Raising Puppies to Be Great Dogs
My program for raising intelligent, temperamentally sound puppies starts with a diligent program of early stimulation and learning enrichment activities. This includes raising the puppies in my home, socialization with adults and children, outings, plus a variety of toys, surfaces, animals, and activities.
The foundation of an intelligent, biddable dog lies in raising the young puppy to adapt comfortably and confidently to the world she or he will be living in--which will be different for every dog. I want to shape my puppies' brains to be bold and creative, but also to look to their humans for guidance and direction. I want each of my puppies to be "the best dog ever" for their owners, whether they are destined to be family companions or working guardians, or both. And they do.
"But won't that ruin a working LPD?"
You might come across some breeders of livestock protection dogs who still insist that puppies must be raised in the barn or pasture with minimal human contact, so they will 'bond to their flock' and not to people.
Run, don't walk... because that's not good puppy rearing, that's either laziness or blind adherence to baseless myth. Kangal puppies in Turkey are raised in the village and handled regularly by family and visitors. Kangal Dogs will attach to their flock, and guard them--it's in their nature. It is also in their nature to revere their people, and to be affectionate and playful. A dog that attacks people in the village is a dead dog. There's no need to turn dogs into sociopaths for them to do their job. In fact, it's a huge liability, especially in today's litigious society.
Learning begins as soon as as an animal is born. Neonates are handled regularly by me and a few close friends so that they develop—even before their eyes open—positive associations to human smells and touch. Once their eyes and ears are open and they become social beings, I provide a stimulating, enriching environment that engages all their senses and encourages them to explore on their own, and with their littermates. Odd surfaces, tunnels, toys on bungees, teeter boards, cardboard boxes—these and other interesting things are put into the puppy pen and changed out frequently.
During the next few weeks as they begin to wobble around and notice their littermates, puppies are absolute learning machines. What they experience during the "critical period" will profoundly affect the personality of the dog for life. Puppies raised in dull, isolated environments are more likely to grow up to be dull, skittish, or reactive as adults--and end up in shelters or worse. Puppies that are encouraged to play, to investigate, and to interact with people and animals are more likely to grow into intelligent, confident, and trainable adults.
For the current science on early puppy socialization, see this article by the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior.
What about training?
I am a long-time student and proponent of operant conditioning—because it is scientifically sound, it's humane, and because it works. The user of a well-timed marker for desirable behavior, followed by positive reinforcement (usually food), is the foundation of my approach to training dogs. And I am in good company because, despite the undeserved popularity of certain charismatic but unschooled TV personalities--positive training is used by the best and most effective modern trainers of dogs, horses, marine mammals, circus animals, and zoo animals.
I urge all my puppy owners, especially if the dog will be a family companion or on a small farm with regular visitors, to do your homework in advance and find a positive group training class that will take young puppies. Enroll ahead of time to start at 8-10 weeks of age if you can. It's a small investment that will pay off big time, even for full-time working dogs. The puppy will learn to focus on you when you ask for attention, with distractions around, and you will learn more about training a dog. No matter how experienced you are with dogs, a group training class is a humbling thing! It will also help prevent annoying behaviors from developing, and will deepen your relationship with your dog. Guaranteed. I am a professional trainer, but I always take group classes with a new dog.
By the time my puppies go to their new homes, they will be primed to learn. Regular handling and an interesting, varied environment fosters their curiosity, adaptability, resilience, biddability, and smarts. Continuing their education is important for all puppies, but especially for guardian breeds like the Kangal Dog. Why? Because they are naturally "conservative" dogs who like routine and sameness, and who are suspicious of people or objects that are “out of place.” We want a dog that is confident, but judicious. We want the "best dog ever." Let's make it so!