Socialization at Home
One of the first and most important things that a puppy learns is who lives in his home and how he should behave around these people. The pup must learn how to respect the other pack members. Socialization should begin in a safe and familiar environment, so what place is better than in the puppy's new home?
As the owner, you must make sure that everyone in the family knows that the puppy should be treated like a puppy and not a little human in furry clothes. Further, everyone needs to know how to train in the same way. Everyone needs to learn how to teach the basic commands correctly. This is where the recall game (described on page 185) and other dog-related activities can become a family affair. Training is a very essential part of your puppy's early socialization, which includes learning how to learn and learning how to work well with each family member.
Family Socialization Basics
The issue of a dog not coming when called is a huge problem for many dog owners. Many dogs don't come when they are called because they don't get enough exercise, and the freedom of being off-leash is just too enticing. Without enough exercise and training, your boxer could take off for hours at a time. If you have a large enough and protected back yard, this may not be a problem, but most people do not have this luxury. Walks and training help to expend the energy that the puppy has, so start little walks with your pup, even if just in the backyard, and start to play the recall game as soon as the walk is over.
Having the ability to come when called (recall) is a very important part of socialization, and it can be critical in an emergency situation. By playing the recall game, you help expend puppy energy and build a very positive reaction in your pup to what it means to come.
Praise for Coming When Called
The point that your boxer should be praised for coming when called cannot be overemphasized. Furthermore, not being pleasant to your boxer when he comes on recall is one of the biggest mistakes inexperienced dog owners make.
Going to the park to play, then calling him when it's time to go home is almost guaranteed to make your boxer not want to come on recall. Why? It won't take him long to realize that when you call him at the park, the fun is over, and he might not be ready to end the fun. You can circumvent this problem by calling him to you and other family members several times during the outing, sometimes giving him a treat, or sometimes just to play with the slapstick. Then let him go have fun again.
The solution to not making the recall a sour exercise is for you to go get him for anything unpleasant, such as having his nails done or leaving the park, and making certain that the recall itself is always positive.
One of the quickest ways to kill a potential recall or, sometimes even to undo a good one is to do something that your boxer sees as unpleasant when you call him. This could be something like clipping nails, being put in his crate, taking a bath, or anything else that he doesn't like (although you should be working to make all these things as pleasant as possible). Of course, punishing him when he finally returns is a virtual guarantee that he will be unlikely to return to you on recall for some time!
When in Doubt, Keep Your Boxer on a Leash
Regardless of when you get your boxer — as a small puppy or as a larger dog — there will be some point in time when he is likely to test his mettle, or he is not yet proofed or mature enough to be off-leash in certain situations. Between four and eight months, he will decide there's a big, wide world out there that he is entitled to see, and he could run off to check it out.
Have your boxer's collar in hand before you offer the treat or toy when he comes on recall. Young children often have a hard time with this one. They simply want to give him the treat, but if he is rewarded first, then runs off, he has been rewarded for running off instead of coming. This can also have some unfortunate consequences and is not a behavior that you want to reinforce.
Even when older, your boxer might simply not be “proofed” enough (has not learned a recall in enough circumstances) not to chase a cat, a dog, a bicyclist, or anything else that grabs his attention. Letting your boxer off-leash in the wrong circumstances can have terrible outcomes. And he could learn only too well that you can't catch him if he runs away, and this seriously damages his recall.
Entering and Exiting Rules
Teaching your boxer when and how to pass through doorways is an important part of his in-home socialization and training. If he goes through the door first, he might have the impression he outranks human members of the pack, and you don't want that possibility to develop.
Secondly, if your boxer goes through doors first, he might assume that it is okay for him to do so any old time, and he might bolt out of a door or open gate into a street and get lost or worse. Make sure not only that your boxer does not go through a door or gate first but that he learns not to go through one at all unless someone in the family gives him an “Okay” command. This way, if someone accidentally leaves a gate open, your boxer may well stay safely in the yard. A sit/stay is a good thing to learn by doors, and a down/stay is handy for gates. Training and socialization merge at this point to create a dog that is very aware of the rules and is a canine good citizen as a result. A loose, running dog is generally not perceived as one that is well socialized.
Technically your boxer will never be eating at the table with you, so this refers to his manners around the dinner table, and specifically, around food. For starters, it is a good idea for children in the family to feed your boxer. It elevates them above the puppy's status if they control when, where, and how much he eats. In the beginning, it is a good idea for your pup to learn to sit and wait while his food is prepared.
While the adults in the family prepare the food, the children can supervise the puppy sitting and learning the sit/stay. When the food is ready the children can give the pup his dinner. They should always make him wait for an okay before he starts to eat. Everyone in the family should practice taking the pup's food away for short amounts of time (seconds, at most), with a wait (sit/stay) before giving it back. This exercise is not done to tease him. Instead, when performed in a very matter-of-fact way, it tells him that the benevolent pack leaders will keep him fed. This makes him learn that humans control food but that they are fair with it, and he will always get it back if he patiently does what is asked of him — to sit and wait.
To contribute to your boxer's good manners, never, ever feed him from the table. This rule is very hard for small children to follow. After all, here is their beloved boxer waiting patiently for a tidbit. And he'll probably even eat their unwanted vegetables. What more could a child ask for?
Here's the cardinal rule: Do not feed your boxer from the table. If you're having trouble keeping small children from feeding the dog from the table, it might be a good idea to put the boxer in a sit/stay a short distance away from the family dinner table while the family eats. This will go far toward solving the problem of bad table manners in the boxer, and is an essential part of his learning and socialization if you have friends and family over for dinner. This training will reduce his expectation of food from people around the dinner table and tend to instill in him a respect for guests in the house because they get to eat, and he does not — a simple reinforcement of good manners around humans not in his family or pack.