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Groundwork to Becoming
Your Puppy's Pack Leader
by Ed Frawley

A year or two ago, I wrote an article titled "The Ground Work to Becoming a Pack Leader." This article has been well-read but over time, it has become obvious that I should have written two articles: one for adult dogs and one for puppies. This article will address the ground work that should be done with puppies.

When people bring home an 8-week-old puppy home, their first concerns are “What should I feed my puppy?" and "How do I stop it from peeing on the floor?” These are important and credible concerns but equally important and often ignored is the concept of how to establish yourself as your new pup's pack leader.

The average dog owner does not have a clue about how strong the genes are that control their puppy's temperament, personality, and drives. Puppies that don’t have a sold pack structure grow up to become dominant and obnoxious adult dogs.

This article will explain how we raise a new puppy in our home.

I have owned and trained dogs for 45 years, and bred over 350 litters of German Shepherds since 1978. Cindy has owned dogs her entire life and has done serious competition training since 1984. I only tell you these things so you can see that we have a lot of experience and expertise in this area. God knows there are enough people out there with little to no experience who will also offer you advice on this subject.


Pack Structure

When a puppy is raised with littermates they begin to establish their family pack at about 4½ weeks of age. They start by playing with one another.

They bite and push each other around. Those pups that bite the hardest and push the most become the higher ranking pack members of the litter.

With that said, there is no question that the mother is the pack leader. A good mother will exert her leadership by warning puppies to stay away from her food bowl when she is eating. She protects her litter which demonstrates leadership and she also controls the litter in subtle ways that establish her as the pack leader.


What is a pack leader?

Upong getting a puppy, an individual must establish themselves as the new pack leader. To do this correctly, this individual should understand what a pack leader is.

Pack leaders are aloof, calm, and also self-confident. Additionally, the pack leader is fair especially with how he lives with his members. Although he may be a dictator, he is a fair dictator who enforces a well-defined set of rules that members must know, understand, and are expected to live by.

Now a pack leader DOES NOT lost his temper, bullies his members into compliace, or act in an unfair manner concerning the lives of his pack members.

The Pack leader will always eat first, getting his choice of meats. The lower ranking members don't get the choice. When the leader is finished, he turns the food over to the other pack members. He doesn't drive them away from the food. People who put down food and then take it away or push the dogs away from the food bowl are bullies. The dogs will see them as such. Doing so is not practicing fair leadership principles.

The right way to feed your dog is making him do something before putting the food down. Telling him to simply SIT is fine. Once you set the food down, leave it alone until it is time to pick it up. We leave food down for 15 minutes and then pick it up, even if the dog hasn't eaten at all.

It is very easy to bully your way into a leadership position. Bullying only destroys the relationship between the owner and dog. We suggest you take the other route to cultivate the bond.

Pack members need to trust, feel relaxed, and comfortable in my presence. The only way this can happen is if they now the rules and anticipate our expections. When that happens, they know they are being treated fairly. If the rules are ignored, they will suffer the consequences.

This leadership relationship is a learned endeavor. It’s learned through the day to day experiences of living with an owner who establishes and enforces rules. It’s also learned through formal obedience training.

But with this said, I tell people that hundreds of thousands of dogs go through obedience classes in this country every year. The vast majority of dominant dogs come out of these classes just as dominant as when they went in. That’s because the owners were not trained in pack structure.

Puppies who grew up and became dominant and aggressive dogs were always raised by people who did not establish the correct family pack structure.


Where does it start?

When a puppy comes to your home, the only experience its had was with its mother and littermates. It sees that things have changed, but it has no reason to believe that how it interacts with a family pack has changed.

As a puppy, it has played with its fellow littermates either by chasing or biting. When it comes into your home, that is how it'll interact with you.

It may take a few days before it starts the chasing and the biting but once it accepts you as his new family and your home as its new place, it will attempt to interact with you in the same way it has with its littermates.

When puppies are trying to bite or chase you, it's trying to find a rank within the new packing order of your family.

Your job is to teach the puppy that you are the new pack leader. You need to be cautious about this--don't scare the pup. Scaring the pup can develop behavioral issues and it may make your bond with the pup a lot more difficult to establish. Now with the pup, you need to teach that chasing and biting your family members (high-ranking) is unacceptable. It's a simple concept but executing it is quite difficult. Many individuals will ignore this concept and others will overreact to it. You need to find the middle road.

Ignoring this behavior will end up with a dominant dog. If you use too much force, you also end up with a shy dog that never reaches their potential.


Establishing the Tether

We will always use a dog crate when we bring a new pup home. Not using a dog crate is a mistake. There are some individuals out there who refuse to use a crate for thier dog. If you happen to be one of those people, I advise you to stop reading. You're wasting you're time here. In the wild, dogs live in dens. Dens are secure and safe. The crate is similar to that of a den and it's in a dog's nature to feel secure and safe in the home. Not only that but the crate is an excellent training tool. Individuals who let their dogs roam free in their homes the day they get the dog is NOT establishing pack structure.

Now the first goal we want to achieve is this: limiting the possbility of housetraining mistakes. We also need to teach the pup that it won't ever get a chance to be wild in the house--it's just not going to happen.

So in the beginning, many of our interactions with a new pup is done outside. We will use a flat collar with a snap alongside with the 20 foot cotton lines we have. We let the pup drag the line while it plays.

This isn't a housetraining article but I wanted to make it clear that teaching a dog to pee or poop while on a line is a smart thing to do. You will find out how smart it is if you ever have to travel with your dog.

We never let the puppy run around in the house. It will always have a line on it. Is there any better way to establish our leadership than to control every aspect of the pup's life?

Allowing puppies to run around un-tethered is merely asking for problems that will eventually come up. These puppies are going to get into things, are going to pee on othe floor, or are going to jump up and play bite.

When we're tired of dealing with the pup, it goes into its crate. It may scream like a banshee for a few days but ignore it. Just put him in the garage and let it scream its head off.

For those who don't have a garage, you can leave a radio or TV on or cover the crate with a sheet. You can also leave one of the toys with treats in the crate or leave a cow knuckle bone to chew on.

When time passes, the puppy will calm down and learn manners. IF it doesn't calm down, it stays in the crate.

I don't let anyone pet or play with my puppy. I want to be the center of the universe for my dog. The puppy shouldn't be looking to other people as a source of praise and fun.


Controlling the Wild Puppy

When people get puppies with a lot of prey drive, they are often at a loss as to what to do to control the little alligator they now live with.

The simple answer is to redirect the puppy into a toy.

As I explained earlier, puppies play by using their mouth. They see littermates as prey objects. When they come into your home and start chewing on you, they see you as a prey item. Your job is to teach them that toys are now prey items and not your hands, arms and legs.

Some puppies will pick up on this concept pretty quickly, some will not. Those that are little biting machines need additional work. In the DVD I titled "Dealing with Dominant and Aggressive Dogs" I demonstrate exactly how to handle this kind of puppy without hurting its drive or temperament. I show how to teach a wild puppy to calm down and knock it off without shaking it or hitting it or raising your voice. If you have this problem I recommend that you get this DVD.


Doors and Gates

Going through doors, going through gates, and coming down stairs first are a huge things in terms of rank for a dog. All dogs, puppies or adults, get excited when it's time to be let out or time to come back in the house. Without training they will all bolt out the door. This is not only annoying, it can be dangerous.

From day one we control the pups at the door. They are always on a line and we always make the pup sit for food when we go outside or come back inside. In fact, we even make the dog sit when we step outside before we close the door.

Establishing a routine at the door again enforces your rank and control over the dog. Don’t underestimate the importance of this.


Toys

There is no question that people quickly fall in love with their puppies. Many buy their pets toys. I recently saw a reality TV show in which a women spent over $100 a week buying her dog new toys. Boy, do I wish I could send her a catalog.

With this said, we don’t leave toys lying around our home. We take the approach that the dog does not own any toys. The toys are our toys and we allow the pup to play with “OUR TOYS.” But we always take the toys away when the play time is finished.

Once again this demonstrates leadership without pressure. It’s not domineering but it makes it clear that you are the leader.

With little pups we experiment to find toys that interest them. Sometimes it’s a puppy tug, sometimes is an orbee ball, sometimes it’s one of the other various dog toys we sell.

When we play with pups we always have it wear a line. This does two things. It stops them from playing keep away, and it conditions them to forget that they have a line on.

I explain exactly how to play with pups in my DVD "Building Drive and Focus." I will not go into that here, only to say that through our play we teach our pup that we are fair. We don’t bully him and we teach him that if he gives us the toy when told the game will sometimes go on and not end.

This is accomplished by immediately tossing the toy and starting the game all over again after we ask him to release the toy.


Taking the Toy Away From the Puppy

After play, when it comes time to take the toy away we say “OUT” (any word will do as long as we are consistent and stick with the same word) and offer to trade the pup a really good treat for the toy.

We simply let them smell the treat and when they spit out the toy they get the food. If we want the game to end we do a slight of hand to get the toy out of the picture and make it disappear. We don’t tease them with the toy once we take it away. That’s poor leadership and is counter productive to a good bond.

Trading food for toys is only going to last so long. Many dogs will start to look at you like “OH NO – I KNOW THAT TRICK – I STILL WANT TO PLAY."

When that happens we change our approach and move on to the second stage of teaching the dog to release when told. That training is beyond the scope of this article but it’s covered in "Building Drive and Focus."


Other Dogs and Puppies

I have written extensively about the fact that we never allow our puppies to be around other dogs or puppies. If we are raising two pups at the same time, we never allow them to play together. We want our pups to look at us as their source of fun and excitement and not another dog.

I get emails all the time from people who have serious behavioral problems because they mistakenly bought two pups which are now 12 to 24 months old. These dogs are now anti-social and are more difficult to train. Many have aggression problems.

A word of caution to those who live in urban areas which have dog parks. Don't take your new puppy to a dog park. You are only asking for problems if you do. Read the article I wrote on dog parks to learn more about this.

If we are out for a walk and are approached by another person walking their dog, we NEVER allow the other dog to come up and smell or greet our puppy. I cannot stress this enough.

We don't know how territorial or dog aggressive this other dog is. It only takes a blink of an eye for another dog to strike our puppy. Once a puppy has been attacked, it will be dog aggressive for the rest of its life. Dogs don't forget tramatic events like this.

As the pack leader our puppy EXPECTS us to protect it from nonpack members. If we are out for a walk and a stray dog tries to approach our puppy we put ourselves between the pup and the off leash dog. We drive the stray away. If we walk in an area that we know there are stray dogs we will carry pepper gas or a stout walking stick and we don't hesitate to use them if the stray does not heed our verbal warnings.


Vets, Vaccinations, and Neutering

I have written an article that details our position on vaccinations which basically says “less is better.”

If you are a new puppy owner I strongly suggest that you read the article I wrote titled “Vaccinosis – do your research before you vaccinate.”

It is our opinion that dogs do not need yearly vaccinations. This opinion is shared by a growing number of Veterinary Universities. There is an article on my web site about which Universities these are.

In our opinion vaccinations often cause more problems than they prevent. We feel they are a major cause of allergies in dogs. We feel that vaccinations, along with commercial dog foods, are a leading cause of cancer in dogs. Vaccinations are also the reason that many dogs develop thyroid problems which can lead to aggression problems in dogs. Many times these changes don’t appear until months after a vaccination.

Many old school vets don’t like to talk about these things because a major part of their income comes from yearly vaccinations. Our recommendation is to walk away from a vet who pushes yearly vaccinations.

With that said, we only give our pups 2 vaccinations. Our vaccinations are given at 7 ½ weeks and 11 or 12 weeks of age and then never again. The vaccines are only for parvo and distemper.

Most areas force pet owners to get rabies shots. If we were not bound by law we would not give this vaccination.

Bottom line is you need to do your own research and make your own decisions on what to do for your own dogs.