S o you have now brought home your adorable little bundle of joy! And your new baby is energetic, playful and very curious. Watching your new puppy learn about the environment around him can be both entertaining and exhausting. They seem to make a game out of everything and always want to play with the things they are not supposed to touch. Right from the start it is very important to establish who will be the dominant individual in this relationship. Puppies are silly and oh so cute so many people allow them to get away with behaviours that they shouldn't. Establishing oneself as the boss in the relationship is important and is all about attitude. Puppies are very much like human kids and need rules and boundaries established early on. Dogs are pack animals - there is a natural hierarchy in their community and there needs to be a leader for them to follow. If the humans in the home are not willing to take on the role of a leader, then the pup will be forced to be in charge - this is not necessarily a burden that they want to have. Anyone who has ever watched "The Dog Whisperer" has probably seen what happens when humans in the home allow puppy to be the boss over them. It is not pleasant when a tiny 5 lb animal is allowed to be in charge. It is actually quite sad - they can be yappy, snappy, nasty little animals. When a human allows a little dog to act in this manner, with no repercussions, the blame has to lie with the owner. To many people, the concept of a tiny animal ruling the house is ridiculous, but it happens with much more frequency than one may think. It occurs without many people even realizing that they are allowing this behaviour to take place.And this generally happens because owners are trying to be so good to their little pets. They they don't realize they are actually doing a great disservice to them.
H ere is an example of how easily and innocently this can occur:
A n owner gives their dog a treat or a meal. Somebody gets too close so little Fido will defend his 'prize' by barking and/or growling, possibly snapping. The person backs off, rationalizing that Fido should have his space to enjoy his meal. How Fido interprets this behaviour may be completely different. Fido may see the nearby human as competition for his food - a threat who may steal his meal. Fido defends his food and the human backs off. Therefore, this behaviour has just been reinforced as successful to 'defend' Fido's possessions.
H ere is another example:
L ittle Fido is approached by a stranger and he may bark because he is nervous. A barking, growling dog will generally discourage the 'stranger' from petting the dog. A concerned owner may pick Fido up, pet him and talk reassuringly in order to calm him him down. No one wants their baby to be scared! And they are trying their best to make Fido feel comfortable. But little Fido is a dog, not a human. He does not understand human words. Remember that dogs are non verbal communicators. For the most part they react from body language and tone of voice, not the actual words spoken. What an owner might say is "There, there baby, don't be scared, this is Uncle Bob and he will not hurt you."
W hat Fido actually hears "Good Fido, thank you for protecting me from this evil and very dangerous stranger" and the behaviour is reinforced because by petting the dog, the owner is actually rewarding the unwanted behaviour. Although the intent of the owner is genuinely good, it is conditioning this sweet, good natured little animal to be nasty. And trying to 'undue' this type of conditioning once established can be very difficult.
M ost dogs are very likable, outgoing little animals who like to please their owners. Dogs who are nasty and miserable are generally the product of humans who have shaped them to be this way, although generally not intentionally. We, as pet owners, need to remember to keep things in perspective. Establishing oneself as the 'Alpha dog' in the 'pack' is not difficult, and certainly does not require one to be abusive or mean to our precious babies. A firm 'No' can really go a long way. As soon as a family brings puppy home, they need to be aware of how they are being perceived in his eyes. Be loving, affectionate and help puppy feel secure. But also be aware not to reinforce negative behaviour by 'babying' our pets while the behaviour is taking place. This is of utmost importance. For some reason, many people find it easier to say no to their children, than to their dogs! As breeders, we frequently employ some simple exercises to help to establish a gentle 'dominance' over our puppies without hurting or scaring them. We often take food out of our puppies mouths while they are still very young and therefore not at an age where they feel 'threatened' by this act. Nor can they hurt us if they do decide to snap. We also lay our pups on their backs which is a natural way that dogs show submission. Spanking or hitting a pup is a definite no no, and much more can be achieved by simply restraining a dog in order to illustrate that humans are stronger and therefore the master. There should never be any pain/abuse involved whatsoever. Any unwanted behaviour exhibited by our young pups is generally discouraged by a firm "No!" although some pups with alpha qualities will require a bit more discouragement. We do our best to establish that humans are the boss, not the other way around. But this conditioning needs to be continued by the new owners or it will have all been in vain. As mentioned earlier, 'undoing' improper conditioning is far more difficult than doing it right in the first place. A little dog who understands his place in the hierarchy of your family is much more pleasant than one who feels they are in charge. Please remember it is not an act of kindness to let your puppy get away with dominant behaviour - you are just setting them up to be mean little dogs in the future.
H ere is a link to a video on how to train puppies not to bite people. Click on the little picture below.