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Do Dogs Need Pack Leaders?

Dog’s like to have structure and know where they stand. To give your new puppy confidence you should ensure that she respects and trusts you. 


So how, then, should we treat the new puppy in our home? 

Actually, the research provides quite a simple answer.  Dogs have become the animals they are because they found they were onto a good thing when humans began to provide for them.  They have a natural instinct to do what pleases humans, as in turn we will do something that pleases them - be it giving them food, shelter or just attention. 

We’re not now being told to think as dogs, but just to use our own brains, and to accept that the dog will think, well, as a dog.  And we use this to cultivate the behaviour we expect from the adult canine, and to try to eliminate the behaviour we don’t want to see.

Old wive’s tales, such as feed the family before the pup make no sense in the wild anyway, as the female will make sure her pups are fed first, and this practice could encourage a hungry pup just to jump up more and make trouble whilst you’re trying to have dinner.  Feeding your pup first, or at the same time, will go further to develop good table manners (as will never feeding her from the table!).

Making sure she doesn’t push past you through the door makes sense purely because you don’t want a full grown adult dog barging through - but you are not teaching respect, just encouraging and rewarding a good behaviour. 


From the 1960’s the view was - and still strongly persists - that either the dog or owner will be the dominant partner in the relationship.  The owner should train the dog by dominating her with behaviours that another dog would use, for example, grabbing by the scruff of the neck, rolling her over and keeping her there until she submits.  It has been shown that this, in fact, quite often has the opposite effect, and makes the dog afraid of her owner.  And when a dog is afraid it can become aggressive.

In actual fact, this makes life easier for us.  We can through pack leader ideas out of the window, and treat a puppy’s bad behaviour as something we need to work on and change, rather than worrying that we’ve got the pecking order wrong in the house.  We’re not dominating our new puppy to show it who’s boss, we’re showing her that she’ll be rewarded if she does what we want, and will not be rewarded for anything she shouldn’t do. 

Consistent rules, started early on and followed by everyone in the household will train your dog to have good manners. 



Rewards Work with Dogs



Common sense has a big role to play in this.  Think how the dog interprets your behaviour.  If you take her dinner away half way through her eating it, what’s she going to think?  In future she’s not going to want to let anyone near her dinner and may start guarding it.  If, however, you tell her to leave it and then put something better in - she’s going to let you (or anyone else in the family if they’re doing the same thing) near her bowl anytime you want!  Rewards work with dogs!

Some dogs are obviously more dangerous than others if bad behaviour is allowed to develop, and it is obvious that it could be a disaster waiting to happen if a large guard dog thinks his role is not to let anyone into the house.  Don’t allow anything to happen when your pup is young that you won’t want to happen when she is adult.  Don’t allow her to sit on the settee, for example, if you’re not going to allow that as an adult. 

Reward your dog with food treats at first, together with praise.  Eventually she will understand what’s expected of her, and do what she’s supposed to do for your praise and affection alone.  You can punish her when she doesn’t do what you want - but these are not physical punishments, but simply withholding a reward.  A simple example is if she is jumping up, do not give her a treat until she is sitting down. 

Preventing behaviours which you don’t want to allow takes more work than rewarding the good.  When young it’s fairly easy to start training - puppies can learn how to sit, to lie down and to stay before they are was 3 months old.  However, teaching them that it  is not acceptable to leap up at people, to jump on the furniture and to stop biting can be a lot harder, but it is something at which you need to persevere trailing different methods until you find something that works.  Your aim is to teach the correct response to the words ‘NO!’ and ‘LEAVE IT’.  

Persevering with positive reinforcement will pay dividends.  Your puppy will look forward to training sessions, and will try to do the things which please you.  If you resort to old methods and try to dominate your pup using physical punishments you'll end up with a dog that obeys you out of fear, not out of respect.  
Irish Setter Pups

It was common to say that in their eyes someone has to be dominant, to lead, and to give direction, and if the human didn’t look to take this position, the dog would.

Recent research amongst feral dogs in Romania, Russia and other countries have shown that these dogs in the live mainly solitary lives.  Wolves are pack animals, but the behaviour of modern dogs bears little resemblance to the species they originally evolved from.

Irish Setter Pups
Back to Nature

For years we have been told that In the wild dogs live and hunt in packs led by a pack leader, and through many hundreds and thousands of years of domestication have retained an instinct for a distinct pecking order which they would transfer to what they consider to be their new pack - i.e. their adopted human family.
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