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Bringing Home A New Member

When people bring an 8 week old puppy home, their first concerns are "what should I feed my puppy?" and "how do I stop it from peeing on the floor?"  These are important and credible concerns, but equally important and often ignored is the concept of how to establish yourself as your new pup's pack leader.


 The average dog owner does not have a clue about how strong the genes are that control their puppy's temperament, personality, and drives.  Although the Havanese tend to be non-territorial and non-aggresive, we must understand that puppies that don't have a solid pack structure, can and will grow up to become dominant and obnoxious adult dogs.





Pack Structure


Dogs are pack animals, just like wolves are pack animals.  They are predators.  Horses and cows, on the other hand, are herd animals.  Being herd animals also makes them prey (food) for predators.


Predators live by one set of genetic rules and prey animals live by a different set of genetic rules.


Pack animals live in family packs which has a pack leader and lower remaining members.  Dog packs, like wolf packs, are not a democracy.


A pack is organized in a hierachy of rank.  Simply put, this means that every member of the pack knows exactly what its rank is within the family pack.


Pack animals genetically understand this concept.  This concept is the reason people have dog fights when they add a new dog to a home that already has dogs.  Everyone has to re-establish the new pecking order when a new pack member comes on board.




The Beginning of Pack Structure


When a puppy is raised with littermates they begin to establsih their family pack at about 4.5 weeks of age.  They start by playing with one another. 


They bite and push each other around.  Those pups that bite the hardest and push the most become the higher ranking pack members of the litter.


With that being said, there is no question that the mother is the pack leader.  A good mother will exert her leadership by warning puppies to stay away from her food bowl when she is eating.  She protects her litter which demonstrates leadership and she also controls the litter in subtle ways that establish her as the pack leader.




What is a Pack Leader?


When people get puppies, they need to establish themselves as the new pack leader.  To do this correctly, they should first understand exactly what a pack leader is.


Pack leaders are aloof, they are calm, and they are self confident.  A pack leader is fair in how he/she lives with his/her pack members.  While the pack leader is a dictator, he is a fair dictator who enforces well defined set of rules that members know, understand, and are expected to live by.


What a pack leader is not, is a dictator who loses his temper, bullies pack members into compliance, and does not act in a fair manner in regard to the lives of the pack members.


For example, the leader always eats first.  Lower ranking members don't get the choice food.  But, when the leader is finished and he turns the food over to the other pack members, he does not come back and drive them away from the food.


People who put food down and then take it away or push the dogs away from the food bowl are bullies.  This is how their dogs view them.  This is not practicing fair leadership principals.


The correct way is to make the dog do something (i.e. sit) before the food is put down.  But once it's down they leave it alone until it's time to pick it up.  It's good practice to leave the food down for 15 minutes and then pick it up, even if the dog has not eaten it all.  (However, the Havanese are known grazers and will eat only when hungry, so it is not uncommon for you to see food still left in their bowl)


It's easy to bully your way into a leadership position.  People do this all the time.  The problem is that the bullying destroys their relationship with their dogs.


I want my pack members to trust me, feel relaxed around me, and be comfortable in my presence.  The only way this can happen is if they know the rules and anticipate our expectations.  When that happens they know they will be treated fairly.  They also know that if they ignore the rules, they will suffer the consequences.


This leadership relationship is a learned endeavor. It's learned through the day to day experience of living with an owner who establishes and enforces rules. It's also learned through formal obedience training.


Puppies that grew up and became dominant and aggressive dogs were always raised by people who did not establish the correct family pack structure.




Where Does it Start?


When a puppy comes to your home its only experience in 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.


It has played with the littermates by biting and chasing, so that's how it thinks it should continue to interact within a family pack.


It takes a few days but once it accepts you and your family as its new pack, it will try to interact with you the same way it did with its litermates....biting and chasing.


The fact is, in its own small way, it's trying to find its rank within the new pecking order of your family.


It's your job to teach your puppy (without scaring it) that you are the new pack leader.  It's your job to teach it that biting and chasing high ranking human pack members is unacceptable.  Therein lies the rub.  Many people ignore these small challenges and others overreact to them.  You have to find the middle road.


Those who ignore this behavior often end up with dominant dogs.  Those who overreact and use too much force in correcting the biting end up with shy dogs that never reach their potential.



Establishing the Tether


When bringing a pup home, we recommend to always use a crate.


Your first goal is to reduce the possibility of house training mistakes and to teach the pup that being wild in the house is not going to happen.


Never allow the puppy to run around the house unsupervised.  Always keep it on a line.  What a better way to establish leadership than to control every aspect of the pup's life? 


Those who allow puppies to run around un-tethered are only asking for the problems that will eventually come up.  These pups are going to get into things, they are going to make mistakes and pee on the floor, or they are going to jump up and play bite.


When we are tired of playing with the pup, it goes into the crate.  In the beginning, it's going to cry or whimper, begging to be let out.  Do not give in.


As time passes and the pup calms down and learns manners in the house, you may let it lie at your feet while you are working on the computer.  If it doesn't calm down, or you do not have time for it,  it stays in the crate.




Doors and Gates


Going through doors, going through gates, and coming down stairs first are huge things in terms of rank for a dog.  All dogs, puppies or adults get excited when it's time to be let out or time to come back into the house.  Without training, they will all bolt out the door.  This is not only annoying, it can be dangerous.


From day one, pups should be controlled at the door.  They are always on a line and you should always make the pup sit for food when they go outside or come back inside.  In fact, our dogs will wait until we give a command before going outside.






There is no question that people quickly fall in love with their puppies.   Many will buy toys for their pets.


Toys are not recommended to be laying around the house.  We take the approach that the dogs do not own any toys.  The toys are our toys and we allow the pups to play with "OUR TOYS".  And, we always take the toys away when play time is finished .


Once again, this demonstrates leadership without pressure.  It's not domineering but it makes it clear that you are the leader.


When playing with the pups, always keep them on a line.  This does two things.  It stops them from playing keep away and it conditions them to forget that they have a line on.


Through play, the pups are taught that humans are fair.  We don't bully them and they are taught to give up the toy when told.




Taking the Toy Away


After play, when it comes time to take the toy away, we say "DONE" (any word will do as long as you are consistent and stick with the same word) and offer to trade the pup a really good treat for the toy.


We simply let them smell the treat and when they let go of the toy, they get the food.  Don't ever tease them with the toy once it's taken away.  This is poor leadership and is counter productive to a good bond.




Other Dogs and Puppies


If out for a walk and are approached by another person walking their dog, be careful and alert before you allow the other dog to come up and smell or greet your puppy.


We don't know how territorial or dog aggressive this other dog is.  It only takes a blink of an eye for another dog to strike your puppy.  Once a puppy has been attacked, it can be dog aggressive for the rest of its life.  Dogs don't forget traumatic events like this.


As pack leader, our puppy EXPECTS us to protect it from non-pack members. 




Introducing Dogs into a Home with Other Dogs

(three dogs are a dog pack!!)


Three dogs will develop a RANKING ORDER which includes a pack leader.  Every dog pack knows exactly what its rank is within the dog pack.  When dogs don't have a strong human pack leader, one of the three dogs will ALWAYS step to the line and become the leader.


When a new dog is added to a home, every dog in that house has to re-establish its personal rank within the new family pack.  Sometimes re-establishing rank is where dog fights come from.


By making it known that YOU are the pack leader, there is less chance for these fights.


Introduction is usually recommended outside with all dogs on leash.  Taking them for a walk together helps to familiarize them on neutral ground. 


Dogs use their body language to communicate, so take the time to learn a little about your dog's body language.              - Leerburg Training                                                                                      






First Day Home


When you get a new dog it is always a good idea to sit down with family members and make a written list of your house rules.  Everyone in the family needs to agree to follow these rules. 


Consistency is the most important part of dog training. If one family member chooses to ignore the family rules the entire process can break down.














I am your Puppy, and I will love you until the end of the Earth, but please know a few things about me.


I am a Puppy, this means that my intelligence and capacity for learning are the same as an 8-month-old child. 


I am a Puppy, I will chew EVERYTHING I can get my teeth on. This is how I explore and learn about the world. Even HUMAN children put things in their mouths. It's up to you to guide me to what is mine to chew and what is not.


I am a Puppy, I cannot hold my bladder for longer than 1 - 2 hours. I cannot "feel" that I need to poop until it is actually beginning to come out. I cannot vocalize nor tell you that I need to go, and I cannot have "bladder and bowel control" until 6 - 9 months. 


Do not punish me if you have not let me out for 3 hours and I tinkle. It is your fault. As a Puppy, it is wise to remember that I NEED to go potty after: Eating, Sleeping, Playing, Drinking and around every 2 - 3 hours in addition. 


If you want me to sleep through the night, then do not give me water after 7 or 8 p.m. A crate will help me learn to housebreak easier, and will avoid you being mad at me.


I am a Puppy, accidents WILL happen, please be patient with me! In time I will learn.


I am a Puppy, I like to play. I will run around, and chase imaginary monsters, and chase your feet and your toes and 'attack' you, and chase fuzzballs, other pets, and small kids. It is play; it's what I do.


Do not be mad at me or expect me to be sedate, mellow and sleep all day.


If my high energy level is too much for you, maybe you could consider an older rescue from a shelter or Rescue group. 


My play is beneficial, use your wisdom to guide me in my play with appropriate toys, and activities like chasing a rolling ball, or gentle tug games, or plenty of chew toys for me.


If I nip you too hard, talk to me in "dog talk", by giving a loud YELP, I will usually get the message, as this is how dogs communicate with one another. If I get too rough, simply ignore me for a few moments, or put me in my crate with an appropriate chew toy.


I am a Puppy, hopefully you would not yell, hit, strike, kick or beat a 6-month-old human infant, so please do not do the same to me. I am delicate, and also very impressionable. If you treat me harshly now, I will grow up learning to fear being hit, spanked, kicked or beat.

Instead, please guide me with encouragement and wisdom. For instance, if I am chewing something wrong, say, "No chew!" and hand me a toy I CAN chew. Better yet, pick up ANYTHING that you do not want me to get into. I can't tell the difference between your old sock and your new sock, or an old sneaker and your $200 Nikes.


I am a Puppy, and I am a creature with feelings and drives much like your own, but yet also very different. Although I am NOT a human in a dog suit, neither am I an unfeeling robot who can instantly obey your every whim. I truly DO want to please you, and be a part of your family, and your life.


You got me (I hope) because you want a loving partner and companion, so do not relegate me to the backyard when I get bigger, do not judge me harshly but instead mold me with gentleness and guidelines and training into the kind of family member you want me to be.


I am a Puppy and I am not perfect, and I know you are not perfect either. I love you anyway. So please, learn all you can about training, and puppy behaviors and caring for me from your veterinarian, books on dog care and even researching on the computer!


Learn about my particular breed and it's "characteristics", it will give you understanding and insight into WHY I do all the things I do. 


Please teach me with love, patience, the right way to behave and socialize me with training in a puppy class or obedience class, we will BOTH have a lot of fun together.


I am a Puppy and I want more than anything to love you, to be with you, and to please you. Won't you please take time to understand how I work? 

We are the same you and I, in that we both feel hunger, pain, thirst, discomfort, and fear, but yet we are also very different and must work to understand one anther's language, body signals, wants and needs. 


Some day I will be a handsome dog, hopefully one you can be proud of and one that you will love as much as I love you.



Your Puppy

Copyright 2000, by J. Ellis






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