Housetraining a puppy is very similar to House Training Dogs that are older, only that the Housebreaking bit requires more time, patience, and nerves because a young puppy cannot hold bladder and bowel, and all the other components of House Training need to consider that a young puppy doesn't have the conscience and understanding for the House Training needs that an adult dog has.
With German Shepherds, in my experience, you cannot expect from a puppy under about age 12 to 14 weeks to behave well in the house (and I don't just mean Housebreaking, I mean all House Training needs. Nonetheless, My New Puppy, who regrettably really is a "retard", is proof that you can give a puppy free run of the house from the start while you are there, and you can safely leave the puppy alone at home with free run of the house and at night as well from about age 28 weeks or sooner (if your puppy has been healthy throughout).
How much House Training, progressing with age, you can do with a puppy, you can note down in detail from the Puppy Development Guide - Puppy 101, while complete House Training dogs to behave well is in the book with the same name: House Training Dogs To Behave Well In A High Value Home.
Puppy house-training components
Puppy house-training comprises as a minimum:
- Puppy housebreaking
- Puppy meals, Meal times, and Feeding routine
- Crate training puppies
- Puppy Behavior Training
- Leash-training puppies
- Puppy Obedience Training
In this order. Thus the ever so popular Obedience Training actually has least significance. It's not irrelevant for a puppy, but everything else is far more important! Sorry to shock you with these news. But you came to MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG for genuine insight, not for yet another copy of what you find elsewhere.
Also note that while you may be thinking that leash-training puppies is not part of housetraining a puppy, leash-training puppies actually has to start inside the house in order to be effective and safe!
So, let's briefly touch each of the areas of house-training a puppy - while house training an adult dog you would find at the place just linked.
Housebreaking a puppy
Housebreaking a puppy is also called potty-training a puppy or toilet-training puppies, and it has its own public article here: Housebreaking a puppy.
Puppy meals, Meal times, and Feeding routine
As I realized from keeping a live diary of raising my new puppy, Puppy meals, Meal times, and Feeding routine actually is the second most important area once you're on track with housebreaking your puppy. - This live diary has become a multimedia diary, and it is the only live and multimedia diary of raising a puppy. Seeing is better than reading alone. This particular diary would save you needless veterinary cost and trainer cost, and would save you much pain and headache from "puppy problems". But this is not free, so you better forget about it.
Rather than looking at the only live and multimedia New Puppy Diary, note that we also have a free Periodical on Puppy meals, Meal times, and Feeding routine. The Periodical is book-length, but here in short:
- Puppy meals: Human-grade fresh natural homemade foods only, no industrial waste products from rendering plants!
- Meal times: Aim for consistent meal times, this helps to avoid scavenging (high risk for young puppies!), reduces attention-seeking, helps to establish you as accepted Pack leader, helps to avoid Bloat and Gastric Torsion, helps to keep your puppy top fit, and improves the relationship with your new puppy.
- Feeding routine: The right Feeding routine is the most important means to establish yourself and every family member as accepted Pack leader - which will avoid all the common "puppy problems" and improves your puppy relationship building - too much to explain here!
Absolutely crucial also is that you always keep a bowl full of fresh water available to your puppy, day and night! That we safely can and must provide water at night as well, I only realized through many sleepless nights while raising My New Puppy. Not once did the full water bowl at night require an extra or earlier walk to relieve.
Instead, the access to water at night makes dogs and puppies calmer way into the next day, helps to avoid whining and barking at night, etc - because puppies (and adult dogs too) are often awake at night and need to moisten their mouth (like we people need too). Not once the water bowl was noticeable emptier the next morning.
Crate training puppies means to make our puppy use the crate voluntarily as its primary domicile. Just like children would primarily use their room when they play indoors or when they sleep. Nothing more, nothing less. We would never lock away a puppy or an adult dog - because there is no need to!
Crate training puppies has its own article on MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG.
Puppy Behavior Training
Behavior Training (whether puppy or adult dog) you won't ordinarily find in the offer and skillset of professional dog trainers: The average professional dog trainers focus on Obedience Training only - and few if any have heard of Behavior Training as we understand it. However, certainly at some point Dog Behavior Training will have a much higher status than Dog Obedience Training has had for the last 50 years, because Behavior Training is superior in every regard.
We understand Puppy Behavior Training that we behave in a way that motivates our puppy to behave the way we want. However note that German Shepherd puppies up to at least 5 months of age do not consciously observe our behavior (nor that of other dogs), so with young puppies Behavior Training achieves successes via consistency alone: The pup sees that we consistently behave the same way in certain circumstances, and so after a while (s)he will adapt out of routine, not consciously.
Yet the sooner we introduce Behavior Training, the more we and the puppy get used to it, and the better we and the puppy get at it. Be aware that ultimately Behavior Training not only requires a mature dog but even more so a mature dog owner: A conscious critical reflection on our own behavior - which no one is born with.
With patience, Puppy Behavior Training can solve all the common puppy problems, and is more successful than any form of Obedience Training. As a minimum:
- Puppy chewing
- Puppy scratching
- Puppy barking
- Puppy jumping
- Puppy biting
- Puppy whining
- Puppy attention-seeking
- Puppy running off, etc
Let's VERY BRIEFLY go through a few of these areas here. More detail is in the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL and in the Puppy Development Guide - Puppy 101.
It typically takes anywhere between four to seven months for German Shepherd puppy teeth to set into the jaw completely. To help with just that, until this age your pup will be chewing on a lot of items that you don't want to be chewed on. Unless you train your German Shepherd puppy from early on which items are off-limits.
Never try to stop puppy chewing entirely because then you risk early tooth loss and frequent inflammation of the gums of your adult dog. Puppy chewing is a necessary period of your puppy growing up.
To prevent that your puppy chews on your favourite shoes, handbags, table legs etc, firstly have for your pup three different puppy chew toys that are suitable for puppies of a certain age - because both the material and the shape must be appropriate for puppy chewing. We found best is a soft toy like Hide-a-squirrel, a medium hard one like the Hurley, and a maximum hard one like the Kong Extreme (a treat toy). Do not provide a harder chew toy than that.
Secondly, whenever you see your puppy chewing on something other than a dedicated chew toy, walk to your pup, say and show a clear NO!, and hand your puppy a dedicated chew toy in exchange for whatever (s)he was chewing on. Upon repetition (same day, same forbidden item), you may decide to give your pup one more chance, but with My New Puppy upon repetition I gently carried my small puppy into a safe isolation room (our ex pantry) for two minutes or so.
A very young puppy may need three isolations in a row before "it sinks in", but at some point the brief isolation gets all puppies to understand that chewing on the forbidden item will take them into isolation from their Pack members - which no puppy and no adult dog likes.
With the next forbidden item, or the next day, you repeat this sequence. That's it. Very simple and effective. And gentle. No force, no fear, no fuss.
Do nothing else, and don't be resentful because your puppy cannot relate your mood (or anger) to its own prior behavior.
Likewise, never try to stop puppy scratching altogether because a puppy must also use the paws and claws in order to develop healthily. You can do exactly the same for puppy scratching as explained for puppy chewing above. And exchange the forbidden scratch item with a dedicated scratch mat (a hard-wearing door entry mat is great for this).
Barking is dog talk, and the only voice a dog has. Therefore it is necessary that you allow puppy barking once a while, and that you only aim to prevent the permanent or frequent nuisance barking. To distinguish the different reasons why dogs bark and why puppies bark, we have a dedicated MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL.
Note that a German Shepherd puppy as well as an adult German Shepherd is hundreds of times more likely to notice an unfamiliar intruder than you would. But for a dog an intruder is someone or something that approaches the dog's assumed territory - which may be an area a mile or so around your house! Considering this, in future you may want to show a bit more appreciation when your dog or puppy is barking: Barking always has a reason.
Because of a dog's sensitivity, we rarely notice the reason - and mostly we wouldn't accept the reason because it isn't an intruder as to our understanding. But that's the point: Your dog has a different understanding, and should the rare situation occur that there is indeed an intruder trying to enter your home, then you will be thankful for this.
Puppies primarily jump up when they frolic, while adult dogs primarily jump up either to signal their assumed dominance or, more often, out of excitement to have the attention of the owner or other person they jump up on.
If you find puppy jumping annoying, you can seek to limit it to certain situations, however you shouldn't attempt to eliminate it entirely: Puppy jumping is part of their play, it is training and improving their agility, and it is an indication of both physical and mental health as well as an indication of an upbeat mood in your presence. - All very positive features you could argue.
However, a puppy regularly jumping up on people can get annoying, especially when you have guests. It can even be a bit dangerous if you have small children. Ideally you may appreciate your puppy jumping on its own because the pup is playful or happy, but you may want to reduce or eliminate the jumping up on people, right?
First, do not greet your puppy with the same level of excitement that (s)he shows, instead counter-balance the pup's behavior. This means, when your puppy jumps up out of excitement to have your attention, reduce the amount of attention you give. Simply turn sideways or walk away.
Second, as often as your back allows, meet your puppy at puppy height. This means, when your puppy jumps up to greet you closer to your face (where your eyes are and from where you speak), bend down or better kneel down to greet your pup on a level slightly above the pup's head.
Third, introduce your pup to basic dog commands like NO, SIT, DOWN, and OFF. This is where a bit of Obedience Training has its place. You can start to gently teach these dog commands when you get your German Shepherd puppy - ideally at an age not before 8 to 10 weeks.
Alternatively you can perform the Collar Freeze: Just hold your pup gently on the outer underside of the collar, and freeze. Do nothing. Stand still, breathe calmly, don't look at your puppy, don't speak, and don't touch. And be thankful for having a puppy and all this help from MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG.
When you are calm, your puppy will soon be calm too and no longer want to jump up! While when you give your jumping puppy attention, then your puppy will jump up even more often going forward!
Apparently very few new puppy owners know the difference between puppy biting and puppy nipping. They complain "My puppy is biting so much!" - But most of them surely are facing only puppy nipping: playful attention-seeking of young puppies. More detail is of course in the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL.
This does not mean that you should accept puppy nipping. In fact, outside dedicated playtime when you have invited your puppy to nip you (don't fall over backwards, I explain that in a sec), puppy nipping must not be tolerated. If you do, you will belong to the many dog owners who still with their adult dog seek help on our site. To deny puppy nipping, the first time gently block your puppy with the outer side of your arm. The second time say and show a sharp NO! The third time: isolation. Again, yes. Isolation always is the ultima ratio of Dog Behavior Training.
Now, why did I say "when you have invited your puppy to nip you"?
Because that's exactly what a young puppy needs. And often. That we invite our puppy to a dedicated play session. And puppy play will often be nipping, and that's good. Puppy nipping is good during dedicated play sessions, because it's the best, most frequent chance to train Bite Inhibition with a puppy who always wants to nip us! Bite Inhibition Training is the most important puppy training of all. - So now you can stand up again.
Conversely, if your puppy's teeth draw blood in your skin, then it's puppy biting, and I would not tolerate that and so I would send the puppy straight into isolation. I did this a couple of times with My New Puppy when he was very young, although he didn't even cause bleeding. He learned very quickly that even during play sessions I do not tolerate hard nipping. And with a German Shepherd puppy, you really shouldn't either!
The lamenting, attention-seeking whining can be annoying for us dog owners (hey, even for neighbors!), and there is no need to endure a whining puppy. But note that I wrote "the lamenting, attention-seeking whining" - because puppy whining can have many causes:
- Your puppy may be ill
- Your puppy may suffer pain and tries to inform you or to use the whining to serve as a valve!
- Your puppy may be scared
- Your puppy may be hungry or thirsty!
- Your puppy may need to go potty immediately
- Your puppy may seek attention
Only pure puppy attention-seeking requires puppy training, all other causes require our attention - and action! Indicators how to differentiate between these causes of puppy whining would stray us off course in this public article, but I am sure once you have your puppy you will quickly become aware of your pup's circumstances and different forms of whining.
Now, what puppy training is adequate when our puppy uses lamenting whining to get our attention?
In terms of Behavior Training, the best would be to ignore the puppy in such situation (only then). But ignoring continuous puppy whining can be taxing for our nerves, and you may not always have a chance to go in another room, or to listen to music on headphones, or to watch Dracula or whatever.
Then the next best response is first the Collar Freeze, and upon repetition Isolation. Isolation in this situation most likely will intensify the whining, but this must not lead you to letting your puppy out of isolation any sooner. Subject to age, 1 minute to 15 minutes MAX should be sufficient as training means IF you wait precisely for a moment when your puppy is not whining before you let the puppy out. This is key. Even if such moment is only a second!
You may or may not notice that the causes of puppy whining are similar to why dogs bark, but contrary to why dogs bark the primary reason for dog whining - and in particular for puppy whining - is that your puppy seeks more attention from you. Similar to children, puppies are most of the time very dependent and need a lot of attention and love in order to develop well.
While 1 and 2 above will hopefully not be causing your puppy whining, and 3 and 4 and 5 you can and should avoid with good puppy care. Nonetheless, be aware that like barking puppy whining too is a natural and important part of puppy development.
Hence, even if you are sure that you give your puppy enough attention and play time and food and drink and potty walks, and that there appears to be no other justifiable reason for puppy whining, you should not aim to eliminate it completely. After all, whining is a non-vocal form of dog communication, and like we people won't always speak clearly in order to express our feelings, dogs too won't always bark in order to communicate their feelings. And you probably appreciate that your puppy doesn't bark all the time, right?
Now, to keep the big picture let's leave puppy behavior training for now and move on with the remaining important areas of House-training a puppy.
Leash-training too is part of house-training a puppy because it has to start inside the house in order to be effective. Help your puppy to get used to the dog collar from early on, and inside the house. And so that you can perform the Collar Freeze when you feel it's needed, have your puppy wear a comfortable collar all the time, day and night. The collar must not be tight anyway, I can always easily put at least two of my biggest fingers underneath.
A padded genuine leather collar like Perri's collar is the ideal collar for every dog, including German Shepherds. However, this collar will not fit a young puppy. Therefore in the beginning you may want to give your puppy the reflective Rogz collar (made of nylon). But there never is a need for a prong collar, electronic collar, and similar nonsense!
Instead, there is a need for the right leash-training. This deserves its own book (and it got one), it's too much to add it here in a sub-sub section of this public article. But the key is that your puppy gets used to the collar from the start, and that you don't even leave the house before you've done some SSCD inside the house (unless of course your puppy urgently needs to relieve). SSCD means Start, Stop, Change Direction. This too is well explained in the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL - as well as in the book linked above.
Puppy Obedience Training
As already noted in the beginning, Obedience Training should be kept to a minimum - contrary to what you hear and read everywhere else (that's just because those sources don't yet know of Behavior Training). With Puppy Obedience Training by definition you expect your puppy to be obedient, and if not you will use some form of force or punishment (even if only withholding the treat you lured with).
Command training also is Obedience Training. But you cannot build a good relationship with your dog with commands, and certainly not with force or fear! Only with motivation. Motivating your puppy to behave the way you want. For more on the problematic implications of Obedience Training, at the very least, see our public article on Obedience Training.
So in short, train a few commands to make sure that your puppy is safe, particularly in traffic, but don't focus on training your poor pup to STAND, HEEL, JUMP, ROLL-OVER etc at your command. Do you want to impress daft neighbors, or do you want to build the best relationship?
It's a puppy after all! A German Shepherd puppy must be allowed to be playful and happy as often as possible - on-leash while outside, and off-leash while inside the house. The boredom of keeping at your heels and doing everything you say and require will come early enough.
Nonetheless, the house or garden or yard offers a pretty safe environment for your puppy to explore the world off-leash. And this is a good opportunity to teach your pup a few basic dog commands like NO, SIT, DOWN, OUT, and even COME.