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Little Aussies & Little People:
What to know before you introduce your new Aussie to your children.

By Amy E. Banks

People buy puppies for many different reasons, the least of which is that they are absolutely adorable and steal your heart immediately. But once you get your Aussie puppy home, you need to look beyond that cute exterior to the genetics and prepare your family to succeed with this puppy. This will create not only a great atmosphere for your puppy, but will also insure that your children are safe and happy as well.

Aussie puppies are deep-seeded pack dwellers. Your home just became his pack. He is going to try and figure out where he belongs in the hierarchy of this new pack. As far as he is concerned, being top dog is where it is. He’ll begin testing everyone, down to your cat, to see which of you is the submissive of the pair. Even if the puppy may belong to only one person in the family, it is extremely important for all members of the family to work at establishing themselves as the dominant ‘dog’ where this puppy is concerned. Each will need to feed the puppy for about a week starting with your youngest child. This child must feed, let the puppy out and play with the puppy. As another child takes over these responsibilities, the previous child must continue to play with and interact with the puppy, to continue to reinforce the role of the child as the dominant ‘dog’.

The Aussie puppy is experimenting with itself when it is very young. It is extremely prey-instinctive. Although it is very cute when the puppy grabs hold of your young ones pants legs or nips at their heels, it won’t be cute if he keeps it up. Therefore, it is important for your children to learn to play with an Aussie puppy. One of the ways that the puppy challenges the more dominant dog to test its dominance is to bite - A LOT. When they’re puppies, it doesn’t hurt too badly, and therefore this is the time to ‘nip’ it in the bud. Only the person who is being bit can discipline the puppy. If someone else, such as Mom or Dad, does this, then the puppy sees Mom or Dad as dominant, but the child is still below the puppy in the hierarchy.

Furthermore, do not let your children run from the little ‘nipper’. He will love that. The puppy now decides that the running child is something to herd. He must learn the difference. When he bites your children’s heels, have them discipline him for biting.

The best response to the puppy bite, is to grab it by the scruff of the neck, let out a sharp, high pitched, “NO!” and to give the puppy a little shake. The more extreme the bite, the harder the shake. Never let the puppy bite any person in your family, no matter how playful or cute. Do not spank or beat the dog, because it is ineffective with an Australian Shepherd. It understands dog behavior better than human behavior and the shake will be much more effective. For the most extreme cases, you can even growl at the puppy in a deep-throated voice and you’ll find he will usually back down.

Another way to reinforce a person, as ‘alpha’ over the dog is to make him roll on to his back. When you shake the puppy, if it doesn’t submit, pull its scruff toward the floor and pin him down. It is always important to remember, whenever you are being challenged, and the puppy submits, you must back off. This is natural dog behavior. It would be unnatural for the ‘alpha’ dog in the pack to continue to challenge a dog that had already submitted. If you continue, your puppy will become afraid of you and you’ll have a whole new set of problems.

It is imperative that your new family member has something to chew on. Don't give your puppy old toys that your children once owned, or toys that resemble your children’s toys. If you give him a tennis ball, don’t be surprised when he tears up the ones that you actually wanted to use in your practice. Don’t give him anything that can be confused with something you don’t want him to play with. He can’t tell the difference. This includes old socks, old shoes, rawhide toys that look like shoes, ropes, cloth toys, and plastic toys or stuffed animals. There is a huge variety of rawhide chews in strips, or in bone shapes. There are pig ears and snouts and many other dog oriented toys that will not confuse your puppy. When he chews on something that you don’t want him to, give him a little shake and immediately give him his own chew toy. This will reinforce what is appropriate for him to chew on.

Lastly, don’t let anyone in your home feed your new puppy from the table any human food whatsoever. Feeding your puppy in any place other than his bowl and feeding them human food creates really bad habits. Your dog is more susceptible to obesity, he begins to beg whenever you eat, embarrasses you by staring at your guests as they eat. Occasionally he may even snatch food away from you, or snag a bit off of your plate when you’re not looking. The best thing you can do for your dog is to feed him his own food, in his own bowl.

If you have other dogs, let them work out that hierarchy on their own, naturally. Don’t try to force your dog to accept another as the Alpha dog. That dog will have to prove that to your puppy the same way that you will have to.

Practicing these training procedures for the whole first year will give your puppy a clear picture of where he belongs in this family. He will easily be able to contribute and thrive in this new pack situation and he will understand it. It is okay for everyone in the family to be higher in the hierarchy then your dog. He will learn that life is still really great, even if he is not the ‘alpha’ dog.


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