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Are You the Leader of Your Pack?

The Family Pack

     Dogs experience frustration when they don’t know who is in control of their territory and when they don’t know which of their actions are acceptable and which are not. Depending on the dog’s personality, this might manifest itself in the dog taking over as the leader to the point of growling and snapping or of urinating and defecating in the house after he has been well house-trained.

     It is vitally important that you understand the leader concept. Establishing the rules of the game can be done easily during puppyhood, and results in a dog that fits into the life-style of your home. The role of leader is abdicated by many people because they see it as the lion-tamer-with-a-whip concept, or as a dictator complex with no pleasant communication allowed. This is not the case at all. In a good dog/person relationship (with you as the dominant member), mutual respect is absolutely necessary. The person must respect the dog and must understand the physical and social needs unique to being a canid. On the other hand, the dog must respect you, and he will if he is treated with consistency and if he knows the rules that you have established are for his benefit. Dogs need guidelines and need to know the limits.

This dog is learning that he is expected to stay in his “place” and not enter the dining area.

How Do You Become the Leader?

     It isn’t a short-term battle of wills in which you are the victor and the puppy is vanquished. Leadership is built on daily routine. Being the leader doesn’t mean that you must be big and aggressive. A small woman can be the dominant member. It’s an attitude —an air of authority. It’s the basis for the mutual respect that is so important for building a bridge of communication between the two of you.

     Many dominance activities are a part of the puppy training routine. “Sit” is the most important command that your pup can learn because it is so easy to use as a reminder that you’re in charge. Tell the pup “sit” before you feed him, before you play with him, and before you let him go outside. This shows the pup that he must respond to you before he indulges in pleasure for himself and keeps him from becoming a spoiled brat.

This puppy is learning to sit before he is given his ball.

     As you’re teaching him to sit, praise him with a pat on the chest, which is in itself a means of impressing your leadership position on the puppy. Leaning over is canine language for dominance. (In fact, if you have an especially sensitive or shy puppy you want to avoid leaning over the pup because it may intimidate him.)

     Another good leader exercise involves combining the come with taking the pup on a walk without a leash. For this, you should take the puppy to an area that’s uncrowded, preferably a greenbelt area with no people at all, or in the off-season, a fenced tennis court. Most three-month-old pups won’t want to get too far away from you, which is another reason why this is a good age. Go for a walk together, and when the pup gets about ten to twenty feet away, get his attention by calling his name and clapping your hands. When he looks at you, kneel down and call him to you. Give him lots of praise when he gets to you and continue your walk, repeating this another three or four times. If you have an independent puppy that ignores you, try running away from him. Many pups can’t resist that and will follow. If you have a very independent puppy, begin calling him when he’s no more than eight feet away and give him a small piece of cheese or some other good treat as soon as he comes to you. This exercise reminds the puppy that you’re always there and that you’re the leader who must be reported to every so often.

A young puppy learning to come from a short distance away.

     You’ll be accepted as the family leader by your dog when you’re consistent and fair in your demands. For example, if you let the pup jump on you one day and the next day you punish him for doing the same thing, the pup will be confused and wonder when he can do something and when not.

     The family leader doesn’t permit the puppy to growl or snap at him.. A loud “no” and a firm “sit” lets your dog know who is in charge. However, if you don’t correct the pup, you’re asking for big trouble later. Give some thought as to what stimulus provoked the growl or snap. If the pup has been treated unnecessarily rough, it’s up to you to change the situation.

How Does a Dog Become the Leader?

     Very easily. He’s either ignored most of the time or overindulged and smothered with attention. He isn’t trained. He isn’t taught the difference between good and bad and so he establishes his own criteria with himself as the center of attention. As a result, he may become not very pleasant for you or your friends and neighbors to live with. It’s supposed to be the other way around—the dog is living in your world. Someone has to call the shots, and both you and your dog will be happier if it’s you.


     Guide the puppy to behave the way you want him to from the time you bring him home. Be patient. Behavior development takes time. If you’re relaxed and don’t turn every act of your puppy into a major battle, you’ll find that having a puppy in the house is one of the most delightful experiences you’ve ever had and that sharing your house with a mature dog that respects you is deeply rewarding.

Excerpted from How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With written by Clarice Rutherford and David H. Neil.


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