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

Note: Please note that this is an article that applies to puppies only. Older dogs will need to go through a different training program when it comes to establishing pack structure. We recommend you visit Pack Structure for this information.

When you bring a new pup home, the very general questions of, "What should I feed my puppy?" and "How do I stop it from peeing on the carpet" are very common to think of. However, there's one other question that needs to be considered too when you bring home a new puppy. This very important question is, "How do I establish pack structure for my puppy?"

In grade school, we're taught that wolves are pack animals. Sometimes it has been so long since learning these things, we forget that the same thing applies to dogs as well. Dogs are born to be in a pack and as its new owner, you have the responsibility of establishing pack structure for that puppy.

Puppies who do not grow up with solid pack structure will end up being dominant and obnoxious adult dogs.


The Genetic Rules of Pack Structure

Wolves are pack animals. They are predators who chase after prey for food. They live by a certain set of genetic rules. Pack animals usually live in family packs. The family pack will have a leader and then a rank of lower pack members. Dog packs are very much the same. As you can see, they are not a democracy.

A dog pack is organized through rank. Every member of the pack knows exactly what its rank is within the family pack. Naturally, pack animals will understand this concept. Because of this concept, many dog fights will occur when a new dog is brough to a home that already has dogs. The new packing order must be established everytime a new member is added to the family.


Starting the Pack Structure

A puppy raised with litter mates will begin to establish a family pack at 4 to 12 weeks of age. They start by simply playing with each other. They will bite and push one another. The dogs who bite the hardest and push the most will become the higher ranking back members of the litter.

There is no question that the mother is the pack leader. Her leadership will be displayed by warning puppies to stay away from her food bowl when she is eating. She protects her litter which demonstrates leadership as well as control the litter in very subtle ways that establish her as the pack leader.


What are the qualities of a pack leader?

Here are the qualities of a pack leader:

Here is an example of pack leader qualities: The pack leader will always eat first while the rest stands by and waits. Once the leader is finished, he will let the others have their turn with food. The leader will not come back and drive them away from the food.

There are many people who put food down and then take it away without giving them time to eat it. These people are seen as bullies, not as the leader. Dogs will notice this and know that this isn't fair leadership.

The right way to make a dog do something before the food is put down. Usually telling it to SIT is a good command. Once it's down, leave it alone until it is time to pick it up. Fifteen minutes is sufficient enough time to leave it. You can pick it up once those 15 minutes are over, even if the dog hasn't eaten at all.

It's easy to bully your way into a leadership business however, this destroys the relationship between you and the dog. This is not the right way to approach leadership. You want your dog to trust you, feel relaxed around you, and be comfortable in your presence. You need to teach them to understand your expectations. If they meet them, you will treat them fairly. And if they ignore the rules, then they will suffer the consequences.

Having a relationship with your dog is a learned endeavor. It is learned through the day to day experiences of living with an owner who establishes and enforces rules. It is also learned through formal obedience training.


Where does it start?

When a puppy comes to your home, the only other experience in its life has been 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. Since it was born playing with littermates by biting and chasing, it will do the same to you by biting and chasing. The puppy is trying to find its rank within the new packing order of your family.

You need to teach your puppy that you are the new pack leader. You need to teach that biting and chasing human pack members is unacceptable. Many people will ignore these small challenges and others will overreact to them. You need to find the middle ground.

If you ignore this behavior, you will end up with dominant dogs. Those who correct with too much force will end up with shy dogs that never reach their potential.


Establishing the Tether

We use an Ex-Pen to keep our dogs in a designated area. Keeping your dog wild in the house only emphasizes dominant behavior. If you are interacting with your dog, do it outside on a flat collar that is hooked onto a 20 foot cotton line. While you dog is outside, it is also beneficial to teach your dog to pee or poop.

Essentially, you want to control every aspect of the puppy's life. Leaving it free, running around the house, will create more problems. They will pee on the floor or will jump up and bite people.

Leave your puppy in an ex-pen. It may whine and squeal but it is important to stay consistent and ignore the dog. You need to teach the dog that it will not gain anything. You can cover the ex-pen with a blanket to keep it from seeing anything. Or you can leave a chew toy with treats in it to keep it busy.

As time passes and the pup calms down, it will learn manners in the house. If it does not calm down, then it will stay in the crate when I don't have time for it.

You want to become the center of the universe for my dog. You don't want the dog looking at other people as a source of praise and fun.


This article is currently undergoing revision.