By Debbie Struff

Believe it or not show training a puppy begins in the whelping box!! Although I’m a firm believer in letting the mother do her job by taking care of the newborn puppies, at the same time it’s important to handle each and every puppy daily. Simply petting, cuddling and talking to the puppies is the beginning of their training.

Nail care as early as 3 days old is important too, trimming the tips off of the puppies nails at least weekly not only gets them used to having their feet touched but helps make mama much more comfortable during nursing.

At about 3 weeks old when they are up on their feet, or attempting to be, it’s time to start stacking. Yes stacking! Put each puppy on the grooming table daily, and gently get them to stand, by placing each individual foot in the general vicinity of where it should be. Caress their heads, look at their teeth (pretend they have some) and begin tickling under the tails.

Remember each lesson only lasts a minute or two with much of it being more petting, cuddling and talking which helps to make the entire grooming table experience a positive one. I do this with every puppy regardless of whether he or she is destined for the show ring or not. This training helps the puppies headed for pet homes by teaching them better manners and getting them used to being groomed and going to the Vet.

Surprisingly if you do this, by time the puppies are 6 weeks old, they’ll be stacking beautifully on the table. Ideally, I like to leash train them prior to ear cropping but that’s not always possible depending on our busy schedules. If you are unable to leash train prior to ear cropping, then it is best to wait for about 2 weeks after the cropping to let the ears heal.

I have found the best way is to purchase small show collars, either nylon or chain. You need to buy several sizes to accommodate the pups as they grow. Weather permitting, I also find it’s best to take them outside to leash break, their curiosity takes over their natural inclination to be stubborn and they begin to forget about the collar.

It’s important to never drag or force the puppy to go in a specific direction the first few sessions. Simply let the puppy wander and follow him/her. Once the puppy is used to the feel of the collar around it’s neck, then gently try to persuade it to follow you. Quick little snaps of the collar and lot’s of coaxing like clapping your hands, smacking your lips whatever little silly things you can do to get the puppy to follow you.

When the puppy is happily walking on the show lead with head up and no longer fighting, then it’s time to introduce stacking along with walking. Remember a successful stack at this age is about 10 seconds of standing still. I do not introduce bait until the puppies are fully trained.

Training with bait makes the puppy (and you) depend on bait for proper behavior. Bait should be used to enhance the performance and expression of a show dog. This will also give you the edge in the ring if you or your handler runs out of bait!!

When the training is done at this age, the puppy doesn’t even realize they’re being trained and it sticks with them for life. You don’t have to be a professional handler to be successful with this method of training but you will make your handler’s job much easier if you do it. You will most likely also have a puppy that grows up to be a happy show dog rather than one that would really rather be on the couch!!

Remember training sessions should be short and fun for the puppy.

With the foundation of Debbie’s training methods for the breed ring, we move on to greater accomplishments for our dual (or triple) Ring dog. Our first question might be, “Do we want a successful dual (or triple) ring Boxer with titles on both ends of it’s name?”

The answer should be a resounding “YES”! After all, Boxers are a working group dog and are known for their intelligence, energy, imagination and enthusiasm as well as their striking looks. Why short change these terrific all-around dogs by limiting their accomplishments?

Since we have made a commitment to starting early in our puppy’s training career; we should take full advantage of this opportunity and lay the groundwork for successful careers in obedience and agility as well as the breed ring.