Puppies and Leadership
Puppies and Leadership
Megan Brooks CDT, CGC Evaluator
It is never too early to begin setting limits for your puppy. Puppies easily can get away with behaviors because they are so cute or because they are small. They are often allowed to do things that wouldn’t be acceptable from an adult dog. Now is a crucial learning time for your puppy and it is important for you to teach your puppy what is expected from him now, and what is expected from him forever.
What your puppy is looking for is just a stable pack leader who can confidently run the show and keep the pack safe. When there is no leader, dogs do not feel safe. In an attempt to look out for the best interest of the pack, unsuitable dogs or puppies will attempt to step up to the position. Your puppy descends from many generations of wild dogs who all behaved in the same way. It is called “pack instinct” or “pack drive” and all dogs have it, regardless of breed. Nothing you can do will change this way of thinking. Training it out of a dog is impossible. Instead, you must accept that if you share your life with dogs, even just one dog, that you now live in a pack.
You may not see your puppy’s subtle attempts at dominance. You may not think such a young puppy is capable of dominance already. When they come into this world they must continually determine “Who is leader now?” and when we, as humans, fail to step up as leaders our dogs need to take on the position themselves out of sheer necessity. Now keep in mind, most dogs are not cut out to be leaders and it causes them a great deal of stress, which becomes obvious in their behavior. They may bark, bite or act fearful. They may whine excessively or show signs of separation anxiety when their humans leave. They may become possessive of food, toys or even humans.
Now is the time to teach your puppy where in your pack she fits!
What does it mean to be a “leader” of a dog pack?
Leaders by nature are calm, confident and consistent. They don’t panic in the face of perceived danger and instead handle everything calmly and in a matter-of-fact manner. Leaders never coddle their followers nor do they lavish attention on them. Leaders don’t give in to demands from pack members and usually ignore any attempts.
In the wolf pack the leader controls all resources and good things. This includes food, play and sleeping arrangements. The leader chooses when to hunt, makes the kill, feeds himself and then chooses when to allow the pack members to eat. Pack followers know their position and will respect the leaders wishes. When he returns from a hunt to followers cannot contain their excitement and jump all over him, licking his face. He calmly ignores all of the excessive attention.
Teaching your puppy where she fits in the pack is easy if you are consistent with the program. There is never any bullying involved and yelling and getting physical would only confuse your puppy and make her trust you less. If you follow the guidelines every day you will be giving your puppy a consistent message that she can understand.
1. Control Food
Remember, the leader is always in charge of the food. He eats first so whenever possible, schedule your puppy’s mealtimes directly after yours. At mealtimes and for any food given to the dog ask her to “sit” and “wait” while you put the food bowl down on the floor. Choose a word to release her to go eat such as “OK”.
2. The Walk
The walk is probably the most important way you can get the leadership message to your puppy. The walk simulates daily migration as well as the hunt. The walk is about exercise but now is also used to provide structure to your puppy’s routine. While on the walk you are focused on walking and there is no sniffing, peeing or lollygagging allowed. If your puppy stops, keep moving forward. Expect your puppy to walk beside you or slightly behind. Never allow your dog to lead the walk that would give the message that she is, in fact, leading the show. In the middle of the walk is a good time to use a flexi-leash and allow your dog to explore with your permission for a few minutes until it is time to head home. On the way home it is back to structure again all the way there.
* Note- this is intended for puppies who have mastered walking on the leash. Never drag your puppy to teach her to walk. If your puppy keeps forging ahead, change directions swiftly. Keep doing it until your puppy is focused on you and where you might be going next.
3. Control Play
Unlike wolves, dogs do not grow out of their desire to play. It is, however, always at the leaders discretion who plays and when. The leader starts and stops all doggy games! You can easily take over this position by initiating games using a special toy or training with your puppy. (I do not recommend wrestling or rough play with dogs) Always end the game before your puppy is done and put the toy away. When your dog brings you a toy in attempt to get you to play, take the toy and ignore your dog for awhile. Later, call her to you to play a game.
4. No Free Lunch
Never give your dog anything for free! This means food but it can include so many other privileges your puppy wants. You control all good things that your puppy enjoys- food, affection, car rides, walks, meals, etc. When you allow your puppy to indulge for free it can give her the wrong idea about who is running the show. From now on, ask your dog to do something, even if it is just a simple “sit” in order to earn anything good. For example, ask her to “sit” to put her leash on, jump in the car or to be petted.
5. Control ALL Doorways
From now on, all doorways have a new meaning. They are a leadership message to your puppy and you must always go first! Stairways, hallways and other narrow spaces also apply. When walking through any doorway with your dog ask them to “sit” and “wait” for permission to step through. You may go through together or you enter first, if your dog dashes through first make sure you go back and do it again. Take the time to teach your puppy never to dash past you by turning and going the other way when she does.
* Tip- using a leash helps!
6. Control Sleeping Arrangements
I usually recommend dogs not be allowed on the furniture, especially on your bed. Allowing them to use our prime spot has a way of elevating their status in their minds. If you do choose to share your space with your puppy ensure you always occupy the space first and then call your dog to join you. If you come to bed and she is there you should ask her to move.
7. Greeting Your Dog
Remember the alpha wolf? He returns and everyone goes wild? Everyone goes wild but he remains calm and ignores all of the attention. You will use the same attitude to convey the message that you are leader. When you return home ignore your puppy for at least 10 minutes and until she calms down. If she is kenneled, take her outside but do not engage with her. Don’t even make eye contact! After 10 minutes and when she is calm, call her to you to offer affection.
8. Control Affection
This is perhaps the hardest because we love to hold and hug and kiss puppies. Unfortunately, doing so fulfills our needs but can leave our puppies confused. Too much affection and snuggling can have devastating consequences. It is very important to try to only offer affection at appropriate times. Never offer affection to a scared dog or one that is showing aggression or too much excitement. When we try to give them affection as we would a human being it instead gives them the message that we want them to act this way. Petting a fearful dog and talking to him in a soothing voice rewards fearful behavior. Also never give your puppy affection when he comes to you for it. Already this is demanding behavior and if your puppy gets his way he is learning how to manipulate you. Call your puppy to you for affection. This rewards coming to you when called.
Great job! Your puppy is getting the idea. You are the boss and you never even had to yell or get physical. When you are leader your dog will always trust your judgment and do what you say. No longer will you have the problem of worrying that your dog won’t listen or obey. It is not easy to be in a leadership position always. It will take some practice to be able to act like the leader of a dog pack all the time.
Remember, dogs live completely in the moment and the leader position will need to be constantly enforced. When you begin to slack on the procedure you may instantly notice that your dog behaves differently. To avoid this, stick to the program every day.
Last Updated: Monday, February 08, 2010