Puppy training is undoubtedly one of the most frustrating and time consuming tasks for dog owners. The cuteness of a new puppy is soon overshadowed by her constant barking, chewing, and accidents on the rug. We need to remember that our puppies are learning each day how to behave by watching our actions and reactions to determine rules to live by, just as they would from their own mothers. Your puppy deserves clear, benevolent leadership; if leadership is absent, your puppy will soon take over as head of the household, or to her, leader of the pack, and cause big problems when she begins to enforce her position.
At the age of seven to twelve weeks, your puppy is at a bond-forming stage where she will eagerly establish a relationship with anyone around her. The puppy will learn that she belongs to a family, your family, and will take her place as such. You need to be aware that because your puppy is a social creature, she will try to find her rank among those around her. The testing stage will begin shortly, where the animal begins to see weak spots in the existing leadership, and tests them as a teenager would. An absence of solid leadership will make puppy training much more difficult, and can result in dangerous, complicated behavioral problems in the years to come.
Because we love our cute puppies, sometimes it is difficult to be stern and consistent when it comes to rules and boundaries, but it is essential for us to provide just that for our pups. It is critically important to teach a puppy self control. Among dogs, a puppy usually has free reign to behave as she pleases until approximately sixteen to eighteen weeks of age. At this point, adult dogs will begin to set boundaries themselves to teach proper behavior to the pup, and it is time for you to do the same. For example, a puppy is no longer allowed to jump up on people. If your pup greets you this way, turn the other direction until she stops jumping. Say hello and pet her only when she has all four paws on the ground. To teach her that she may only have her toys when you allow it, put them out of her reach, and give her one only when she is behaving well. Do not make excuses for puppy behavior at this point; the pup is old enough to understand rules, and you will only undermine your own authority if you give in to unacceptable behavior.
The Alpha Dog
Becoming the alpha dog, or pack leader, will make your puppy more calm, and will allow you much greater leverage and control in further training. Anyone who owns two dogs will see that one always establishes dominance over the other. This is a way for the dogs to know their place and duty. Just as a sheep herding dog will see the sheep as her family and fiercely protect them, your dog will fiercely protect your family as she grows older and more capable if she deems it necessary. When you try to intervene by teaching her not to bark at the neighbors or attack other dogs that pass you while out walking, she will not listen because you are her subordinate. The best time to establish your dominance over a dog, especially a large breed, is during puppyhood. Certainly not a license for abuse, establishing dominance means setting rules for proper behavior, and slowly asking for respect, always keeping in mind reasonable expectations for your animal. Be consistent with positive reinforcement for good behavior, and be aware of exactly what you are teaching your puppy about manners and behavior. One tip to remember is that a tired puppy is usually a good puppy, so keep up the exercise; a walk is a great way to establish leadership as long as you are walking your dog, and she is not walking you.
When you begin puppy training at the right age, you set the foundation for a solid, trusting relationship between you and your dog. Love your puppy, but know that pack rules are a natural part of life. You will be much more effective at training and behavior modification as the pack leader, and your cute puppy will grow into your happy, respectful companion.