John Rodriguez


The Development of Power in the Young Dog
A Three-Part Series, Part Two

by Lori Rodriguez | Published in Schutzhund USA, BSA News (Great Britain)

Schutzhund article on the cover of Schutzhund USA Magazine

Part 2: The Young Dog, Preparing to Build the House

In Part I of this series (Building the Foundation, Schutzhund USA, July/August 92) you learned that the ability of a dog to reach and sustain his maximum stress level without avoiding and to participate at his fullest level of drive is influenced first by heredity and second by his environment. You can control and develop power in the young dog by selecting a puppy from genetically superior parents then raising him in an environment conducive to drive building and stress maintenance. By controlling the dog's environment, you can shape or modify natural behaviors and form habits conducive to his later work. Stress can be used in a positive way to build the dog's confidence and strength of character.

Part II of this series will deal with preparing to build the house; that is, modifying default behavior and creating habits consistent with later training.

Your Puppy's First 16 Weeks

The first 16 weeks of a puppy's life will have immeasurable impact on his future. "A puppy not properly stimulated will never reach it's fullest potential intellectually, emotionally, or physically. We have the old saying you cannot teach an old dog new tricks.' This old adage could well be reworded to read, an old dog, if he has never been taught anything, cannot begin to learn when he is old.' For we are now finding out that a dog who has learned to learn when he was the right age can always be taught other things later." 1

"During the first twenty-one days, the puppy's physical well being (survival) is the main objective; environment has very little emotional effect during this period. Beginning on the twenty-first day, the puppy can see, hear and smell. Because the senses have just awakened, the period of twenty-one to twenty-eight days is so strange to the puppy that at no other time in a puppy's life can he become so emotionally upset, nor could such an upset have such a lasting effect upon his social attitudes In the time, at three weeks of age, when the learning stage began, to sixteen weeks of age, the character of a dog is formed. No matter how good his inherited character traits, if they are not given a chance of expression during this period he will never be as good a dog as he could have been. There is no way one can go back and make up to a dog in later life the things he failed to do for him at this age. The emotional side of the puppy goes along with his physical and mental development in a parallel course. By sixteen weeks of age all of these important developments are fixed in the way that they will continue through life."2

Behaviors that provide the foundation for all other behaviors will be established to a great degree within these first 16 weeks. Trying to alter these behaviors, once established, will be like swimming upstream. It is therefore imperative that those who intend to breed or raise dogs understand the importance of the task at hand. "The time is so shor--from twenty-one to one hundred and twelve days in all (thirteen weeks all together)--and once it is gone it can never be retrieved. The implications of what this short time means in the development of a dog are so great that it well behooves puppy raisers to employ this time wisely. It can never be made up at an older age."3

As Your Puppy Grows

Once the puppy leaves the breeder, his physical and mental well being become your responsibility. As the puppy is transferred from his place of birth to his new home, he is of course in stress. Some puppies handle this situation well, but many puppies will resolve the stress through avoidance behaviors. Try to make this experience as positive as possible by planning ahead. Make sure you have allowed plenty of time to spend alone with your new puppy. Take him to an area that would be the most pleasant for him. Avoid further stressing the puppy, i.e.: wait before introducing him to eager family and friends or animals.

If your puppy is in serious avoidance (he urinates or defecates on himself and/or is shaking) you must help him to reach security. Take the puppy to the most secure, quiet place in your home. Don't let anyone interrupt you! Place the puppy on the floor. If he came in a crate, put that in the room, open the door and sit or lie down on the floor nearby, making yourself approachable, and wait. The puppy should come to you when he is feeling a bit more comfortable; you may entice him with food or a plaything if he is up to it. Try not to stare at the puppy as this may be interrupted as threatening. When the puppy comes over, allow him to check you out. If you sense the dog is OK gently stroke and encourage the dog with soothing vocalizations or words. When you feel the dog is comfortable, either let him alone to rest or begin to play with him whatever you judge is best at that time. The dog should recover fairly quickly, within minutes, hours or a day or two. If not, call the breeder to discuss possible problems and solutions as well as check in to see how the other puppies in the litter are doing in their new home. Visit the vet, if you have not already done so, to rule out any physical problems. If the puppy continues to react to stress poorly despite your best efforts, perhaps you have not chosen your puppy or breeder well.

The puppy needs to experience man-dog relationships. He should be introduced to people outside his pack (your family). However, there are rules you should adhere to make the experience a positive, confidence building one. Do not let other people pick your puppy up or otherwise constrain or intimidate him. Excessive petting by strangers is also to be avoided. If someone is afraid of your puppy or does not want the puppy to jump on him, physical contact between the two should be avoided. When you introduce your puppy to a stranger, let the puppy make the first contact. It is best if the person acknowledges the dog with a smile and a kind word without making physical contact. Let the puppy check the person out at his will; instruct the person to ignore the puppy. By not lavishing attention on the puppy, the stranger will allow the puppy to become disinterested and return to his master. You should praise him and shower him with attention when he returns to you.

It is not necessary to never allow anyone else to pet or play with your puppy, but it should be done properly and in moderation with the dog feeling in control, never overwhelmed or intimidated. If an outsider is allowed to play with your puppy, he should get down to his level; play ball or tug of war, allowing the puppy to dominate the play. Petting should be done under the chin, behind the ears, or at the base of the tail and is more of a scratch than a petting motion. The dog should feel that he is always in control of the situation. You want to teach the dog not to be afraid of people but that his own family provides the support and attention that he desires.

If other people constantly manhandle a puppy, he will learn that humans have power over him and are to be feared and respected. This may sound good to many people; they should own a Golden Retriever. This is a working dog, bred for his intelligence, confidence, and protective instincts. That fear of humans may become suspicion, and when intense enough may create a hazardous fear-biter. Dogs that bite indiscriminately out of fear will never hold up to real pressure under a real threat and are a liability to the public, to the owner, and to the dog himself.

If there are other dogs in your household, it is important that the puppy establish himself within the pack. In the wild there is sometimes a canine that is allowed to follow the pack at a distance, but is not allowed the security or social aspects of the pack itself. This canine, the loner, develops serious emotional problems. If a puppy is kept on the outside of the pack he is being forced to assume the role of the loner. Also, a young dog can learn a great deal from constructive play with members of its own pack. A canine knows its rank within the pack by age group classification. As long as no member of the pack is allowed to be overly social aggressive, this rank is not a threat to the canine's health or ego. However, canines within the same age group battle separately to establish rank. This ranking will have an affect on the canine's mental attitude. Therefore, it is best to keep dogs within six months of age apart, especially those of the same sex or litter. Also avoid allowing your working dogs to be kenneled together for great lengths of time.

The puppy can also be introduced to other dogs outside of his household. However, do not allow your dog to come in contact with an aggressive dog, and always ask the owner of the dog if you may introduce your dog to theirs. (Dog shows provide an excellent environment for puppy/dog socialization.) Do not force the dogs to meet, allow them to investigate each other at their discretion. Limit the encounter to a few moments, avoiding excessive play. Lavish praise and attention on your puppy when he returns to you. There is no place for dog aggressiveness in a working dog.

Playgrounds are an excellent place for you and your young dog. During busy times the puppy can learn how to handle the commotion of a crowded park filled with screaming children and people playing. During off-times the playground equipment serves as a means to build trust, agility, and confidence. Take the puppy over and under all the objects, as he gains dexterity and confidence make him do more and more difficult things. If your dog shows a certain amount of avoidance or nervousness about a person or an object, gently encourage him to investigate it. For the inexperienced,pulling or forcing the puppy will usually create more harm than good.

When your dog is hesitant about something, either walk over to the cause of his concern gently encouraging and reassuring him that it is all right, or confidently approach the object as if you see no reason to be afraid, remember he is keying on your actions and attitude. Praise the puppy if he overcomes his avoidance. Don't make a big deal out of it if he does not. If the puppy refuses to investigate something, let him alone and try again at a later date. You set up situations where you feel your dog may need to overcome some mild fear and encourage him to overcome it. For example, take your puppy to the park during off hours. Find potential fear inducing objects and place pieces of food on them (the smellier the food the better). Go get your dog. Allow him to investigate these objects on his own, encourage him if you have to. When he checks them out he will be automatically rewarded for going through his fear. He is rewarded for positive behavior.

You must learn to read your puppy's reactions to people and things. Remember you do not want to overwhelm your puppy by putting him in a situation above his ability to react to positively. This is particularly true when you are trying something for the first time. You want to establish a habit of positive behavior to new situations. You want to change the dog's natural urge to default to avoidance behavior to a learned response of positive behavior. (Default behavior is the behaviors a dog will default to when either confused or panicked.) You want to avoid encouraging fear responses (avoidance activity) because "the emotional responses concerned with fear are so organized physiologically that they do not extinguish readily fear responses in animals are extraordinarily persistent once they are developed."4

Puppy games can be started as soon as your puppy feels secure in his new home with his new owner. As you and your dog work together, you are creating a bond of trust and establishing pack order. A dog should respect and be obedient to his owner, he should not be fearful of him. A puppy should grow up to believe his master is 100% trustworthy. If the bond between puppy and owner is established properly, he will be less apt to challenge the owner's authority and will work enthusiastically and without conflict when the puppy matures.

As discussed, you do not want to push the puppy too far too fast, but you do not want to coddle the dog either. The young dog needs to be allowed the opportunity to get into stressful situations in order to learn how to resolve them positively. Like a child, a puppy is going to learn. If it does not learn what you want it to learn from you, it will form habits, which may be contrary to what you want to teach it.

More Games to Play With Your Puppy

A few people might find some of these exercises familiar and I would like to thank those who, over the years and over the miles, have been kind enough to share their thoughts and training ideas.

- Get your puppy interested in the ball. Tease him, roll or bounce the ball away from the puppy, when he gets to it, and looks back at you, run away teasing him to bring it back to you, when he gets there, play with him, Get him to drop the ball (without taking it from him) and throw another one. If the puppy is possessive of the ball and won't drop it on his own, entice him to give it up for a small piece of food. (To avoid bloat or other physical problems, use only a minimum amount of food and as soon as the puppy gets the idea, forgo the food completely during this exercise.) Teach him the out command by repetition. Always have two balls. Teach the puppy that the out gets the game started again. Get the dog coming back as fast as he goes out for the ball. Make him bring the ball all the way to you by not standing in one place. Run back so the dog gets in the habit of not slowing down as he approaches you. This game should be done fast, going in all directions. Give the command to bring when you throw the ball. This exercise seems simple enough, but if you look at it from a behavioral standpoint you will see its benefits magnified beyond just a simple game of retrieve, and its good exercise to boot. As the dog matures, use a tennis racket to hit the balls even further. If you have taught the dog to bark for things (see Part I) get him to bark to get the game started.

- Whenever you take the dog out, be prepared to reward proper behavior, be it praise, food, or prey (ball, stick, jute roll, etc.). If you play retrieval games in the same area, the dog should become pumped for this exercise as soon as you get there. When you sense the dog has developed enough drive for this exercise, get him to initiate the game by hiding the ball in your hands or pocket and ignoring the dog. The dog should be so pumped that the lack of reward frustrates him, building more drive. He should begin to bump you, jump up, bark at you, bite you, anything to try to get you to play the game. When you feel the dog is high in drive, start the game. You are teaching the dog that he controls the situation and that drive fulfills drive Ð active aggression. When developed into a strong habit, a new default behavior is created. This behavior provides the basis for the guarding in the bitework.

- When the dog understands the retrieve game and his drive for the ball is good, add another twist. Throw the ball into ground cover or the woods just out of sight. The first few times the ball should be thrown so that it is easily found. As the dog learns the game, throw the ball further into the brush. Make the game more and more difficult. Tell the dog to FIND it or FIND the Ball. As the dog works to locate the ball, stand quietly. Should the dog look back to you, give encouragement and repeat the command. When the dog returns with the ball, give him hearty praise--happy happy. Throw the ball again. Repeat this game in all terrain. Get the dog going into areas that are uncomfortable, but not dangerous (thickets, tall grass, up hills). Get the dog interested in sticks. Pick one up throw it into a pile of sticks FIND the stick Good Boy. If the dog loses the item and returns to you, go with him to the area and help him find it Repeat the command, give words of encouragement, then search intently. If you find the item first, encourage him to find it as well. Lots of praise. Return to the start and throw and easy one or two. End the game on a high note. Losing the ball occasionally is OK.

The above game is a great one for many reasons. First it teaches the dog to work on his own and teaches the owner how to read his dog, when he is working well and when he is in trouble. These two things are critical to a good track. In this exercise the dog also learns to work through difficult terrain and under stress without panicking, to accept encouragement without distraction, to understand the FIND command, to use his nose to find an object. The handler learns to let his dog work without distracting him and the handler and the dog learn to respond to each other at a distance. Although the dog is using predominantly air-scenting techniques, he is establishing other very important tracking behaviors. (The command FIND is different from the command SUCH. The dog is quite capable of learning both Ð just as he can learn both, SIT and DOWN.)

To teach the dog to ground scent, use the following exercise: Chop up a bag of hot dogs into nickel size pieces. Find a nice grassy area or freshly plowed dirt, something that holds scent and foot impressions well. Step out an area about 4 feet by 4 feet, place hot dogs around the perimeter and through out the entire square. Keep some hot dogs in your apron or pocket for later. There should be a hot dog piece every 8 inches or so. Let the track age for about twenty minutes. In the meantime, take your puppy out and exercise him just enough to get the jitters out. Go back to the car, get your extra hot dogs, put a long line on the dog. Now walk slowly and deliberately to your extra large scent pad. Calm the dog as you go. Talk about what you're going to go do. Exude the atmosphere you would like the dog to assume on the track. Lead the dog over to the hot dogs. He should put his nose down as soon as he gets there. If not, show him with your hand. Give him the command SUCH. As the dog makes it around the scent pad, praise him every so often in soothing tones, repeat the command. If he goes out of the area say Eh Eh, give him a second to get back on himself. If he does not, guide him. If he lifts his head Eh Eh FIND. Good SUCH. If an area becomes bare and your dog is doing well, without distracting your dog, throw some more pieces down in the area. When the dog's attention begins to fade or you run out of pieces, call the dog. Praise him, happy happy. Leave the scent pad and play a bit (but not overly excited play). Put the dog away. The dog is learning the proper behaviors for the command SUCH and that the reward is in the ground scent.

To make this exercise more challenging you can add the following variables: add distractions to the track such as, people nearby, noise, or by gently touching your dog; age the track longer; or extend the scent pad forward so that you have an area maybe 2 feet by 8 feet, then add turns (see Figure?). When your dog gets bored of this game or begins to race down the track, he has reached the point where you have to move on. If he is not mature enough to start formal tracking, you must put him away. You have established a habit that the dog will draw on when you return to tracking. If you continue working the dog when he is bored, drive will diminish and bad habits (such as, speed) will be developed.

Your dog should be comfortable with you. Time should be spent loving your dog, getting him used to you touching him or being very close. Test your dog's ease with you by gently approaching him while he is eating or drinking. Does he appear nervous? Touch him; stroke his side, his head. Does he move or flinch at your touch? This uneasiness will carry over to the training field.

We have already discussed the importance of establishing good man/dog relationships both within the pack and with those outside of the pack. The relationship with strangers should be established within the home as well. The young dog should allow invited guests (Good Strangers) into your home without being nervous, overly aggressive, or timid. He should be comfortable around strangers both without and within his home. However, the German Shepherd Dog, as well as many other working breeds was bred for their intelligence, versatility, and protective or guarding instincts. Even the AKC written standard makes reference to all these qualities-from the AKC Standard character description of the German Shepherd Dog. "It is poised, but when the occasion demands, eager and alert; both fit and willing to serve in its capacity as companion, watchdog, blind leader, herding dog, or guardian, whichever the circumstances may demand."

If your young dog has developed a solid relationship with strangers (Good Stranger)--is approachable and confident, not shy, nervous, or aggressive and you notice your young dog begin to mature in defensive drive (he perks his head up and listens intently at sudden noises or strange voices, he barks at the doorbell or in the car, etc.), you can build defensive drive without encouraging indiscriminate aggressive behavior.

Pay close attention to what stimulus/stimuli arouses your young dog's defense drive. Then set up a similar situation in which you control all the variables in order to encourage this drive and reward positive aggressive behaviors. One scenario could be as follows: You and your young dog will be relaxing or playing in a room of your home. You have selected someone you trust who can follow your directions and read dog behavior reasonably well to play the part of the Bad Stranger. He has been instructed to wear bizarre or inappropriate apparel and act suspiciously. You have an idea of how you expect your dog to react in this situation and have instructed the Bad Stranger to respond to specific behaviors in a certain way. You have also developed a back up plan in case you have miscalculated. (You may wish to run through your plan without the dog to make sure it is well thought out.) As you sit in the room with your dog, there is a sudden noise from outside of the room. Your dog should perk up and attempt to locate the source of the sound. Without distracting the dog, you should react to the sound as well. Remember the dog is looking to you for guidance. While the dog is still alert, the stranger can either repeat the noise or appear, acting very suspiciously. As soon as the dog reacts to the stranger in an aggressive fashion, the Bad Stranger should respond by either being fearful and backing up or going away completely. This would depend upon your observations of the dog prior to this exercise and your immediate evaluation of his reactions at the present time. After the dog has scared off the Bad Stranger, happy hearty praise. Let him check outside the room where the Bad Stranger was as you show him your full confidence in his ability to ward off any further threats. Acting is key to the success of this exercise. You do not want to confuse your dog by acting inappropriately. You should not act overly nervous or overly confident as the scenario unfolds. The Bad Stranger should be a bit bold but nervous at first, then weak and frightened in response to the dog's aggression. Once the young dog is confident in his defense drive, this game should be discontinued. (NOTE: This game must only be played at the appropriate level of maturity. Different breeds and individual dogs vary in their development of defense drive--anywhere from 8 to 18 months or more. Do not do this exercise unless defensive drive is present or you will only confuse the dog! Maturation of drives will be discussed in Part III).

Other Considerations

Excellent nutrition and proper exercise are so important to helping your dog reach his potential that they are often taken for granted. There is no way that your dog can perform at his top level if he is out of shape or physically handicapped by lack of proper nutrition. Your dog cannot be confident and exuberant if he feels lousy. If you can't afford to feed your dog the best or don't have the time to exercise your dog, you cannot ask him to perform well.


One of the most critical elements to your success or failure as a trainer is your selection of the breeder. The breeder's skill in breeding and his knowledge of puppy rearing will determine whether you start out with a potential powerhouse or a potential problem. Once in your home, the responsibility for the puppy's physical and mental welfare is passed on to you. Great care and thought, as well as time, should be spent ensuring the puppy's proper upbringing. As simple as the games described in this series are, they are serious business and must be approached as such. Whether you like it or not, your puppy will learn, it is up to you to make sure he learns what you want to teach him and not bad habits that will stall his later training. The temptation to skip over foundation building becomes greater as your puppy matures and you have nothing to show for all your efforts--the dog down the street completes his CD and is two months younger than your dog, your dog's littermate can do a Schutzhund I routine, etc. Do not succumb to peer pressure. Your time will come. When formal training begins, you will be pleasantly amazed at how quickly and easily you breeze through what would otherwise be tedious sessions. Building a good foundation, preparing your dog well and caring for his physical needs will help you and your dog be your best.

NEXT: The mechanics of learning and the adolescence period.

Part 1: Building the Foundation

Dog Behavior Primer

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