Kennel Enrichment and Socialization

Here at Spirit Shepherds, we follow The Puppy Culture System of Raising Puppies, as outlined in Jane Killion’s series of DVD’s and workbooks.  We also incorporate some of the Guiding Eyes suggestions for raising well balanced puppies. When new puppy owners continue this process, it will lead to well balanced adult dogs.

It takes an enormous amount of time and energy using these programs to ensure every puppy has the absolute best start in its new home. We actually begin this process by making sure  both the dam and sire have the best possible care before they are even bred. This means their diet is of the best raw organic quality, both are wormed well before the breeding date, and vet checked for any health issues.  Once everything checks out for both, we limit their exposure to anything  that could prove harmful to the developing pups, such as flea meds, lawn fertilizers, etc.  We also strive to keep the dam as stress free as possible.  It has been proven that stress releasing hormones can adversely affect puppies temperaments. Conversely, massaging  and stroking the pregnant dam releases the “feel good” hormones, which again affects the developing pups but in a positive manner.

 Once the dam starts whelping, we remain with her until all the pups are born and everyone is nursing.  If all goes well after the first critical 72 hours , we begin the Puppy Culture System.

Starting on day 4, all of the puppies are touched, stroked and cuddled individually for a few minutes each day.  We continue this until the last puppy goes to their new home.  In addition,  we begin early neurological stimulation.  This has been proven to lead to a stronger cardio vascular system, a greater tolerance to stress and a greater resistance to disease.
At this time we also begin to clip the puppy’s nails weekly.  This not only makes it more comfortable for the dam when the puppies are nursing, but it also develops stronger legs as the puppies start walking.

Once the puppy’s eyes start opening, around 2-3 weeks, we start introducing one new tactile item per day for the puppies to explore.  In addition, a sleeping nest is set up and puppy pee pads are placed just outside the sleeping nest area.  This greatly facilitates housebreaking.
Puppy teeth are starting to come in, so we attempt weaning each puppy individually if they seem interested in trying their new food.

 Around weeks 3- 4, we begin to introduce new and different surfaces (rugs, tile, newspapers, wet surfaces, etc)  for the puppies to walk on once they begin to toddle around and walk with a purpose toward something.  We also let them explore a new room on their own at this time. 
Household noises are introduced…. things like vacuum cleaners, various radio stations with different voices and music, TV programs and anything else you might hear in the course of a day or evening.
If the puppies are eating well on their own, we start a “puppy call”.  This is the beginning of a reliable recall when the pup is older.  Raw meaty bones are introduced to encourage chewing.  This helps a German Shepherd’s ears to stand strong and also relieves mom from constant nursing which can be painful now that the pups’ teeth are in.
If the pups are walking fairly well, we’ll start putting down obstacles for them to negotiate . Things like rolled up towels, yoga wedges, pool noodles, etc in the exercise pen help to encourage problem solving and build confidence.

Weeks 4 and 5…the fun begins!  We continue to add different and some interactive toys.  Everything new we do now is geared toward building confidence and a sense of achievement for the puppies.  Some of the barriers for the pups to climb over or around  now are more of a challenge, but are never higher than their elbows.   We begin feeding occasionally outside of the weaning/exercise pen to encourage exploring, using food as the motivator!  If the weather cooperates, we’ll let the puppies investigate a low water source.  We also begin to hand feed the pups little treats so they learn how to take food gently.  In addition, we continue to do all the things we started in weeks 1-3…body handling, stroking, nail clipping, etc. but now we “pay” the puppy with treats to reinforce this positive behavior.

At some point during weeks 5-6 we may introduce the puppies to our other adult dogs, one at a time, only if we feel both are ready.  Puppies learn behaviors, good and bad, from other dogs so its important we only offer adult dogs who exhibit the behaviors we want the puppies to model.  We also put a crate, minus the door, inside the exercise pen so the puppies will view it as a place to rest, their den.  This greatly facilitates crate training when you take your puppy home and hopefully eases the transition for everyone.
If the weather permits, we take the puppies outside to investigate their adventure cage (photo below) and puppy agility equipment.  If not, we’ll try and put one piece of equipment in the exercise pen at a time.  The puppies are always allowed to make the decision themselves what to explore.  It is the choice that builds confidence.

Car rides are attempted around weeks 6-7.  Because motion sickness is dependent upon the maturity of the inner ear, we never really know how each pup will react.  We take it one step at a time, sometimes, just sitting in the car, and not moving.   There can be a huge difference in every puppy as to when they are comfortable during car rides.  Every day we introduce something new…. a toy, a surface, a sound, a room, etc.  This is a critical time as some pups will begin a fear period.  Puppies should never be frightened and should always have an option to leave to a safe place.

It’s almost time to go to their forever home!   During weeks 7-8 we begin doing exchanges.  When we see a puppy playing with something or chewing a bone, we take it away and exchange it for a better object or treat and then immediately return it to the pup. We always continue to cuddle and hold every puppy individually every day.  And now its your turn to continue this process to ensure your puppy matures into the exceptional dog you want to live and play with.


Preventing behavior problems is far easier to manage than having to correct them.  This applies to potty training as well as any behavioral issues.  German Shepherds are one of the most intelligent breeds. They are capable of analyzing a situation and responding accordingly.  Problems arise when they respond according to theiranalysis of the situation and not yours.  They require a strong leader whom they obey out of respect, not fear.
Consistent obedience training is one way to become a respected leader, but consistent and POSITIVE socialization is far more important to ensure your GSD puppy understands how to navigate his/her human world without conflict.  You can train your GSD his/her entire life but you only have a short window of opportunity, from 8-16 weeks, to introduce your pup to your world.   You, as the leader, must teach your pup what is acceptable for you and what is not.  Your puppy will learn much faster if you praise and reward the behavior you want, rather than punishing the behavior you don’t want.

Socialization means teaching your puppy how to interact with dogs and other household pets of all sorts of different shapes, sizes, temperaments and ages.  You must be your dog’s advocate and YOU decide what interaction, if any, is appropriate.  REWARD your puppy when his/her behavior is appropriate and acceptable to you.

Socialization means teaching your puppy how to interact with all sorts of different people, of all shapes and ages in all sorts of different places.  REWARD your puppy when he/she behaves in an appropriate manner which is acceptable to you.

Socialization means teaching your puppy how to behave in various circumstances and places. Teach your puppy how to behave in noisy places, busy streets, parks with squirrels, bike paths etc.  REWARD your pup when he/she remains calm and focuses on you….because this means your puppy acknowledges you as the leader.

Socialization must always be positive !   NEVER leave a socialization exercise until your puppy is calm and looking at you.  If something bad happens or your pup is anxious or fearful, stop immediately and wait it out in a quiet place, even just against a wall with you in front of the pup to block whatever frightened him/her.  Dogs remember the very last thing that happened to them, not something that happened even 10 seconds ago.  When your puppy is looking at you, it means he/she is expecting you to give it some direction and guidance as what to do next.  When you leave a negative situation with the puppy in a positive frame of mind, it reinforces your role as a leader who is in charge.  Puppies and adult dogs  expect their  pack leader to keep them safe and in control of the situation.  Make your dog’s last memory of your activity a happy one!

Socialization does NOT mean letting your puppy get to the end of his/her leash (or worse, off leash) to figure out how to handle the situation on his own. If you allow your DOG to decide what behavior is appropriate they will act on instinct and react in a defensive manner to protect themselves. This is YOUR responsibility as your puppy’s leader. Save off leash fun for a safe place where your puppy can learn to make good decisions without any negative impact.

Supervised puppy play groups are an excellent way to socialize your pup.  Puppies teach other puppies what is acceptable behavior in ways humans cannot.   Puppies will usually ignore or walk away from another puppy who is not playing “nice” and an experienced trainer can intercept unwanted behavior if the pup will not.  REWARD your puppy when he/she is playing well with other pups or adult dogs.  REWARD the adult dog if they are playing gently with your puppy!   DOG PARKS ARE NOT THE PLACE TO SOCIALIZE A PUPPY!!!!   Save  visits to the dog park until your puppy has had ALL of their vaccinations and you are SURE your puppy can handle unwanted dog behaviors.

Proper socialization takes practice and we all make mistakes or don’t react quickly enough.  Dogs are resilient creatures and recover from negative encounters. The important thing to remember is that if or when your dog  becomes reactive to something, another dog or an unknown person,  it’s telling you “ I’m not comfortable with this situation !” Reactive dogs can growl, snap, lunge on the leash or cower in fear. You need to listen to what your dog is telling you and respond accordingly.  If your dog displays these kinds of behavior, you need to do MORE POSITIVE exposures to whatever your dog is reacting to, not less!
Keep introducing your pup to as much positive experiences as you can and you’ll end up with a balanced dog capable of handling anything. 

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