Bringing Home an Australian Shepherd Puppy: What You Need to Know

From the Mailbag: Hi, I’m Jared. I just visited your site,and I want to know more about the basic things I have to get them and stuff to look out for. I’m getting a Red Tri Aussie next week and I want to be a good owner.

Jared, you don’t mention whether your new Red Tri Australian Shepherd is a puppy or an adult, so I’ll assume you’re getting a puppy.

Let me say that, in general, Australian Shepherds are not for everyone; they are herding dogs with high intelligence, agility, a strong prey drive and deep loyalty to their owner. You have to learn how to demonstrate good leadership ability in order to build a relationship both you and your dog will be happy with. Plan on spending 1 to 3 years of committed training and socialization, and you will end up with a great dog. There are no short-cuts.

So Jared, first, Congratulations on your new dog AND on your desire to want to be a good dog person! You’ve asked a big question, but let me see if I can help break it down into some bite-size pieces.

1. Getting Yourself Ready: Be Willing to Make the Time Commitment. Have the Right Tools.

Red Tri Australian Shepherd

Jared’s new Red Tri Australian Shepherd Pup

Your new puppy is used to having its siblings for chew toys, jungle gyms, playmates, and sleeping buddies. Being removed from all it knows and being brought to someplace unfamiliar is going to be a big adjustment. To help your new friend feel safe and to help him begin bonding with you, you need to spend as much time with your puppy as you can. So make sure you plan on bringing your puppy home when you have a good chunk of time to help him acclimate. Also try to make sure that there aren’t a lot of distractions or too many people coming and going for the first few days. A steady, calm environment with your puppy by your side throughout the day is the best way to start.

Make sure you have food, bowls, leashes, crates, baby gates, kongs, and fencing in place before you bring your puppy home.

2. Getting Your House Ready:  Puppy Proofing and Teething Toys.

Australian Shepherds are known for their inquisitiveness, so your new Aussie puppy will be ready and eager to learn about his new world.  That means you’re going to have to make your home safe to explore. Just as with the need to baby proof a home for crawling babies, you need to puppy proof your home in much the same way. One of a puppy’s greatest needs is to chew, so make sure that electrical wires are not loose and dangling, make sure that all shoes and valuables are put away or placed up high, and so on. Have a means of sectioning off areas of the house to limit puppy access through baby gates.

If you make sure your puppy has enough exercise, that will help reduce most of his chewing behavior. Remember, your puppy’s need to chew isn’t to be destructive (dogs don’t have emotions like revenge or spite) but because he’s teething. And teething hurts, so have appropriate articles and toys for him to chew on.

A product I like is “PupTeeth” to naturally relieve pain in teething puppies. It helps soothe your puppy during the teething process. Stuffed kongs are also terrific. You can keep them frozen until you need them. The cold also helps sore gums. You can find lots of good things for your puppy to chew on at the Only Natural Pet Store (just search for the word “CHEW”). Stay away from chewing products like Greenies.

As with small children, it’s up to you to put the puppy in an environment that’s safe for them, and won’t ruin something expensive for you. Puppies explore with their mouths; one of the ways they learn about the world is by gnawing. Chewing also makes their razor sharp teeth feel better by rubbing the edges down just a bit.

The key to new puppy care is to understand how your puppy sees the world and what his motivations are. So get a good book on Australian Shepherds and read up!

3. As Soon as you Get Your Puppy Home: Begin Establishing Yourself as the Leader.

As soon as you get home, let the puppy “go potty” in the yard, using a leash. Allow him plenty of time to sniff, and explore his new world. He’ll probably mark several spots. This will let him feel like the area is his and will seem more familiar to him the next time you take him out.

I recommend that you use a leash for the first few weeks, even in a fenced area. This helps your puppy know that you are the leader, and he needs to look to you for direction. If his mind wanders and his attention is temporarily lost, the leash will help you to quickly re-establish your connection with him. He’ll learn to think of you as the leader. This is very important for your long term relationship with your dog.

Please understand that being the leader doesn’t mean using physical punishment, hitting, being harsh, jerking him on the leash, or yelling. It means giving him clear information in a way that he can understand, and then praising him. This helps to reinforce that you approve of that behavior. Puppies need lots of feedback so they can quickly learn what’s expected of them. An important part of your new puppy care is establishing this positive relationship.

4. Begin Training Immediately. And Keep Training Throughout Your Australian Shepherd’s Lifetime.

Remember, your new puppy has no understanding of the human world you live in with all its customs or language. Imagine if you had to go and fit into a new family with the above obstacles. The good news is that Australian Shepherds live to please. You just need to let your puppy know what “pleases” you. That means you need to start training from the first day you bring your puppy home. I highly recommend the The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Positive Dog Training, 3rd Edition.

Remember to always praise your companion when he does what you’re trying to show him. Praising him with your tone of voice, a vigorous petting or small treat, helps let your new Aussie puppy know what is expected of him. Once he understands, he’ll learn quickly, which will help him integrate well into your family’s life.

Basic Obedience Training:  At about 4 months old, and after your puppy has had his first rabies shot, you need to enroll yourself and your puppy into a basic beginners obedience class.

Obedience classes usually last about 8 weeks, and are lots of fun. Some clubs or individuals even offer a “puppy class”. This is a great way to teach your dog manners and to bond with the new friends of the canine family.

Ongoing training helps to establish your role as leader, and helps ensure that you and your Aussie puppy will have a long happy and safe life together.

4. Getting Started With House Training.

The first rule of thumb with puppies is to realize that they can only hold their bladder for as many hours as months old they are. That means that a three month old puppy will need to be allowed to relieve himself a minimum of every three hours (including throughout the night). Your puppy will also need to go out after waking from every nap, 20 minutes after every meal, and anytime after playing. By allowing your puppy the ability to relieve himself with as few accidents in the house as possible, he’ll quickly learn that outside is where he’s supposed to go.Remember to praise him every time he goes outside. Is there is an accident in the house, just say “oops” and take him outside immediately. Do Not rub his nose in the accident or hit him–all that does is teach him to be afraid of you and to hide where he goes potty in the house.

Also consider keeping him on a leash with you in the house for the first few days. You’ll learn to pay attention to his cues when he needs to go, and you’ll be able to get him out immediately.  Aussies are incredibly smart. If you are willing to put the time in the first week to minimize house accidents and praise successes outside, you’ll have a house trained Aussie in no time.

5. Sleeping: Start With a Crate.

Until your puppy is house trained, I recommend having him sleep in his crate at night. Put the crate right next to your bed so you can easily reach a hand in to pet him if he feels anxious or scared by his new surroundings. (Remember, you’ve just taken him away from the only life he’s known.) Place some kind of comfortable bedding and a kong to chew on in the crate. As well, anytime during the day that you can’t watch your puppy, put him in her crate to prevent him from getting into trouble.  Just don’t over-use the crate. You don’t want him to feel that it’s a prison but rather his safe haven.

The crate can also be a helpful housebreaking tool. Dogs usually won’t potty where they sleep. Having your puppy in his crate at night also protects him from damaging your house (furniture/shoes/legs of chairs/counters) and protects the new puppy from chewing or eating something that might make him sick. Just as you wouldn’t let a toddler run loose at night unrestrained, the same is true for your puppy.

6. Exercise: Your Australian Shepherd Puppy Needs LOTS!

Australian Shepherds have an inbred herding instinct, which makes them athletic dogs able to keep going for many hours at a time! Your puppy is not going to be happy being a couch potato; he’s going to want to lots of exercise every day. Find ways to play with your puppy that will help him burn off excess energy, so that when he’s in the house he can be calm and well-mannered. Take him for long walks, throw a frisbee for him, and when he gets older, if you run, take him for runs with you.

7. Socialization: Get Your Puppy Used to Lots of Different People.

Because you’ve got a herding breed, which also means a dog with protective instincts, in order for him not to become overly protective or a nipper, you need to socialize him. If you don’t, your Aussie will among other things, attempt to herd infants, cats, concrete ducks, the vacuum, lawn mower, and anything else that moves. Understand that herding behavior may be anything from nuzzling you continually, to barking incessantly at the cat in the corner, to outright nipping at your legs or bottom as you walk.

So make so to gently introduce people calmly to your puppy. No loud yelling, or running and jumping to start. Just simply introduce the new person and you all hang out calmly together and then build up to moving slowly, and then more quickly.

If you’re not sure how to do this, invite a trainer to come and help you. This is the single most important thing you can do for your puppy to prevent her from becoming aggressive and nipping.

Be aware that a nip is considered a bite by law!

8. Your Australian Shepherd Puppy is Very Sensitive.

Care must be taken to not overstimulate your puppy — so no rough housing starting out. In fact, if I had to describe the breed in one word it would be “sensitive”. Their very fine calibration to light, sound, your facial expressions, and many other things, makes your Aussie what they are. It is why they integrate well. They pay very close attention, and have sensitive emotions as well. New puppy care includes protecting him from what is beyond his capability. It will take him time to learn how to behave around children, strangers, and other animals. Giving him the time to learn and integrate will pay big dividends.

9. A few final suggestions to help with new puppy care and the first few months of your new friendship:

  • If your Aussie shows a lot of herding instinct… keep them busy with chasing a ball or frisbee. Herding classes are usually available as well.
  • If after taking an obedience class with your puppy you feel that you would like to go further, try agility, herding or flyball to see what you like. Talk to your local dog club and they should be able to point you in the right direction.
  • A good breeder is a great source of knowledge for the first few months with your new Aussie puppy. A concerned breeder does not mind if you ask questions, because it means you really care about your puppy.

10. Read more articles here under “Dog Training” and “Dogs in General.”

You’ll find a wealth of information on training, great books to read, and lots of useful information to help you understand your Australian Shepherd.

Well bred Aussies are a joy to own and love. And, following the above new puppy care guidelines should help your new Aussie family member blend seamlessly into your family’s life. Getting off on the right foot will go a long way toward helping your puppy learn to become everything you hope for, setting up a wonderful relationship to help you enjoy each other for what will hopefully be a long and happy lifetime.

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By | 2017-03-08T18:59:12+00:00 March 3rd, 2012|Dog Training, Dogs in General, The Mail Bag|21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Courtney April 16, 2012 at 5:07 pm - Reply

    In this article you mention PupTeeth, is this similar to Teething Tablets that they have for babies (all natural)? Is it okay to give my puppy Teething Tablets?

    • Karen April 22, 2012 at 8:27 am - Reply

      I’d stick with the Pup Teeth. Teething Tablets would last -3 seconds with a teething dog! LOL.

  2. Jasmine July 21, 2012 at 10:08 am - Reply

    About around what age do they start to teeth? I just got a puppy 9weeks old and I want to be prepared.

    • Karen July 23, 2012 at 6:35 am - Reply

      Jasmine, congratulations on your new family addition! Teething continues on and off for several months. As with humans, teething for puppies causes discomfort. When teething, you can expect your puppy to try to relieve that discomfort by an increase in biting and chewing.

      Serious teething begins between the ages of three and seven months. At three months, the incisors begin to fall out to make room for the new adult teeth. At four months, the adult molars and adult canines are coming in. Between the ages of six and seven months, the adult molars show up. Usually, by seven to eight months, the full set of adult teeth will have come in.

      Having the right chew toys handy to help relieve teething will make your puppy’s life more comfortable and save many of your shoes and other chewable objects in the process. So make sure to have plenty of healthy and safe chew toys on hand. Frozen stuffed Kongs are fantastic. I’m not a fan of rawhide, greenies or bully sticks. they can cause gastrointestinal blockages and are too easy for your dog to choke on. You can also try Nylabones or even old washcloths knotted and soaked in low-sodium chicken broth and then frozen. Don’t forget to supervise your puppy when he is enjoying his toys.

  3. lissa September 10, 2012 at 9:09 am - Reply

    hi i was wondering about gettin a australian shepherd but thats like in another 2 yrs cause i have to wait nxt yr till i move away then i think i might have to wait another yr for my nanas boxer to (rest in peace) which i never want to happen so suddely if u no wat i mean . im already planning out wat i have to do and get for the assie but i dont no wat to do in this time i have to wait for getting it !!! plz give ideas of how i can not get so overwhelmed about getting a new puppy ! O but i still want to concertrate on getting him/ her

    • Karen September 10, 2012 at 9:33 am - Reply

      Lissa, I can appreciate your thought process and I agree that waiting until your boxer passes on is the most kind thing to do for her. In the meantime, start reading up on Australian Shepherds and join the Autralian Shepherds Club closest to you. Those people will be a great resource for you in the future. As Aussies are high intensity, high energy dogs, the more you educate yourself about them and hone your training skills, the more ready you’ll be when you get your new puppy. You could also go to some herding trials where you’ll see lots of Aussies at work. You might find that the idea of herding is interesting to you and you could get started with learning about that as well. Doing all this should help the time fly! Good luck! :)

  4. lissa September 10, 2012 at 9:42 am - Reply

    Oh thank you so very much i would be going crazy by now i have been reading alot about them and i think there the right dog breed for me cause i love going on long walks, playing fetch , and i like teaching dogs new tricks ! O and for my nanas boxer she is 12yrs of age n very fit for her age as well so i was just wondering how long a boxer can live for!

    • Karen September 10, 2012 at 12:32 pm - Reply

      No way to know for sure how long your Nanas will live, but safe to say for at least another year.

  5. lissa September 10, 2012 at 10:29 am - Reply

    whatz the best toys for aussies as puppys and grown up cause i have heard of the kong but what else !!

    • Karen September 10, 2012 at 12:35 pm - Reply

      Kongs are great. Stay away from rawhide, pig ears, and hooves as chew toys. They’re a choking risk and they’re not healthy for dogs to be eating. You can get marrow bones at the grocery store and freeze them. They’re a much better alternative for chewing. You can also try a cloth frisbee if your puppy likes to fetch/chase. Her favorite toy though is going to be you! :)

  6. lissa September 10, 2012 at 1:07 pm - Reply

    O thanks for the tip ! and i have heard of the pigs ears and hooves and no way im gonna let my pup smell it i just think there very disgusting im suprize some dog owners let there dogs eat them ! Oh and wat would u recomend the best puppy training kit to be !

  7. Sher LeClear May 17, 2013 at 2:31 am - Reply

    Thank you in advance for helping us out! We’re expecting an Aussie boy in 6 weeks. We’re already puppy proofing our yard and home but my question is… can you suggest the basic material needs that that we should have for when we bring him home? We plan on going shopping for him soon and a list for his basics needs would be so valuable and appreciated. Thank you! SHER

    • Karen May 17, 2013 at 9:09 am - Reply

      Sher, how very exciting!
      Here are some basic tools you’ll need:

    • First and foremost--good training books.
    • A good ceramic food and water bowl
    • 4 ft leash and 8 ft leash (no flexi-leash)
    • snap collar
    • large crate to help with night-time house training.
    • a cloth frisbee (the plastic ones can break teeth)
    • knotted rope chew toy (again, no plastic–Aussies can chew off pieces and choke on them)
    • a dog bed (unless of course you plan on letting him sleep on your bed:)
  • Kate December 25, 2016 at 11:49 am - Reply

    Karen- THANK YOU for writing this article! We just brought home an almost 8 week old Blue Merle Australian shepherd and we’re learning right along with him. He’s SO smart but is still a puppy (of course!). Really appreciate the thought and time that you took to write this post- please know it was incredibly helpful to two new puppy parents up in Seattle. Merry Christmas!!

    • Karen Shanley December 26, 2016 at 12:44 pm - Reply

      Kate, best of luck to you and your new puppy! May you enjoy many happy years together. : )

  • jordan February 28, 2017 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    hi i am getting an aussie in june and moving to florida in august, is there any way i can curb the herding behavior to only do it when i say its ok? i don’t want to stop it because its what they were bred for but i would like to control it a bit so she isn’t herding my older dog and my cat or any people. new time aussie owner so I’m worried about not training right. I’ve never owned a herding breed. I’m prepared for lots of play and running lol but my previous dog a springer was a breeze hardly any chewing only once while teething, and no barking unit i moved in with my mom and her dogs. he was great with the crate and toys. just hoping for some training advice.

    • Karen Shanley March 1, 2017 at 11:08 am - Reply

      Hi Jordan, I’m actually going to suggest you not get an Aussie. These are heavy coated dogs and wouldn’t necessarily appreciate the heat of Florida. And because you are used to dogs that are a breeze and you are moving in with your mom who already has dogs, adding an Aussie to that mix would definitely amp up the intensity of what you would have to deal with. Aussies are not dogs that would do well with lots of crating, and it’s difficult to put instinctive herding behaviors on cue.

      If you are committed to getting an Aussie, then the best advice I can give you is to find a positive trainer who is intimately familiar with Aussies and start working with that trainer immediately.

      Good luck with whatever you decide.

  • Sarah March 3, 2017 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    I’m thinking about getting an Aussie but my dad thinks we don’t have enough room in our house.
    We live in a 2 story house with 2 living rooms( one small and the other medium large) an office, a
    Medium large kitchen ,4 bedrooms ,2 bathrooms,laundry room, a garage, and a rectangular
    Backyard.
    I was also planning to take the time for long walks and runs with the dog.
    Is that enough?
    Sincerely,
    Sarah M.

    • Karen Shanley March 8, 2017 at 6:26 pm - Reply

      Sarah, you don’t mention how old your are, or whether you’ve lived with a herding dog before. The size of your house doesn’t matter as much as the size of your yard and how much exercise and training you’d be able to provide for an aussie. I have 3 fenced acres and that was almost enough… : ) And I worked from home, so I was able to get in lots of exercise and training.

      Aussies are no joke and not for the faint of heart. If you don’t have a lot of previous dog experience, I would recommend that you start with a sheltie instead. They have many similar traits, including intelligence and loyalty, but are much more low key typically, and don’t need as much exercise as Aussies do.

  • Gina McFeeters May 14, 2017 at 8:46 pm - Reply

    I know this is a stupid question, but…..
    Our (just) 4 month pup spends a great deal of time outside; trying to herd our other farm animals – so cute,
    My question: after spending so much time outside, it’s nothing for him to pee in the house. The only time we have our pup in the house (now) is when we are playing with him,and at night. When it’s time to go to bed, we put him in his create, and he is good for the night.
    However, we play with our pup, A LOT, so he is often in the house for a good hour or two, and still pees in the house. Mostly because he is excited; is this normal?
    What am I doing wrong?

    PS: I can’t wait to learn how to teach our pup TO PLAY Frisbee!!!!!!
    Is there a simple way, or do I need to look it up?

    Thank you for taking the time to read my letter, and I appreciate all your advice.

    Sincerely,

    Gina

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