So, how can you go about having your puppy see you as the leader?
1. Food is a wonderful tool to use to establish your position in the pack hierarchy. The alpha gets first choice in all food and decides if others get to eat or not. You can use this to your advantage is several ways. For one, eat your own dinner just before you feed the puppy. This teaches your puppy that he ranks below all the humans because they eat first.
As soon as your puppy knows some basic obedience commands, use them! Have your puppy sit before you give him his food. By making your puppy be obedient for food you are sending strong signals that you are the leader.
Hand feed your puppy often. If you sit on the floor and dole out his kibble by hand this is another very strong indicator that you rank him. Similarly, handing out tidbits from your own food is a powerful tool to use. This shows your dog that you have special food and that occasionally, if he’s very good, you will share.
While your puppy is eating give him a basic obedience command, such as “Sit”. If he obeys then praise, treat, and let him go back to eating. If he ignores you then pick up his food and put it away for 5 minutes or so. Only obedient dogs get food is the message. Note, this is only fair to use when you are absolutely certain that your puppy knows the command “Sit” otherwise he’ll just be confused.
Teach your puppy that you can reach into his food bowl while he’s eating. Start by being nearby while he eats and move up to offering treats. When he’s comfortable with this start putting the treats directly in the bowl while he eats and eventually graduate to reaching in, handling the food, and not leaving a treat. This accomplishes two things: your puppy learns that you control the food, even when he’s already eating it, and that you are also the source of special treats. You are showing your puppy that your alpha-ness is a benevolent thing. You are demanding but also fair and hand out treats. This is a very important exercise for children as many are bitten when they get too near the puppy’s food bowl. With this training the puppy can learn that children are allowed to not only be near his food, they can reach directly into his bowl.
2. Leash your puppy to your belt while you are at home. This accomplishes several things. For one, you always know where the puppy is and supervision becomes much easier. Keeping your puppy out of trouble will make both of your lives easier. But this also teaches your puppy that you are the center of his world and that being with you is the preferred place. Everywhere you go the puppy goes with you. It will also encourage you to talk to your puppy, as discussed elsewhere in this document, if for no other reason as you jolly him along while you walk around the house.
3. Alpha leads and so should you. If your puppy forges ahead of you then he is attempting to lead. The easiest solution, assuming the puppy is on leash, is to simply turn and walk the other way. This teaches the puppy that you, not he, set the direction you’ll both be going, and he needs to watch you to see which way you go.
Similarly always be first through doorways. Make your puppy wait while you go through any doorway. This is a big one for many dogs; many see order through doorways as a clear sign of rank in the pack. If I call my dogs to come into the house or get into the car they always go in the pack order. If the more submissive dog gets to the door or car first then he/she waits for the dominant dog before proceeding.
To teach this simply tell your puppy to “Wait” at the doorway and use the leash to enforce this (gently, no jerking just prevent the puppy from forging ahead. You can teach the “wait” by using the leash to prevent the puppy from going ahead while saying “Wait” and putting an open hand in front of the puppy. The open hand will often stop the puppy in his tracks, at least momentarily, so you may not even need to use the leash.)
4. Work on establishing regular eye contact with your puppy. Dogs use eye contact as a key part of their communication and you can use this to your advantage. Whenever you notice your puppy looking at you stop and praise him. Give him a pet or a treat as a reward for looking at you. Quickly you will find that he focuses on you regularly, making it easy for you to get his attention. This teaches your puppy that you are the center of his world and that paying attention to you is always a good thing. You can also use eye contact, once it is a regular thing, to further your own communication with your puppy. When you are scolding your puppy look straight into his eyes and be angry. Your puppy will see that in your eyes with no difficulty. Similarly, looking into your puppy’s eyes with love will communicate your love, strengthening the connection between you.
5. Talk to your puppy. Many people feel silly talking to dogs but it really helps your relationship. Dogs do not start off knowing that they should listen to people but by talking to your puppy regularly he will learn to listen to your voice. Sprinkle the occasional pet or treat in with your talking to add extra incentive for the puppy to listen. What you say to your puppy can be as simple as “We’re going downstairs now” or “I’m going to fold the laundry now”. It doesn’t have to be anything special at all, what is important is that you are keeping a line of communication going. This teaches your dog to pay attention to your voice which is very helpful when you want your puppy to obey a command. You’ll also find that your puppy will learn many phrases which you use regularly. Dog can develop quite large vocabularies and this will speed the process along.
6. Once your puppy knows some basic commands, use them constantly. Ask for a sit before you pet or play with him. Have him do a down before you give him a toy. Make him drop toys on command on a regular basis. This sort of thing goes a long way toward convincing your puppy who’s in charge. And the better your puppy becomes at listening to you the more confident you’ll become of your role as alpha.
7. “Get outta the way!” When your puppy is in your way make him move. Rather than going around him, a submissive behavior, make him get out of your way, a dominant behavior. You can do this with just a gentle push with your leg, coupled with a word for a command. 8. Teach your puppy to drop things on command and then use this command regularly. You can teach a “Drop it” (many trainers say “Leave it”, either is okay) command very easily. When the puppy has a toy in his mouth offer him a tasty treat in exchange. Most will immediately drop the toy to get the treat. If you give the command as you hold out the treat your puppy will quickly learn what “Drop it” means. Expand this command to having your puppy drop food. This is an even stronger expression of dominance as food is very important (see #1 above) and can also save your puppy’s life if he picks up something dangerous or poisonous.
Use this command regularly to have your puppy drop toys or give up pieces of food. If he drops the toy/food he gets treats, praise, and the toy/food is returned. If he refuses then take it away and put it up where he can’t get it.
9. Practice basic submission exercises. Two which are very useful are the “Settle command” and tummy rubs. Tummy rubs are pleasant for most dogs and so be sure to make them a part of your normal handling. You can also stand behind your dog, lift up his front paws so his is standing on his hind legs, and with your other hand rub his tummy. This is a very submissive position for your puppy but the tummy rub makes it pleasant as well.
For the “Settle” exercise, place your pup gently on his side with his head on the floor. Using the words “Easy” or “Settle” in a firm tone, require the pup to lie still for a few seconds and release him with your release word (“Ok” is common, I’ve also heard “Finished!”, “All done”, personally I use “At ease!”) Do not release him when he is struggling. Wait until you gain control and then release.
Most puppies will put up at least some resistance when you introduce this exercise. Use your voice and hands effectively. Praise your dog quietly and stroke him slowly when he is cooperating. At the first sign of resistance, correct him in a firm tone of voice and/or physically place him again into a full prone position with his head on the floor. Follow with immediate quiet praise and slow stroking. This is particularly important with a pup that is very excitable or mouthy. Over-handling or rapid hand movements will be counter-productive. Quiet hands will lead to a quiet dog!
Gradually increase the duration of the exercise until your pup will lie still for several minutes without resistance. Three or four brief sessions per day, especially during the early stages, will produce the best results. Initially, you will want to conduct your sessions in a low distraction environment.
10. From an early age handle your puppy all over. It is the alpha’s privilege to touch his underlings however he wishes. If the puppy complains then give him a light scolding and continue, or even just ignore the puppy’s complaints and continue. If your puppy reacts positively to your handling, or even just ignores it, be lavish with the praise and hand out treats. You can teach this by doing no more than a second or two of handling followed by praise and treats. If the handling is short enough your puppy will not have a chance to complain before the praise and treats start, teaching him that handling is fun. You’ll find that your puppy will quickly be happy to stay still for longer and longer handling sessions.
You can also use petting your puppy to work this. While petting your puppy in a way you already know he enjoys, use your other hand to handle the puppy in someplace more sensitive such as the paws or around the genitalia. Your puppy will soon be happy to allow you to touch him anywhere and your veterinarian will thank you many times over.
11. Once your puppy is used to being handled try giving him a massage. With the puppy lying down gently manipulate the muscle along his back, chest, neck, and legs. This is a very dominant exercise for you, and hence very submissive for the puppy, but it’s also very pleasurable for both. It will help to build a strong bond between you while simultaneously cementing your position as alpha.
ACDs are bred to bite in their work and this instinct will show itself early on. Teaching ACD pups not to nip humans is a critical part of early training. There are several different methods recommended; the key is consistency. Pick a method and work with it. You may not get an immediate response but hang in there. If after a week or two you still don’t see any change then consider switching methods, but more likely the problem is in your consistency or delivery.
It’s key to remember that ACDs have been bred to respond to force with force; “if a cow kicks you then come back biting harder” could easily be the ACD motto. Purely physical punishments don’t tend to work well with ACDs because of this. You need to make sure that you are communicating with your dog, communicating that biting is NOT all right.
Here are a couple of methods:
One, act like the puppy’s mother would when he bites her. Grab the puppy’s muzzle and pin him to the floor by it for a few seconds, like a momma dog, verbally scold your puppy. Be really ticked off. Being pinned to the floor by his muzzle is clear dogspeak for “you’ve been very bad”. Hold the puppy down for a few seconds, until he gives in, and then let him back up. As soon as the correction is over you have to immediately turn off your annoyance. From the puppy’s point of view the incident is now completely over. If he bites again then do it again. Make sure that your scolding is truly convincing. ACDs are virtual mind readers and if you can’t be convincingly angry then your puppy won’t get the message.
Two, act like another puppy in the litter. Puppies bite each other in play all the time and they quickly learn how hard they can bite before their playmates get upset. Whenever your puppy clamps down on you yelp in pain. Again, you have to be truly convincing or your puppy will think you’re just making play noises and take that as encouragement. The yelp can be an angry yelp directed right at the puppy to up the ante. You’ll know your puppy understands if he briefly submits, ie drops his ears, lowers his head and tail, perhaps even lowers his whole body slightly. This submission will be over almost immediately and you have to turn off your annoyance just as quickly.
Don’t forget to yelp when your puppy bites clothes. From the puppy’s point of view human’s clothing should be an especially sensitive part of their bodies, ie biting clothes seems to REALLY hurt people. Your puppy will quickly decide that biting clothes is a bad idea.
Once your puppy is no longer biting hard, change your criteria and yelp whenever he bites gently. When he’s down to just gently mouthing you switch to yelping whenever he initiates the mouthing behavior. Using these steps you can train your puppy that 1. people have really sensitive skin, and 2. they should never use their mouths on people unless the people initiate the behavior.
I personally prefer the “Yelp” method because you can practice it a LOT very easily. Just play with the puppy and put your hands in his mouth as part of the game. When he bites, yelp, accept his brief submission and then go back to the game. My preferences aside, both methods work very well.
In both of the above methods there are ways to up the ante and make the correction for biting more severe. With the “mother dog” approach you can add in a scruff shake (grab the puppy by the scruff of the neck and give a quick shake, again a behavior the puppy’s mother would use.)
With either method social isolation is a powerful way to make the correction more potent. When a puppy bites either his mother or his playmates too hard too often they will refuse to interact with him for awhile so again we’re communicating with the puppy by using a “punishment” which another dog would use. Immediately isolate the puppy away from you for a brief period. 5 minutes is ample. I find that isolation where the puppy can see you and hear you but not actually get to you (behind a baby gate is great) works really well. Make sure you completely ignore the puppy for the entire time. Your puppy will find this EXTREMELY frustrating and take it as a serious punishment. Above all, be consistent. No matter how cute it looks for that 10 lb. puppy to be hanging on to your pants cuff you have to treat it as a serious infraction. If the puppy thinks that you’ll see his behavior as cute, even just 1 time in 20, he’ll keep doing it despite punishments.
Toys with a central cavity or hole, things like Kongs (available at most pet stores) or bones, can be made VERY interesting by smearing a little peanut butter or cheese inside. This can keep a puppy busy for hours as he tries to get at the good stuff just out of reach inside. Even freezing soft food inside makes for an all day play toy.
When you cannot supervise your puppy then confine him someplace where he has acceptable chew toys and can’t reach anything unacceptable. Crate training, for when you are out of the house and for at night while you sleep, is essential for preventing destructiveness problems.
Consistency is probably the single most important thing when raising a dog. If you are not consistent the dog will see this ambiguity as an excuse to get away with otherwise punished behaviors. One important tidbit of animal behavior which has come out of behavioristic studies over the years directly relates to consistency.
“The occasionally rewarded behavior is the longest lived behavior.” If you always reward a dog for something he will tend to show that behavior regularly. If you then stop rewarding the behavior the dog will usually stop showing it before long. If you always punish for a behavior then the dog will stop showing that behavior quite quickly. But if you punish for a behavior sometimes and reward for it others, the dog will continue to show the behavior over and over and over. In fact, if you sometimes punish and sometimes reward for a behavior, even if you later switch to only punishing it will take an extra long time for the dog to stop whatever it is. This is a basic principle of animal behavior which works for any animal tested, including humans.
To put this in concrete terms let’s look at the behavior of begging at the dinner table. Many people find this annoying 90% of the time but occasionally the dog comes across as cute and receives a tidbit of food. This is a classic example of the occasionally rewarded behavior. Even though the dog is usually ignored or even punished for begging at the table, because begging works once in a great while he will keep trying it forever. The ONLY way to get rid of the begging behavior is to make sure that it never, never, EVER results in the dog getting food. Does your ACD chew on plastic? Here is part of the reason and to teach “leave it”. Plastic is made with a small amount of fish oil to release it from the mold. To dogs, this is nose candy! Cell phones, TV remotes, eyeglass frames, milk jugs, wastebaskets…they’re all fair game!
So, consistency is key to teaching your dog good behavior. “Bad” behaviors must never be rewarded, they should always be either ignored or punished, whichever is appropriate. No matter how cute the “bad” behavior is you must not let the dog know that you find it so otherwise that behavior becomes a standard part of his repertoire.