Regardless of why you acquired a puppy, in order for your puppy to develop into an asset instead of a burden, you'll have to win it over - you not the dog will have to be the leader.


Dogs that are leaders within their human packs bark like crazy when there's a disturbance within their territory, and cannot be quieted by their owners. They may growl at, nip or bite anyone who disciplines them or asks them to do things they don't like. They'll most likely challenge the individual who tries to groom them, or clip their nails. They may also threaten visitors who enter their home, growl when anyone tries to take things away (especially food or bones), and mark the inside of the house with urine and stool. Such dominating dogs may only come when called if it's to their advantage and frequently wander away from home. Several of these behavior patterns may indicate a dog that has taken a leadership role in the household - a dog that hasn't been properly assigned its subordinate role in the human pack.


The process by which a pack animal is transformed into a full-fledged member of the group is referred to as subordination. With dogs, it begins shortly after the third week and continues throughout early development. Subordination has been occurring for thousands of years, but it is only recently that researchers have discovered how it functions.

The normal healthy puppy is basically a pushy animal. His tendency is to advance as far as possible within the social order of the pack. The most likely reason for this, is because the pack in order to survive, must from time to time replace its leaders. Therefore, there must be a leadership pool to draw from when that time arrives.

However, most pack members learn to control their pushy or dominant behavior, because the pack has only two leaders - one male one female. This is one of the keys to successful puppy rearing - to establish your self as pack leader and maintain that position throughout your dog's life. Also, all able family members should establish leadership with the dog. These relationships are arrived at individually, so you cannot establish a leadership role for anyone except yourself.


Many people try to win the puppy over by letting him have his own way. They shower love and affection on him just because he is so cute and cuddly, and because they want him to grow up to be their friend. From the studies done on pack behavior, we know that this is not the way to win the pup over. This kind of treatment only serves to reinforce those pushy behaviors which lead to behavioral problems in the home.


In the wild, before the cubs are four months old, the adults grab them around the head or neck, and gently but firmly pin them to the ground. The cubs soon learn that adults must be greeted with respect. They approach the adults using a slightly crouching posture, with ears back, tail down and wagging, and they lick the adults' muzzles. These are signs of respect and affection, not fear, and are called the subordinate display. Their function is to keep peace and harmony within the pack.


The following exercises are designed to begin establishing a leader/follower relationship between you and your puppy with you as the leader. Once you establish this relationship, you'll be able to prevent behavior problems. If you're a good leader, your pup will seek you out. He'll want to be with you, and he'll treat you with respect and affection - you'll have won him over.

What you are teaching your pup by performing these exercises is that you have control over him physically. The pup doesn't learn about social relationships through an intellectual process. You can't sit him down and discuss how he should conduct himself. He must be reached on a physical level. Once he learns to submit to your handling, all other physical tasks such as grooming, nail clipping, medicating, and removing objects from his mouth will be much easier to accomplish. But first he must be shown that you have the power to handle him, and that handling doesn't lead to physical harm - he must trust you and all other able family members, and at the same time be subordinate to EVERYONE.

Exercise 1 - Elevation

1. While seated on the floor, support the pup with both hands by holding him just behind his front legs. He should be facing you.
2. Hold him away from your body at arm's length and look directly into his eyes.
3. If he struggles give him a quick shake. (It is best to have a special sound that only means no for the puppy, so instead of raising your voice and saying no, try using Erhhh instead. Use a guttural, growling tone when saying Erhhh.)
4. When he is quiet, talk to him in a soft, pleasant voice.
5. Maintain this position for 15 to 45 seconds (vary time).
6. Repeat this exercise until he no longer struggles.
7. Next time work at a different location in the house, and continue changing locations. When he no longer struggles have other able family members do the same exercise under your supervision.
8. Introduce the exercise in the presence of friends or relatives and have them pet the pup when he is quiet.

Exercise 2 - Inversion

1. Sit on the floor. Cradle the pup with one hand underneath his head and the other supporting his back so that he is in an inverted position on his back in midair. (Larger puppies can be held across your lap.)
2. Hold him for 15 to 45 seconds and follow the above procedures #3 through #8.

Exercise 3 - Standing Over

If you cannot perform the first two exercises due to the size of the dog or other reasons, substitute the following:

1. While the pup is standing, straddle him with one of your legs on each side of his body.
Face the same direction as he is.
2. Place your hands under his chest, just behind the front legs, and lock your fingers together.
3. Lift his front legs off the ground for 15 to 45 seconds (vary time).
4. If he struggles, raise your voice saying Erhhh, and free one hand to quickly shake him by the neck scruff.
5. When he's quiet, talk to him in a soft pleasant voice.
6. Repeat steps #6 through #8 from Exercise 1.

Exercise 4 - Subordinate Position

1. Gently place the pup on his side on the floor with all four legs pointing directly away from you. Use one hand to hold him firmly by the neck scruff, and the other to press down on his midsection. Keep this hand away from his head and mouth. Talk to him in a soft pleasant voice after he's quiet. This may take several minutes. If he lifts his back leg up by himself to expose the groin region, you're getting somewhere!
2. Do not allow him to struggle, get up, nip or mouth your hands. If he tries, raise your voice by saying Erhhh and shake him sharply, and firmly, by the scruff of the neck as his mother would do. Praise him lavishly when he stops.
3. When he's quiet, place your fingers around his muzzle and press briefly but firmly while
4. Repeat steps #6 through #8 from Exercise 1 while he's still on his side on the floor.
5. After he is reliably quiet in that position, handle all four paws with moderate pressure. Also open the pup's mouth and briefly place your fingers between the teeth. Praise him enthusiastically when he tolerates the handling. Raise your voice and shake if he objects.

During early development these exercises should be performed five times a day for the first week, and once daily thereafter. DO NOT use them for discipline as their main purpose is to teach trust and respect. Once you are convinced that you and other family members can physically handle the dog with complete confidence, no matter where you are or what's going on, you've achieved your goal.

Unfortunately, very young children cannot do these subordination exercises. Until they are older, children should be watched closely when they interact with the puppy. If not controlled, the youngster may begin teasing the dog, or treat it roughly. On the other hand, the pup may attempt to dominate the child - an equally undesirable state of affairs. You should always be present when the two are together so things don't get out of hand.

From SuperPuppy : How to Raise and Train the Best Dog You'll Ever Have 
by Peter J Vollmer 
© 1992 SuperPuppy Press, PO Box 463030, Escondido, CA 92046-3030.