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The fundamentals of a wolf pack can be very applicable to raising a puppy, such as in the way a wolf pup is integrated to the pack. So how can use this to your advantage and become the alpha dog of your den?
Puppies need a confident leader. If your dog senses at any time that you are not strong enough to take charge, he may take on the role of pack leader, and this could lead to very unfortunate behaviors that are difficult to undue later. In fact, often the only way to reverse this position is through professional, intensive training.
It is natural for a puppy to discover his place in the pack by forming a relationship with the other members of the pack, beginning with his mother siblings. Depending on his character and how the other members of the pack respond to him, he may grow to be either a leader or a follower. Eye contact and body language are integral to the positioning of a dog in its respective pack. In your home, the pack leader should always be you, and that position should be made clear from the very start, when your puppy first comes into the home.
Physical contact is an important part of training a puppy since he cannot yet understand verbal commands. As he grows, he will learn to associate and memorize words or tone of voice with specific commands and reprimands, but in the beginning, you will need to make your wishes known by direct contact.
The focus of the first set of handling exercises is all about training your puppy to be at ease while being handled. Many owners will take their dogs to a professional obedience trainer for the initial training exercises. If you are not entirely confident in how to go about the proper training techniques, this is a better option than waiting until the puppy has gotten so out of hand that you need to take him to a professional. It is vital that you teach your puppy to pay attention to you at a very early age, and you can do this in three simple exercises.
First, wedge the puppy between your legs while sitting on the floor. The puppy must be facing the same direction as you. Your right hand should be on top of his chest and your left hand below his muzzle. If the puppy does well with this simple restraint exercise, praise him in a calm voice and gently pet him.
However, if the puppy tries to break free, you will need to take firm hold of him while reprimanding him in a strong voice. Taking the puppy by the scruff of the neck (firmly, not in a hurtful way), give a firm but nonviolent shake while saying "No, stay!" in a strong voice. Once he calms down and stays still, gently pet him along the head and neck while verbally praising him. Always keep a firm hold of the puppy to show him that you are in control – that you are the "leader." Perform this exercise consistently at every session; it will be helpful in preparing your puppy to learn the “stay” command later.
The second exercise in training your puppy to stay still is to have him submit to an ear and mouth examination. This is an essential exercise, since you will need your dog to stay still for taking medicines, having his teeth checked and cleaned, having his ears cleaned, and removing objects from his mouth. You should be able to examine your puppy’s ears and mouth without him biting you.
Begin the exercise by holding his head with your right hand wrapped around his muzzle, while gently stroking his head and neck with the other hand. When he gets used to this, praise him as you move his head from side to side. If he struggles against you, repeat the calming exercise. Once you can move his head around without a struggle, slowly open his mouth while keeping your right hand underneath his muzzle. Open his lips with your left hand and open his mouth fully by using your fingers to lever his jaws apart.
Keep the examinations quick for the first few sessions until he gets used to it. Praise him throughout as he remains cooperative, and reprimand him when he struggles.
To examine the ears, start by massaging the outside of the ear to relax the dog before beginning the examination. Along with checking the mouth for health and cleanliness, the ears must also be checked, with cleaning as needed, about once a week. Some dog breeds are more prone than others to excess ear hair, especially those that do not shed. Excess hair can collect dust, dirt, wax and bacteria, but problems can be prevented with simple weekly cleanings and regular trimming of excess hair.
As you perform these examinations, encourage your puppy to lick your open palm. You want to train him to do this without nipping at your hand.
This exercise is designed to train your puppy to tolerate an examination of his whole body. This will also allow you to move him, should he ever be injured or need to be moved for other purposes. You will need for the dog to be tolerant if and when he should have his nails clipped and temperature taken. And the earlier he becomes accustomed to being moved or handled, the better. You wouldn’t your sweet puppy responding aggressively or biting an innocent groomer or veterinarian.
Begin the exercise in the relaxed position from exercise one. Make the puppy lie down by grabbing his front legs and placing his body on the floor. Continue to praise him as you hold him in place by massaging his back and neck. Once he is totally relaxed and not struggling, kneel down and roll the puppy over so that he is lying on his side. If he struggles, press down on his shoulders and say “No, stay!” Continue to massage him, including his feet and tail. Always maintain eye contact to show your praise or displeasure to your puppy.
While the puppy is calm, grab all four paws and slowly roll him over. Massage him while you roll him from side to side while at the same time giving him praises for cooperating in the exercise. At this point, you want to make it clear that you are not being playful. If the puppy tries to play, stop and hold him still until he calms down again. Lastly, move him around on the floor the same way you would if you needed to move him.
This exercise is very helpful for helping the puppy to trust and follow your directions. It also makes it easier for you to hold, groom and examine your dog whenever you need to.
All of these exercises are the foundation for the proper training of your puppy and are best begun as soon as you bring your puppy into your home. Plan a time of day when you are unrushed and relaxed, so that the experience can be pleasant for both you and the puppy. Done properly and consistently, and without fear tactics or violence (even mild), these exercises will help you to create a bond based on trust and leadership, making it easier for your puppy to adapt and learn more complex obedience training skills later on.
These exercises are normally very easy on the majority of puppies. However, there are some puppies that are not capable of doing them. If your puppy tends to become aggressive and is not responding well to the exercises outlined above, it is best to consult a professional for more specialized exercises and training – before the puppy develops bad habits.
Image: Ian Phillips / via Flickr