Socialize Your Pup

Celhaus German Shepherds

Personality     Brains     Beauty

4817 Big Horn Ave.
Sheridan, WY 82801
(307) 674-4800 (evenings)
[email protected]


The importance of socializing your German Shepherd puppy cannot be emphasized enough!!!

I’ve given him the best start possible, but you are responsible for what this pup becomes. I’ve taken him all kinds of places, exposed him to all kinds of noises and footings, and either taken him to or invited hordes of people from 2 to 95 here for him to meet. You must get him out in the world while he is young so he learns that it’s a great place and he is master of every situation. A dog that never leaves the yard becomes a shy, fearful dog even though he has genetically good temperament.

You can begin long before she comes to you, by planning all kinds of places to take her and people and dogs to introduce her to. She should have AT LEAST 3 new experiences each week until she’s at least 6 months old.  When she first comes to you, these should be short outings, but as she grows and develops she will be able to enjoy longer excursions.  Avoid taking her to places where every dog in the world goes–public parks, dog parks, etc., until she has completed all her shots at 16 weeks of age. You CAN take her to friends’ homes, to school yards, to friendly businesses, etc. Playground equipment, elevators, parades, ball games, picnics, family gatherings, daycare centers–the list of “safe until she completes her shots” places is endless if you do your homework.  I like to pick a new neighborhood for every walk we take, and just walk up and down the sidewalks, exploring, for an hour. Usually the dogs which are walked there belong to people who take good care of them and thus wouldn’t be carrying diseases your pup could pick up.

Some people show too much worry about diseases and don’t get their pups out to socialize enough. Your pup’s parents have very strong immune systems and so should your pup, even though he hasn’t finished his shots yet. Use common sense not to expose the pup to places where he might be overwhelmed with disease carrying feces or urine, but don’t over-protect him. He NEEDS to get out and meet the world. The dangers of picking up disease are minimal; don’t let that cause you to neglect his brain development!

I, for one, from the very beginning (I begin socializing puppies at 5 weeks, going to nursing homes and friends’ houses) always carry treats for people to give them.  This is a great incentive to puppies.  Have the strangers give the pup the treats, not you.

Be Prepared for An Anti-Social Stage at 10 or 11 Weeks

I include this section because I think it’s so important–AND BECAUSE YOU CAN AVOID GOING THROUGH THIS IF YOU SOCIALIZE FROM THE DAY YOU GET YOUR PUPPY! Start planning all the places you can take your pup–to the kids’ ball games, to friends’ homes, to friendly stores, to a variety of neighborhoods for fascinating walks, past daycare centers when children are playing–use your imagination to find hordes of safe socializing adventures.

Pups often seem to go through an anti-social stage at about 10 to 11 weeks of age. I think what’s going on is that they’ve bonded deeply with their new owners and for a time think that they can’t be “loyal” to their family if they like other people. They will begin to shy away from an outstretched hand or will bark at everyone they meet. The pups which have been taken anywhere and everywhere constantly since going to their new homes show the least obnoxiousness at this stage and some never show it at all.

For any that do show this behavior, GET THEM OUT VISITING people. Take yummy treats with you and give some to the STRANGER to give to your pup. I always tell people I’m socializing my puppy and ask them if they would help by giving my pup a treat and petting her a little. Watch your puppy–often he will not like the hand reaching out to their head and/or ears (dogs perceive this as a dominant gesture, and if the puppy is struggling with getting used to ears which are trying to stand up he may be more than usually sensitive to this gesture); encourage people to pet your puppy on her chest (breastbone) as this is a non-dominant behavior and universally accepted by dogs. This will in no way make your dog overly friendly as an adult (like a Golden Retriever–all over everybody and everybody’s friend–NOT a good adult GSD temperament at all!); these pups will naturally be somewhat aloof to strangers as adults. It WILL, however, help your pup realize that people are very nice unless they prove otherwise. Puppies should be very outgoing and friendly, anxious to meet people, whom they perceive as a new adventure. You want to really encourage that approach to people. It usually takes only a few lessons for the pup to get over this anti-social stage, but they are very important lessons. Don’t neglect them!!! Young pups are fur-covered stomachs and thoroughly enjoy learning that good things to eat come from all those crazy humans if they just wag their tail and visit.

If a pup, in this anti-social stage, really barks and carries on, I will have him to a “trick” we often do at home for treats (such as “SIT”), so that I can short-circuit the “barking at strangers” mindset and substitute a positive one where the pup can be rewarded for something he already connects with pleasant rewards. Then when the pup has relaxed, I ask the stranger to come offer treats and I praise the pup when it first looks calmly at the stranger and accepts the overtures. I use “Good Look” for this and any other positive reaction towards something that scared the pup (sometimes fire hydrants will look like awful monsters; other times it might be a kind of footing that scares the pup, or steps, or all manner of things. What’s going on is that they are becoming more and more aware of the environment and suddenly something looks threatening. With experience the reaction becomes less and less (which is why the pups that are taken lots of places from the very beginning exhibit less fearful reactions–they have been so busy exploring they don’t have time to think that something might hurt them). The general fear period is supposed to be around 8 to 10 weeks but I’ve seen pups who breeze through that time period, only to overreact to things a few weeks later. The big thing to remember is to remain calm and unemotional during any over-reaction (in your eyes), try to notice just what bothers the pup, try to break up the reaction with something good (treats after a successful execution of a command), and praise for any and every increasingly-confident “thinking” reaction to the thing that scared them.

Socializing with Other Dogs

Be sure to take your pup to meet dogs. Just be sure they are dogs who like puppies and will be tolerant of them. AND that they’re dogs who aren’t allowed to run loose all over. One thing I am unable to do much of is to expose the pups to dogs other than GSD’s while they’re here–so that’s something you need to concentrate on. You can begin now to find good dogs for her to meet and schedule visits for when you bring her home. This part of the socialization process is very important and unfortunately often neglected.

German Shepherds are territorial animals and often will want to challenge any other dog who dares tell them, “Get away from my home” when you’re on a walk. Teach her “Leave It!” so you can use that command if she wants to bark at dogs she meets on walks or that are in yards you are passing. This is a great command because you can praise “GOOD Leave IT!” and give a treat when she ignores the other dog. Teach good manners from the very beginning and you’ll have an incredibly well-mannered dog as an adult.

DO Attend Puppy Kindergarten Classes

I’ve taught your pup to enjoy learning and trying new things. You must train her, channel her fine mind, so that she becomes a good canine citizen. Take her to puppy kindergarten class once she’s at least had her 2nd shot at 3 months–but choose your class carefully. Use only incentive training (no corrections) and lots of praise. Also make sure that only puppies are allowed in the class. Don’t put her in a situation where she can get knocked around and scared. When she’s older, take her to obedience class and then on into one of the many fun activities now available–such as agility, Freestyle, herding, tracking, etc. And, if you’re at all interested, look into certifying her as a Therapy Dog and visiting the legions of sick and lonely in our society.