A couple of weeks ago i went out to dinner with friends and during the course of the evening, joked several times about my puppy raising philosophy - "ya just toss them out in the backyard until they're 6 months old, then you bring them in and they're pretty much house trained, etc". You had to be there i guess but it was a pretty funny joke. And actually, it's not really that far off from the puppy raising method that has developed at my house, in raising i don't know how many puppies over time. My baby puppies aren't "house dogs" in the strict sense of the phrase, with me hovering over them trying to housetrain and entertain them so they stay out of trouble. I really seem to stay too busy any more for that kind of puppy raising though my first dogs were raised that way.
I'll describe a typical day for Meg to illustrate what puppy life is like for a Shoofly dog. She sleeps in a crate in the kitchen, near the back door. First thing in the morning, i let her out of her crate and straight outdoors with the rest of the dogs. After a few minutes, most of the older dogs come in, while Meg and Bill (the designated puppy raiser dog) stay outside to run around and play while i get ready for work, usually for about 1.5 hours or so. While i'm at work, the dogs all stay in individual 10x10 runs in a shaded area. As soon as i get home in the afternoon, we all pile in the van and go to the farm. Some days some of the dogs get worked while we're there, others they just have to hang out while i'm doing other stuff (lessons, sheep care, whatever). I try to give them all a good walk/run every evening before we head home, spending some time together meandering around. Then back home where Meg and Bill get more free time to run around and play in the back yard after dinner. Until recently, Meg would come in at bedtime and go straight in her crate. Now, at 7 months old, she's getting a little free "floor time" to hang out with everyone in the living room and chew on bones or play quietly with toys before being put away for the night. So far, my housetraining "method" seems to have worked and she's not had any accidents in the house.
About the only things i make a real effort to teach puppies are to respond to my voice appropriately (give me attention when i ask, take a voice correction when it's offered), recall (i'm adamant about this from day 1 - dog should come and load in the truck when i ask) and usually i'll teach them a sit and sometimes a down, just for the sake of having it done. I try to make sure they're not pestering the other dogs too badly (for example, Meg keeps hanging off Zac's neck, to the point of making scabby areas) and that they don't act like crazy fools with other people and dogs. But really, i leave some of my puppy raising to my designated puppy raiser dog (a.k.a. Bill right now) in the backyard.
I suppose i could just be rationalizing about all of this, since time constraints have a lot to do with why i raise puppies this way, but i actually feel this method works well for the future stockdog. When the puppy is a few months old, and mentally and physically ready to take a little training pressure, i start to ask a bit more from him or her around the house. I also start putting the puppy on sheep about this time as well, and for many it's like a huge lightbulb goes off over their heads, as they decide i am WAY COOL since i control the access to sheep. This is happening with Meg right now. She's been a pretty independent little puppy (okay, a little snothead!), always having to think twice about whether she wants to come when she's called or even hear that i've said something. After just a couple of times on sheep, she's looking at me in a whole new light.
You'll notice that i don't spend a great deal of time "teaching" my puppies a lot of things. It's more about showing the pup what isn't allowed or appreciated as he or she tries out new things, and trying to create a well-behaved canine citizen of the pack and world. This fits extremely well with future stockdog training, where i'll spend lots of time letting the dog try things out and offering behaviors, only telling the dog what's the wrong thing, rather than trying to coax out the right thing through "teaching". It's that old saw about "make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult" - i tend to just let my puppies be puppies as long as they're not doing something that needs correcting, and let them find their way. I may be wrong but i think this results in a dog that has a little more initiative as an adult, a little more self-confidence, and one that looks to me for instruction less. This to me is the ideal attitude to foster in a stockdog. When the grown dog is a mile away with stock, i want him or her to be able to reach down inside and do what he knows is right rather than wait on me to tell him what i want him to do. A good stockdog should have lots of initiative.