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Establishing Yourself as Leader to your Dog

So you just got a new puppy, and you want to help your new puppy be all he can be. First, to be successful, you have to understand how a dog thinks and works within it. The mistake that most people make when first getting a new puppy, they put their thoughts and emotions into determining how the dog feels and what they think when the truth is dogs and humans think very differently.

When bringing someone into your home typically you are very welcoming, aware of their every need and do anything to ensure they are comfortable.  People do this same thing when bringing a new dog home, they are very soft natured and allow the dog to develop terrible habits because they worry about how their dog is adjusting.  Because dogs think differently we must acclimate them to their new home differently too, so let’s first discuss how a dog thinks.

Dogs are pack animals. In a pack, there is a hierarchy, a pecking order.  Therefore, dogs are naturally very concerned with pecking order and where it is they stand in everyday life, it’s in their DNA.  At the top of the pecking order is the alpha dog.  It is the alpha’s job to:

  • Provide food, water and shelter
  • Lead migration: The alpha says where his pack goes and is responsible for how they get there.  It is important that the pack is aware of the leader because when he moves they follow; their very life may depend on it.
  • Protect the pack: In a pack the alpha is in charge of protecting their pack from intruders. It is therefore an insult to jump out in front of the alpha because it is not the job of the weaker pack member.
  • Keep peace amongst the pack: Again, the alpha is in charge, if you have a problem with another pack member than you have a problem with the alpha, and naturally a dog does not want problems with the alpha dog and or leader.

Once we understand what the role of the alpha dog is, we then want to insert ourselves as the leader in every opportunity possible.  When taking the puppy, we become responsible for providing them with food water and shelter, and immediately we are inserting ourselves into that role.  The dog will grow to love you for providing a good home and food, but that does not mean that they feel like they have to listen to you.  I always compare it to the sibling relationship in a family.  Siblings love one another and may respect one another, but that does not mean that they listen to each other. For example, if I come home from school and my brother tells me to go clean my room I would probably respond by saying “you’re not the boss of me,” but if mom or dad come home and tell me to clean my room, same statement from a different position of authority, it takes on a very different meaning and chances are I go and clean my room.  By putting yourself in a role of leader in the dog’s mind they begin to respect you and because you are above them in the pecking order of things they have an obligation and natural instinct to follow and listen to you.

As you begin to praise the puppy for positive things your puppy begins to see praise and affection as encouragement to these positive behaviors. In contrast, as you begin to verbally and physically correct your dog for negative things the dog sees these corrections as discouragement to these negative behaviors; you begin to establish boundaries and you further insert yourself into that leadership role.

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