Bringing your new puppy home marks the beginning of a long and rewarding company. Just as you and other members of your household must adjust to life with the new puppy, the puppy must adjust to his role in a new family. The routine and habits your puppy develops at this crucial early stage can carry them into adulthood, so it is extremely important that they learn acceptable behavior from the moment they arrive in their new home.
Regardless of the human qualities you assign to your new family member, it is important to remember that you are still a dog, ingrained with the same instincts as a wolf in the wild. Instinct guides all the decisions your puppy makes. Dogs in the wild fall into one of two roles: leader or follower. If your puppy doesn’t see you as the leader of his pack, instinct will lead him to take on that role himself. A dog that considers himself the leader of his pack, or receives mixed signals about who is leading and who is following, is likely to display unwanted behavior. Some behaviors that may indicate that a dog is acting as a leader are jumping on people, pulling on the leash, and ignoring commands. A dog that understands that you are the leader will look to you for guidance and adhere to the limits you set.
A common mistake new puppy owners make is allowing the puppy to reign freely and then attempting to discipline the dog when it grows up and displays unwanted behavior. In doing so, the dog’s owner sends mixed signals to him. Establishing an environment of structure and discipline and enforcing it at all times can prevent this pattern. Even when the puppy is very young and harmless, it is important to apply the same limits that you will apply when it is an adult dog. If you don’t want a 75-pound Lab to stretch out on your couch for the next ten years, it’s best not to allow it on your furniture like a puppy.
In addition to sending clear signals to your puppy about who is in charge, it is imperative that you and everyone in your household are consistent in enforcing the rules. Determine which areas of your home are off limits and which limits you will enforce before even bringing your puppy home. Certainly, it is easier to get your dog to understand the limits that are in place early on than to try to reverse the habits that you have already allowed him to develop. Be sure to praise the puppy when he behaves appropriately. Each member of your household must commit to taking a leadership role and enforcing the same rules when it comes to caring for the puppy.
Being the leader of the pack can mean the difference between a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship with your dog and an unbearable one. Structured training with a professional can be helpful for both the dog and the owner in establishing roles and discipline. A healthy relationship in which the dog respects his human’s role as leader begins the first day he welcomes the puppy into his home.