German Shepherd puppies are really very small considering that when fully mature these dogs will weigh up to 85 pounds or more and will measure up to 26 inches at the shoulder. When first born a German Shepherd will typically weigh approximately one pound, and will also look very different than he or she will in just a few short months.
One interesting thing about German Shepherd puppies is that they are born almost completely black, often with just hint of the light tan to reddish marking that will eventually develop on some of the dogs. In addition their ears are fully turned over when the puppies are born and will not actually start to stand up until the puppies are seven to eight weeks old or more. Even then the ears will gradually come up and typically won't be the fully erect ears so identifiable with the breed until the puppies are finished their final teething at about six months. Often one ear will stand up and then flop back over during these growing stages, and that is perfectly normal and will correct itself as the puppy matures.
It is ideal if the German Shepherd puppy can stay with the mother dog at least until eight weeks, however many breeders are now recommending 10 weeks with the mother to allow for proper early socialization. It is at this time that the puppies learn important information about how to play properly, how to interact with others as well as getting to know humans in a safe and non-threatening environment. Many breeders feel that an extra two weeks or more is essential in establishing such important details as bite inhibition, where puppies learn how to gently play using their mouths without biting or nipping to cause pain. In addition a slightly later move away from the mother gives the mother dog more time to teach the puppies basic housetraining as they learn not to soil in the "den" or puppy area.
Once you have selected a puppy and are planning on bringing it home there are a few rules or guidelines you need to follow. Make sure a proper area for the puppy is ready in your home. This should include a water dish and fresh water, a food dish, bedding or a crate, toys and at least a training collar and leash as a start. A basic pin brush is also a handy and necessary grooming tool, as are nail clippers, preferably guillotine style, as well as a basic dog first aid kit. Always start with the same food the breeder was using, and then gradually make the switch to the premium brand of your choice. Many breeders now recommend a natural or raw foods diet, and there are some benefits to this type of diet, however for some owners there are also challenges. Talk to your breeder and your vet to determine the best food for your new GSD puppy.
Starting off on the right foot by establishing that you are the leader in the household is important. Have the puppy learn, typically within the first couple of days, that responding to you when you say his or her name results in a reward. This can be a very small treat, lots of verbal praise and some love and attention. Don't allow nibbling on fingers, toes or clothes, a short "no" followed by ignoring the puppy will quickly stop this from becoming an habit.
It is important to be firm, positive and consistent with the puppy. Break training down into several, short sessions rather than one long session and be sure to provide lots of play time and socialization. Taking a GSD puppy with you in the car, either in a crate or in a seatbelt dog restraint is a wonderful opportunity to socialize the puppy to new places, new people and of course car travel. Make trips to a dog park a routine, plus allow the puppy to interact with other safe dogs and puppies on a regular basis. This is also the time to introduce cats and other animals.
Be sure to follow up on the last set of puppy shots which will typically occur when the puppy is about 12 weeks of age. You will also be able to talk to your vet at that time about spaying or neutering the dog at the appropriate time. Generally it is best to do this at about the six month mark as a very general guideline, however some vets recommend earlier while others prefer to wait. Since the GSD is a larger breed typically females will not come into heat until closer to 8 to 10 months of age, but always monitor and separate her from any males if she appears to be coming in to heat sooner.
All family members can work with the GSD after he or she has successfully mastered the basic commands. A puppy kindergarten class is highly recommended as an experienced instructor can help you in both getting in the basics as well as challenging these very intelligent dogs. Many owners choose to go beyond a basic class and have their GSD complete canine citizenship classes, advanced obedience, agility or even scent discrimination and tracking classes. Since the GSD has such a good temperament for these types of events, they are also ideal therapy dogs and can be very successfully trained as assistance dogs or guide dogs.
As with any type of working and herding dog, the GSD does need regular exercise. At least two 30 minute intensive blocks of time plus significant outside time in a fenced, secured yard is a good routine to get started early. These dogs make terrific jogging companions and are always up for a walk, romp or a game. Since they are great with children when socialized and raised together, children can easily walk and exercise these dogs. It is ideal to have the children work with the puppies and juvenile GSD to ensure that the dogs understand that the children, just like the adults in the family, are the leaders.
Most German Shepherds are very sensitive to even the slightest rebuke or change in tone or volume of their owner's voice. Never harshly treat these dogs as a simple correction is all that is needed. Willfulness and stubbornness may be seen in the young adult dogs, but with consistent training this testing period will pass and they will become wonderful, loyal and protective companion pets.