE the pen at will) so they can interact with the puppies in the pen. I have one nanny who is always first to sooth a frustrated puppy. So I make sure she can! Now, again, do NOT EVER lock any adult dog (even the dam) in with the puppies. There must always be an escape route for any dog to leave the weaning pen. I use a board that my nannies, nannoes, and the dam can jump in/out of the weaning pen at will. If you have a skilled nanny or nanno, this dog can soothe a fussy puppy by modeling quiet behavior, or by just attending to the puppy’s need, but it’s not desirable for a dog to actually punish the upset puppy. Just because an older dog uses an aversive doesn’t make it more desirable than a human! So always use your common sense when supervising nannies. Just like a human trainer, a good nanny can shape and model desirable behavior without risky techniques that can create more serious problems than the one being solved.
7. Plug in a DAP or spray some. I love DAP for the weaning pen. It’s very soothing for puppies in general. If you use the spray you can spray the area as needed, the diffuser works all the time. I will tell you, if you have a diffuser plugged in, you can spray more when That Puppy starts to fuss.
8. Soothing music is very helpful. Soothing music, or a boring audio book should make up the bulk of the “background” noise for your litter. Sound conditioning and habituation should never be nonstop, our ratio is around 75% soothing sounds, no sound, intermixed with 25% sounds we are either conditioning or habituating to. If I have a fussy puppy, I always make sure I have soothing sounds at the ready!
9. Teach Manding pen side. If you reinforce sitting pen side your puppy can take advantage of Manding (a learned behavior) instead of screaming (a natural behavior) at the side of the pen. Create a Success Station near the side of your pen, with written instructions for the humans who pass by, and a small bucket of treats for the puppies. Teach all the humans to pop a treat into the mouth of any puppy who is sitting quietly pen side.
10. This is where things get really crazy! I do the opposite of many, when I have a puppy who frets and yells I don’t ignore That Puppy. Using my Pattern (See 1 Above) I try to remove That Puppy before it gets upset (ideally when calm) because I am aware that learning is happening, and I want to reinforce calm behavior. But if I have a puppy who is screaming in the pen I no longer leave it to freak out. I really don’t want all that stress hormone activity, it’s not worth “teaching it a lesson” to have an immature brain awash in cortisol or other stress hormones. That just primes the puppy’s brain to use more in future (totally anecdotal, I’ve only my own experiences on this). I want less vocalization, NOT more vocalization.
This is the opposite of what I was taught. I was taught to always ignore a fussy puppy, because a fussy puppy is being manipulative and trying to control people. But what I found as a breeder, is that ignoring a distressed puppy really just means I have a puppy who is MORE often distressed and for LONGER in the CSP. But when I started to attend to fussy puppies, almost like magic, they were less often fussy and they stopped being fussy much sooner. What I had been taught wasn’t actually effective, for me, the puppy, or the new owner.
Now, not in the middle of the night, and not every time a puppy peeps a squeak! I use my breeder judgement to tell me when a puppy is complaining, versus when a puppy is distressed.
A mildly complaining puppy just needs a few minutes to settle down, something I can aid with a pacifier. But a puppy who is vocalizing intensely, I might look and see if I have a huge Bull’s Eye pupil for example, a high respiration rate, or pacing, to give me clues about what is best. If a puppy is truly distressed, or has worked itself into a cortisol fueled fit, I’m no going to ignore that. I might win a battle of wills, but I lose the war.
But, happily, I almost never have a fussy puppy since I use this approached based on Dr. Susan Friedman’s Humane Hierarchy . This one thing has convinced me that a fussy puppy is NOT a difficult individual, or a dominate puppy, or even bossy, because not only are those just labels, but those things would not have been resolved by MORE attention and MORE toys and MORE activities. NO, what I have learned is that my labels, and the advice I was given, were flawed in the first place. What I really had was an immature animal using the tool kit nature provided it attempting to get it’s needs met.
When I look beyond the label, a ton of possible solutions are presented: add or remove visual blocks, add or remove enrichment, add or remove nannies, add or remove activity, add DAP, music, chews, food based activities, add or remove the individual puppy or puppies. So many good options!
Lots of options are better than one option (ignore) and allows us to serve our puppy’s needs better with less risk of unexpected negative effects or undesirable learning.
Also, by 6 weeks we are well into our crate conditioning protocol and this really helps to prevent fretting and demanding to get out and provides me with another option!
You can also find help in my littermate interactions article. Much of this works just as well for a single upset puppy as it does for pugnacious behavior within a litter.