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Okay...you went to the grocery store to pick up a loaf of bread and some milk. Unfortunately, you ran afoul of four little kids and their harrassed mom standing out front with a cardboard box full of puppies, and in addition to the milk and bread, you acquired a cute, fuzzfaced bundle of energy which will occupy most of your free time and all of your patience for the next six months. Pretty common tale.

What’s not quite so common is the sequel to it; the woeful realization a few weeks later that you’ve somehow become the property of a dominant dog, and that all your waking moments now revolve around getting him to mind you, leave your belongings alone, and stop challenging you for possession of the furniture and food. Assuming you’ve owned dogs before and haven’t had any particular trouble raising them, you can stop blaming yourself for this uncomfortable (and potentially dangerous) situation and simply face the fact that you may have a naturally bossy beast who’s going to require some special handling if you mean to keep him. And you need to realize it’s an on-going project, because he’ll always be what he is and will probably never become the low maintenance pal you’re accustomed to owning.

Skipping the lectures on how to choose a pup...we wouldn’t be having this conversation if you’d known what you were getting into...we’ll get right down to business. Some important “don’ts” you need to grapple to your soul with hoops of steel are:

DON’T play winner/loser games with your puppy. Games like Tug O’ War and Keep Away are fine for the average amiable mutt who knows his place and has no ambition to raise his status, but they’re pure psychological poison for a pushy animal. Instead, use the dog’s inborn enjoyment of work and praise, and play games he can only win by losing. Games like, “Sit!”, “Sit Now!”, “Sit Faster!”...anything that focuses his attention on you and what you want him to do. If you make playtime a contest between you and the dog, you’re asking for trouble because it won’t be long before he can outrun, outmanuever and evade capture with all the savoire faire of Bruce Lee.

DON’T give him your belongings for toys. This is a good general rule for training dogs, but it applies most particularly to an alpha. Establish the law right away...your things belong to you and his things belong to you. Maintain control of the toys at all times. When playtime is over, the toys get put away where he can’t get at them until you say he can. Your personal effects are Forbidden Objects. Remove them from his grasp with a decisive “NO!” and put them out of reach until it becomes second-nature for him to avoid them.

DON’T give him free access to his food, and NEVER give him any access to yours. To you, an uneaten portion of hotdog bun is just a discard...to him, it’s a symbol of special favor and a step up in the heirarchy. When it’s time for him to eat, put his food down for him someplace away from the family dining area, preferably after you’ve eaten your own meals. The boss dog (that’s you) eats first...the rest of the pack (that’s him) eats later. And when you feed him, make sure he understands you giveth and you taketh away. If he challenges you for possession of the food bowl, take it away from him at once. Try again a few minutes later, and do it as many times as necessary to make it sink in. Again, the only way he can win is to lose. If there are kids in the house, have them go through the routine as well. Your dog needs to know he’s at the bottom...literally...of the food chain.

DON’T let him sit or lie on the furniture or preempt your favorite sitting place. The unbreakable rule at our house is, when the dog learns to make the bed, the dog can sleep on the bed. His sleeping area should be away from the family’s bedrooms, and if he wants to lounge, have him do it on the floor at your feet, not on the couch or the recliner. Believe it or not, dogs regard height as a badge of status, and a truly dominant dog will latch onto any opportunity to increase his influence.

DON’T back away from his challenges. Not ever. If you want the dog’s toys or food, you shall have the dogs toys or food. If you want the dog to move away, the dog shall move away. Period. Begin this policy when he’s little, because it’ll be incrementally more difficult with every pound and every inch he gains. Dogs do not understand democracy, and you aren’t doing him any favors by considering his preferences in daily routine decisions. If you do defer to them, essentially you’re asking him to take over. He will, quite happily.

DON’T resort to physical punishment to get your point across. This applies to all dogs, actually. Hitting is another thing dogs don’t understand, and they’re most likely to learn to avoid your hands rather than the behaviors you want to discourage. In the case of a true dominant, however, hitting invites a genetically programmed threat response. He will challenge you, the challenge will escalate, and both of you will come to grief over it. Ignore him ostentatiously when he refuses to mind you, lavish praise on him when he complies. Be patient...it takes awhile, but he will make the connection. He’s a companionable soul, your dog, and the last thing he wants is exile from the pack.

Finally, DON’T merely discard the dog if he proves to be too much effort for you. Understand that ownership is a comittment to the dog, yourself and other people. If he’s young enough and sizeable enough, investigate giving him to your local police department for K-9 training, or give him to someone who understands what’s involved in dealing with him. As a last resort, have him put down. It may sound cruel, but it’s infinitely better than a potential attack or a tragic existence at the end of a chain in the back yard, drinking water out of a rusty hubcap. He doesn’t deserve that kind of fate just for being what he is.