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Puppy Gus - training a big dog

Little Gus is only 10 weeks old, and he's growing quickly (by 2.5 kg/week lately).  He's a Great Dane crossed with a Ball Arab (which is not a recognised breed, its a cross between German Shorthaired Pointer, Bull Terrier and Greyhound).  So we really don't know how big he's going to get, but possibly close to Great Dane size, which is giant compared to any other dogs we've owned.  Gus is our future security system, and with is likely large size, its really important that he is obedient and responsive to commands.

eight acres: training a big dog
Gus' future collar

Gus is only the second puppy that I've owned, so I still have much to learn about training dogs.  When we got Taz we also bought a set of DVDs on training cattle dogs ("Untold Secrets of Raising Working Dogs"), which has some good general information about puppies and we have a few books as well.  The most important point on that DVD is that a puppy's relative maturity should be thought of as months equal to human years.  So a 10 month old puppy is equivalent to a 10 year old child in relative maturity to an adult.  At the moment Gus is only at a 2-3 year old level, so we can't expect too much from him.

This is what I wrote about Taz when she was a pup:

What I've learnt about puppies

Dog years and Puppy months - Training Taz
And here's a few things that we've learnt from Gus, who came to us at 7 weeks old, compared to Taz, who was already 12 weeks old when we got her:

The puppy box works, even though there was crying at first
Poor Gus did not like being in his box at first, but now he is used to it, he will hop in there anytime he needs a break.  For the first few days we put Gus in his box anytime we were away and overnight.  After that he made himself at home in Taz' bed overnight, so I left him there.  The first morning that I had to leave for work, I had given them a bone each, but still Gus was crying so much that Taz just stood and barked at him!  I had to leave them to it (sorry neighbours!).  Fortunately things have improved, and although he may still whinge a little, I think he's pretty happy in there now.

eight acres: training a big dog

Having an older dog around helps with puppy entertainment and discipline 
Taz has been a great source of babysitting and they will play endlessly.  If Gus can't get the toy he will leap of Taz and bite her neck.  She then has to drop the toy to bite him back.  So far its all been good fun, but I'm relying on her to teach him some doggy manners if he starts to bite too hard.  Its better coming from her than from us.  A friend also suggested that teaching him to play ball will help to focus his "prey drive" so he might leave the chickens alone (as Taz does).

eight acres: training a big dog

Younger puppies can't hold their bladder as long
One of the books we have said that puppies can only hold their bladders for as many hours as they are weeks old (therefore at 7 weeks, he could hold it for 7 hours).  For the first week, he wet his bed every day, and there were a few accidents on the veranda (he hasn't been coming inside at all).  We didn't get mad, it wasn't his fault.  We have a system now where we feed the dogs as soon as we get up.  Then we have breakfast and take the dogs for a walk, in which time they will both relieve themselves.  Then Gus goes in his box for the day.  When we get home from work Gus has a "snack" of puppy biscuits and then I make sure that they both run around for a while so that he goes on the grass (and not the veranda!).  This seems to be working and I think it will get better as he gets older.

eight acres: training a big dog

You can start training for short periods
So far Gus has learnt his name and "sit".  We just keep using all the commands with him, even though he doesn't know them yet, things like "down" and "don't touch", I think the more we say them the easier they will sink in eventually.  I've also had him on a leash to teach him to stop jumping up when he's excited (mostly at meal times).  He learnt sit in just a few minutes of practice a day (with treats).

eight acres: training a big dog

Having a puppy is hard work.  He's very cute, but I'm just waiting for him to start chewing and destroying things.  Do you have any tips to share?  Does anyone else have a BIG dog?  


  1. I love dogs and we always used to have Cocker Spaniels when I was growing up. They didn't go to Dog Obedience at all so weren't really trained but they were gorgeous. You are going to end up with a very big dog I would think, Liz. I hope he doesn't eat you out of house and home when he becomes a teenager. LOL!He is very cute!

  2. He's gorgeous! We've got a Great Dane X German Shepherd since a couple of months. A rescue dog of 3,5 years old. He's big, playful but very gentle. Responds very good to commands, he quickly picked up new commands. Calm and sleep a lot, doesn't bark. Not much of a watch dog, but wouldn't let anything happen to his family. A great family dog, very well loved by kids and visitors. Mostly characteristics of a Great Dane I've been told.

  3. ohhh he is just adorable! sorry don't have any tips, i used to only do the basics with all my dogs.
    taught them all to wait for their food & not to just dive in & knock bowls out of hands, same with bones, all taught the 'gentle' command & also taught them to give their bones back (had friends with babies who just loved playing with the dogs, esp give food & take it back, so funny to watch) the dogs were always well behaved. punishment was put on a chain & ignored for a couple of hours. none of mine barked, bull terrier crosses. always friendly & loved visitors as much as their human pets did.
    great post & hope you have many enjoyable & fun years with Gus
    thanx for sharing

  4. Well depends on what you mean by BIG. We have Sir Steve, a very gentle and sweet old Labrador. He's not Great Dane/Bull Arab BIG but he has a BIG appetite. I expect Little Gus is going to have a big appetite too! Thus, my tip is to find a really good home-made pet food recipe cause I don't think Little Gus will be little for long! I seem to remember that Rhonda, over at Down to Earth, once posted the dog food she cooked up for her dogs. Meg:)

  5. Gus is so adorable it would be difficult not to spoil him, but you are so very wise Liz, and you know that spoiling him would only make him a difficult dog when he's fully grown. This is the biggest mistake made by people, thus the overload of beautiful dogs in shelters, and it drives me to distraction with annoyance! Your advice should be read by all puppy owners. So good to read someone with good plain common sense. Congratulations and please keep writing about the many fun, and difficult, stages of Gus' life. :)

  6. We were taught by a trainer of security dogs, to never let our German Shepherd x Rotty, eat the food we put out, until we gave them a command word. Ours was "dugging", which is really slang for dig in. In a pack of dogs in the wild, the others don't get to eat until the alpha gives them the signal to. Which is why, if you're dealing with big dogs, making it known they cannot eat until you give them the command, asserts your position of alpha every day.

    Our large dog, showed amazing restraint as we waited the five seconds after placing her bowl down, before issuing the command. Sometimes when she didn't hear us properly, she'd still wait and look up at us, expectedly. We'd repeat it, she'd start eating and we'd pat her. That was another thing taught to us, about training large dogs. Make a habit of patting them after they start eating, which avoids possessiveness. If your dog is growling when it comes to you being around the food, that means they don't believe you're the alpha. They're acting dominant, which for a big dog, is not good for the owners.

    So make it a habit to handle everything Gus takes into his mouth. You can use the "drop", command if they're reluctant at first, but it shouldn't involve any growling on their part. All they need is a lot of praise, when you successfully remove the things from them, they want to possess. Make it a positive experience.

    I would also recommend having a safe place for Taz to escape to, which Gus cannot access when he's older. I know a person who loved their dogs and did everything right, but a particular breed of dog of theirs, ganged up on the smaller one and it ended fatally. They assumed the bond between their dogs would be strong enough to curtail aggressiveness, when they left the house for the day. Especially when that dog helped raised them from puppies, much like Taz is doing for Gus.

    Sorry for the downer, but I'd much rather put it out there for consideration, than remain silent. Because it will be harder for Taz to assert the same amount of dominance, when Gus is eventually towering over them. So focus on training and loving Gus with every hope he'll be a good friend to Taz in the long run. But have a safe place for Taz to enter, but Gus can't, when he's much bigger and you guys might not be home for most of the day.

  7. those pictures are so cute i cant stand it! ha! yay! i especially love the one of Gus all stretched out. what a funny boy!

  8. I know it's pretty obvious, but it bears repeating. Never allow a puppy to nip your hands in play. It's a natural play behaviour for them but so difficult to stop the habit once allowed and especially dangerous in a big dog.

  9. We recently had to surrender a big dog which was very very sad. She was a rescue dog so we didn't really know her history when we took her on. All went well for a couple of months but then she began to play roughly with our other smaller dog. Despite advice from professional trainers the two dogs who had been getting on well and playing, began to fight. We could not seperate them when we were were not here so we made the tough decision to surrender the larger dog. She was adopted by another family and our existing two dogs continue to live together as friends so it has worked out well but it certainly caused a lot of stress when the fighting began.

  10. One its ONE hour per month of age for potty holding ;) .... Danes arent really watch dogs , they are breed to hunt lions in small packs ..... Good thing you have roaming space for exercise but till about 12 months make sure NOT to over do it ....


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