Read an Excerpt
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF TRAINING:
DOGS ARE PACK ANIMALS THAT
RESPOND TO A STRONG LEADER
The 7-day housebreaking formula is based in part on your dog’s inherited behavioral instincts. Dogs are social creatures that readily adapt to dominance-subordination relationships. They prefer to live in groups, or “packs,” rather than alone. A bond of attachment formed among the pack members keeps the group together. But the bond by itself is not enough to maintain order in the group. There is also a leader and a chain of command.
Canine pack relationships are based on a dominance hierarchy, or a descending “pecking” order. There is always one dog in each group that becomes the pack leader.
The leader will dominate, establish organization, discipline the rest, and maintain group order. Other pack members rarely challenge the leader. Next in rank is the second-in-command. He or she is controlled only by the leader but, in turn, dominates all the pack members below in rank. Every member of the pack has a position in the hierarchy, and once these positions are established, each dog knows precisely which members are above him in rank and which are beneath him, and what his role is.
In all the pack’s activities in the wild, the leader firmly shows the other members that he is boss. He will take the initiative in play, and he will become the first to mate. He will eat first after a hunt, but once he has his fill, the other dogs take turns at eating in hierarchical order. The leader will defend his possessions—his living quarters, food, and mate—at all costs. The chain of command will change, of course, over the years. Young adults, always on the alert for weaknesses in others, may try to defy more dominant older dogs, and rise to a higher position in the hierarchy if they are victorious. Younger and stronger dogs eventually assume authority in this manner as the dominant animals grow older and less healthy and vigorous. Dogs always inherit these pack tendencies, whether they are wild or domesticated.
The same pack behavior patterns govern a dog’s relationships with humans. Once a dog enters a new home, you can simply interchange the word “pack” with the term “family.” All the members of the household are part of the pack in the dog’s eyes. It is extremely important, therefore, that your dog learn his position in the family hierarchy immediately to ensure a well-trained and dependable pet.
A dominant-subordinate relationship is imperative in all types of dog training, especially housebreaking. As soon as you get the new puppy or adult dog, you or some other member of your family must assume the role of pack leader—with the dog as subordinate—by establishing the rules and enforcing them fairly. You must maintain a firm but loving attitude, and once you have assumed the role of leader, you must always play it. If no family member takes the controlling position, the dog will dominate, and you will end up with a spoiled beast that will be difficult, if not impossible, to housetrain. A dog in a new home will test you and other family members until he finds his place. Unless you understand that this initial testing is a way of determining how far he can go, the animal will develop behavior problems. And the problems of an undisciplined dog only get worse as he matures.
THE SECRET OF
You have learned that dogs are easy animals to train because they are pack animals with strong tendencies to follow a leader. The secret of successful and rapid housebreaking is to understand that dogs are also den dwellers in their natural state. In the wild, dogs hunt for food, mate, socialize with fellow pack members, and relieve themselves outside their dens. But they always return to their dens, snug and sheltered nests where they feel comfortable and secure, to sleep. Den dwellers will never soil their nests, and this is the prime reason that dogs can be housetrained so easily.
Teaching a normal healthy puppy, or even an adult dog, to eliminate in a particular spot is a lot easier than you might imagine, because dogs are naturally clean from birth. For the first three weeks of life, the reflexes and behavioral responses of newborn puppies are directed totally to their mother. They can’t see or hear until the fourteenth day, but they can crawl and suckle. Mother feeds the puppies, keeps them warm in her nest, cleans them, and controls their elimination. After feeding, she stimulates excretion by licking each puppy’s genitals and anus. Puppies form their first social bonds with their mother and, like human babies, they respond to her affection and attention.
Between the ages of four and five weeks, when the puppies attain their sensory and motor abilities, their mother gives them less intensive care, and they become independent enough to toddle in and out of their nest. Social bonds among brothers and sisters begin to develop. The puppies become curious and begin to explore and play together in a lively manner. They also start to bite and fight among themselves as each puppy tries to prevail over the others. In this manner, the puppies begin to ascertain the strengths and weaknesses of their littermates and take the first steps to determine dominance and submission.
Puppies first become fastidious at about five weeks of age. They can defecate and urinate now without stimulation, and, from this moment, they start going to a particular spot away from their nest to relieve themselves. If a puppy’s owner takes advantage of this natural instinct, housebreaking can be accomplished in days, instead of weeks or months.
You must also become familiar with your dog’s natural excretory instincts. Dogs, like people, usually want to urinate and sometimes to defecate when they wake up. Most dogs, though, tend to have bowel movements about 20 to 30 minutes after eating. It’s not hard to determine when your dog should go out, or be placed on his paper, once you understand these basic rhythms.
WHEN IS MY DOG
READY TO BE HOUSEBROKEN?
Behaviorists have determined that the basis of dog training is a bond of attachment or respect formed between animals and human beings. They say the bond is best established when a puppy is between six and eight weeks of age because the early formation of a strong social bond makes a dog more eager to please his master and more attentive during training.
Most animal behaviorists recommend separating a puppy from his mother and littermates at about seven to eight weeks of age and placing him in a home with loving people. The puppy will be more inclined to become a member of the family pack at this age; he will become more attached to his owner and be more trainable. If you obtained your puppy from a reliable breeder, the puppy’s socialization should have been carefully orchestrated. The puppy will have had social periods with his mother and brothers and sisters, and he will also have received plenty of handling and cuddling by human beings, giving you a well-adjusted animal that will adapt easily to your lifestyle.
A puppy’s infancy is very short compared to a human baby’s: three to four canine months are roughly equal to three to four human years. While there is no magic age for a child to start using the potty or toilet—some toddlers begin around the age of two, while others aren’t ready until they’re older—generally the average child is successfully toilet trained by four years old. Correspondingly, the average puppy should be housebroken by four months of age. Please bear in mind the word “average.” Just as every child is different, every puppy is different. If your puppy isn’t housebroken by four months of age, take your time. Don’t press him too hard. Stick to the program. Even though housebreaking may take a little longer, at least the puppy will begin to comprehend the principles of it all.