It is very important to establish your pack structure when raising a new puppy. If your puppy does not have a solid pack structure, it may grow up to be dominant and/or obnoxious dog. We all know dogs are pack animals and have a pack leader and lower ranking pack members. You need to establish yourself as the pack leader to your new puppy. All the love you can give your puppy will not establish this.
A litter of puppies begins to establish their place in the pack as early as 4 weeks old by playing with each of their littermates. The litter's mother establishes herself as the pack leader in this setting by protecting her litter and also can prevent the puppies near her food while she is eating. Pack leaders are calm, confident, fair and does not bully the pack members. A pack leader establishes a set of rules that the pack members know and understand they are expected to live by.
One of the best ways to start establishing yourself as the pack leader is with feeding. When it is time to feed, the puppy must do something, like sit, before you put the food bowl down. Once you place the food bowl down, leave the puppy alone until it is time to pick it up. We usually leave food down for approximately 15-20 mins and then we pick the bowl up. Establishing yourself as the pack leader is also learned through formal obedience training if done correctly.
When you bring your new 8 week old puppy home, it has only experienced its pack interactions with its mother and littermates. The puppy thinks it is still able to interact with its new family pack by chasing and biting. By doing this, it is trying to find its rank in this new family pack. You need to teach the new puppy that you are the new pack leader and the biting and chasing of higher pack members is not allowed. These small challenges can not be ignored.
We feel crate training is a must. A puppy should always be brought home with a crate. You need to teach the puppy that running around wild in the house is not allowed. When the puppy is in the house, it is either in a crate or it has a line attached to its collar. Another simple but effective way to establish yourself as the pack leader is to control every aspect of the puppies life. When you are not able to watch the puppy, it needs to go into its crate.
At first and for the next few days, the pup may scream and bark its head off in the crate. If this happens, place the crate somewhere you can close a door so you don't have to hear it. You can put a sheet over the crate, put a toy in the crate, have a radio or TV on to drown out the screaming or barking to help. With time the puppy calms down and it also learns manners in the house. Only when the pup is calm does it get out of the crate, as long as you know it doesn't need to go to the bathroom. Never let it out if its screaming or barking, this will only teach it that is how it gets out.
It is important once the puppy begins biting and playing with the family pack that the biting is redirected to a toy. It is important to teach the puppy that toys are the prey and not your hands, feet, legs, and clothes.
Another simple thing to do in the house to establish yourself as the pack leader is that you go through the doorway before the puppy. The best thing to do is have the puppy sit before going through the door to get outside. This will prevent the puppy to grow up thinking it is "ok" to bolt out the door to get outside, which can also be a safety concern.
When playing with the puppy, again we always have a line on its collar. This helps to teach the puppy to get use to having a line on it and to ignore it. The toys you have for the puppy to play with are not left out laying around. You need to control when the puppy plays and when its time to stop. The toys are taken away when the play session is over. This again teaches that you are the pack leader and you control the puppy's life. When it is time to take the toy, we say "Aus", which means out. This will teach the puppy when we give this command it is to let go of whatever is in its mouth. You do not have to use "Aus" but be consistent with what ever word you use. You can use a treat to trade for the toy but that may only last for some time.
These are ways we establish ourselves as the pack leader to our new puppy. Being seen as the pack leader through the puppy's eyes is extremely important! It is very important to be fair, calm, and consistent. Also, when we are walking the puppy outside, we do not allow other dogs to greet it. We do not know how the other dog will react and the puppy will look to you, as the pack leader, to protect it.
Bill Kennedy has been working and training full service K9's for over ten years.