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.