The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to German Shepherds" by David Daigneault. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.
Author Credit: David Daigneault
If you have children then you already know some of what it takes to get the house, and your household, ready for the arrival of a new family member. But a German Shepherd puppy is a little bit different. Even at eight weeks, which is the earliest you should bring your GSP home, the nose rules.
- A dog’s nose has as many as 300 million scent receptors.
- A human’s nose has a mere 5 million.
That’s why they are so preoccupied with following a trail. That’s also how they get into trouble, especially as a pup. Let’s look at some ways you can begin to keep your German Shepherd puppy safe even before you bring him home.
Preparing Puppy’s Place
One of the things you’re going to want to do is choose a room in the house that will be the primary living area for your GSP for the first while. You’ll need to select a room with flooring material that is easily cleaned. There will be lots of “accidents” to deal with so be prepared. In our house, Cody’s initial space was the entrance porch, which has old-school linoleum floors. One of the best choices we ever made. We also installed a baby gate which enabled us to keep the puppy confined to that room. Don’t forget those little claws will scratch almost any flooring material so don’t select a room with your prized hardwood floor; if the wood wasn’t distressed before, it certainly will be after the little guy has been around for a while.
You’ll also want to make sure you have some comfortable chairs in that room because you will spend a lot of time there. There should be a door off that room that allows immediate access to the outside. This will make it easier when you start potty training in earnest. German Shepherds are big chewers and puppies are indiscriminate in their choice of objects to put in their mouths. So, clear the room of any objects that you value. Take away all shoes, gloves, hats, anything in the room that could possibly find its way into your puppy’s mouth. Remember, they will grow, and quickly, so the things you thought were out of reach at ten weeks soon won’t be. You won’t want to have rugs on the floor either for obvious reasons.
Hopefully that same room is large enough to have playtime there as well. Electrical outlets and electrical cords are another potential hazard. Remove the cords from Puppy’s Place and make sure the electrical outlets are covered either with outlet covers or outlet plugs. You’ll need to consider the electrical hazards in the rest of your house as you expand the dog’s territory.
I’m an advocate of crate-training from the get-go even if you don’t intend to use it on a regular basis when your GSD is older. So, there should be a crate set up in Puppy’s Place. You’ll need a bed in the crate so that the little dog gets used to going in and out on his own to some extent. You want entering the crate to be a pleasure, not punishment. The crate should also be where some of his toys should initially be placed, although heaven knows they won’t stay there very long.
It’s important to have food and water bowls in Puppy’s Place. When Cody was that age I started out with the food and water bowls in the crate just to get him going in and to associate the crate with a positive activity. I removed the bowls after feeding, although I did leave a water dish in the room so he could get a drink when desired. Mind you when Cody was a little bit older that also gave him an object to turn over and spill on the floor, but that goes with the puppy territory. Remember what I said about the floor. It will resemble a war zone for a while.
Some last thoughts about the crate. We bought a “large” crate with a divider so that we could make it half-size when the puppy was small and then expand it as the dog grew. Well, the “large” crate wasn’t big enough so save yourself some expense and spring for the extra large at the very beginning. A full-grown dog should be able to stand up in her crate and turn around comfortably. Although I have a soft-sided crate for traveling, I don’t recommend them for regular use. I have always used a wire crate in the house which has served us well.
A Mistake I Made
When we brought our German Shepherd puppy home, we put him in his crate that first night in Puppy’s Place. I didn’t realize it at the time but that is where I made a huge mistake. I thought I had it all figured out. I was going to get up every couple of hours and take him out to go potty. There was a lot of whining and crying. I mean a terrific amount, but I knew that was to be expected. This went on for many nights. More than it needed to. Only in retrospect did I find out, through trainers that I worked with and through my own reading, that the approach I had used was probably the worst thing I could have done. Remember, your puppy has just been taken from his family. He is in strange surroundings with people he doesn’t know. It’s not a good idea to put him in solitary and let him howl. Yes, you might be able to get a few winks but your dog is going to pay the price later.
Here’s what you need to consider. Set up a second, much smaller crate (puppy size) either in your bedroom or just outside the bedroom door so your new GSP will know you are close. He’ll be able to smell you. There still will be a nightly ruckus but that will gradually die down and then you can transition puppy to Puppy’s Place for overnights eventually. Having the dog close by also helps understanding when he might have to go out to relieve himself. Believe me, it’s a win-win situation. If a new puppy is left alone, especially at night, and especially when he first comes home, he will experience such intense anxiety that it may result in problematic behavior later on. So, bank on getting a little less sleep but having a healthier dog in the end. It’s definitely worth it.
The kitchen and perhaps the laundry room can be two of the biggest potential danger areas for your GSP. All those lower cupboards that may contain cleaning supplies, laundry soap, or even pest control poisons should be secured with childproof latches. Move anything like spices, candy, and baking supplies to an upper level so the temptation isn’t there for the puppy. They will follow their noses and when they are that young what they find by smell ultimately goes into their mouths if possible. Garbage. Did I mention garbage? There’s that smell thing again. Get in the habit of making sure your rubbish is bundled up and stored in a secure area. Just putting it outside isn’t the solution.
You’ll need to go through the rest of the house and be vigilant. In the bathrooms you’ll need to make sure there is no access to things like medications, soaps, makeup, and personal hygiene products. In the living room, family room, and other common areas make sure there are no cell phone charger cords (or the phones themselves) available to be chomped on. Those small, plug-in flashlights should be removed from the electrical outlets. Pens, markers, scissors, and other sharp objects are also ingestion hazards. Breakable things like vases and artwork should be put well out of the way. Dogs can jump and don’t always pay attention to where they are swinging their tails. Houseplants are easily knocked over, and in some cases consumed. Many household favorites are toxic to dogs. Here’s a short list of common houseplants that you are better off without.
- Aloe Plant
- Many varieties of Lilies
- Ficus Benjamina
Remember that’s just the short list. As your German Shepherd puppy gets older and he shows less interest in botany it may be possible to bring some of your favorites back. Some dogs are deterred by a diluted lemon juice and water spray on the plant. At our house we found it was just simpler to say adios to the greenery for the duration.
Property Puppy Proofing
Just as you’ve had to alter your living arrangements inside, you need to take stock of your property and puppy-proof your great outdoors. Do you have a fenced-in yard with secure gate? Great, you are ahead of the game. Just do a double-check on the boarding to make sure it’s secure and also check out areas where Flash might be able to make a getaway. Once they get a bit older, they can be habitual diggers so you might as well get used to deterring and safeguarding for that bad habit. At the same time, you might want to consider whether your fence is high enough. A six-foot fence is recommended because even the best-behaved dog can be tempted to leave the yard with the right enticement.
You’ll need to put away stuff that you may have become accustomed to leave lying around. That includes all your gardening tools, including gloves. I don’t know how much time I’ve wasted chasing Cody across the yard, the dog wearing a big smile with a glove firmly clenched in his mouth and the meaning of “drop” having completely flown out of his head. Once again, any chemicals like insecticides, dormant oil, and fertilizers need to be locked up. In a best-case scenario, the puppy might not consume any of that material but he sure can make a mess of the property and of himself. Lawn chair cushions won’t last long if left lying around. If you have a pool you’ll need to ensure that the puppy doesn’t gain access. We have a fence around our pool and Cody has only recently been given freedom to stroll the pool area at the advanced age of four.
Something of very practical concern is choosing where your dog will do her business. Training her to go potty in a specific area will make cleanup a whole lot easier, and a lot less surprising.
Something of growing concern is the prevalence of ticks that carry Lyme disease. If you have a large property or a rural property it makes sense to keep as much of the grass that you can manage mowed on a regular basis. Ticks like to hang out in longer grass just waiting to attach themselves to anything passing by. These devious insects used to be primarily a rural problem but are now being found more often in urban areas. It’s one more reason to keep a tidy yard.
Then there are some outdoor plants which are a problem for German Shepherds. The following list contains vegetation that is poisonous to dogs. For instance, a single bean from the Castor Bean plant is enough to prove fatal to a GSD.
- Castor Bean
- Lily of the Valley
- Morning Glory
- Many Ivies
One other plant I’ll mention that is toxic to dogs is marijuana. At last count, medical marijuana is legal in twenty-nine states, and recreational marijuana is legal in nine states. It will probably only become more prevalent. Whether it is growing outdoors or sitting in a drawer or cupboard as an edible, it poses a threat to your German Shepherd. Remember, with her powerful nose she’s going to know it’s there. So, if you have marijuana in the house in any form, lock it away so your pup won’t be able to get to it. If you grow it outside, how about roses instead? Your GSP will thank you for it.
Preparing Children and Other Pets
One of the best things you can do in advance of bringing your puppy home is to talk about the new routine everyone will have to get into. Like doggy chores. Who will feed her? How will she get her exercise? How about baths, and don’t forget poop patrol. They can’t all be glamorous jobs but everybody has to pitch in. I mean everyone wanted a puppy, right? The important thing to stress is, this isn’t something you do for one day and if you don’t like it you stop. This is the dog’s forever home. That means you have to take care of her as long as she lives. Reminding everyone in the household that your German Shepherd puppy relies on them and that they are all responsible for keeping her safe is important.
If you already have another dog in the house, remember they have their routines and expectations, so it is important to maintain those when the new puppy comes home. You need to be sure to maintain the level of human attention for the first dog and make sure they continue to have their own space and things. When the pup comes home make sure they meet in some neutral territory, outside if the weather allows. The watchword here would be gradual. A little exposure at a time while the two dogs work things out. Don’t tolerate any bad behavior but let the older dog take the lead and set the pace.
If there is a resident cat in your house you need to formulate a special introduction plan for Mr. GSP and the fearless feline. The key words in this scenario would be patience and more patience. At least in the beginning don’t let them meet. Just let the animals get used to each other’s smell being around. The first face-to-face should take place in an area where the puppy is on a leash and the kitty, while free to roam the room, cannot leave the area entirely. Variations of this process can be repeated until you see how the relationship is developing. They may learn to tolerate each other, they may become friends. That will be entirely up to them. You just have to give them a fair chance at working things out.
As this chapter draws to a close, I almost forgot a very important thing. You need to pick out the best name in the world for your dog. I’m partial to Axel and Jaeger if it’s a male. Heidi or Zelda if it’s a girl. I’m just saying.
Next up we’ll talk about taking the big step. The day you bring your German Shepherd puppy home is going to be a time of high emotions, moving targets, and little sleep. Surviving the first few days with your sanity intact is all about being prepared and creating routines that everyone can anticipate and participate in. Did I mention you won’t get much sleep?
To read more from "The Complete Guide to German Shepherds" by David Daigneault, or purchase on Amazon, visit the link below: