Puppy's Place in the Family
The reason dogs are such good pets and fit so well into human society is that they are social animals by nature. Their greatest psychological need is to be part of a group. Whether it's a family of just you and puppy, or a boisterous household full of children and pets, in order to be happy your new puppy must feel secure about her place in the group. If you watch puppies at play, you will see a lot of growling and tussling. There is more to this play fighting than meets the eye. Those little guys are already deciding who is going to be "top dog". Whether you realize it or not, something very much like this play fighting is happening at home between your puppy and the rest of the family. To be confident and secure puppies absolutely need a master they can depend on. For your dog to have a happy life and be a pleasure to own, at least one person in the family must become the "master". Dogs have no mental concept of "friends and equals". Somebody has to be the boss. Assertive puppies will grow up trying to be boss, which won't make either one of you happy. A submissive puppy may spend its entire life fretting and worrying, never sure what is expected. Everything usually works out just fine automatically, puppies find their place in the family without much trouble and everyone is happy with the arrangement.
If, on the other hand, you have a strongly assertive or unusually submissive pet there are some things you should keep in mind:
Working with an Assertive Puppy
Assertive puppies tend to immediately investigate new people and objects. They are quick to begin play fighting activities with people. When they want to be fed or other attention, they are insistent and demanding. These puppies fall easily into the role of family protector because they think the people belong to them. This is well and good, but because dogs cannot really understand human society, there is soon trouble. They may try to defend you from everyone, and biting the UPS man because he invades your yard and that is not OK. Biting the children and that is also not OK. The most serious problems happen when grandchildren are involved. Perceived either as an outside threat or a competitor, it is not unusual for grandchildren to be badly injured by big assertive dogs. The training techniques used to establish your teacher-learner relationship are especially important. Remember that your dog will be much happier in the long run if he earns praise and pleasure by obeying you, not by demanding it. It is especially important for you to be master. Do not allow your dog to nip or bite at you in a friendly way. Do not stimulate your puppy by waving your arms and acting excited or by playing tug of war. Do not become what your puppy perceives to be an equal and competitive playmate.
Working with a Submissive Puppy
Submissive puppies tend to "shy away" from new people or things, either by lying down or actually running away. It is normal for most puppies to be slightly submissive. They wish for nothing more than to please you, which makes them easy to train. Teach shy puppies things they can do that will earn your calm, reassuring praise. Try to provide a peaceful environment and a dependable schedule that includes exercise, a daily obedience session, and reliable feeding times.
Most puppies and young dogs have a tendency to urinate in response to new situations, when meeting a stranger, or even when their owners come home and greet them excitedly. This is a sign that your puppy is uncertain about what is expected. Never scold when this happens. Puppy is already trying hard to please. Calmly reassure, ignoring the urination. Clean up later, in private.
If puppies don't know what is expected of them, particularly if they are beginning to believe that people are supposed to do what dogs tell them to do, they may react inappropriately to strangers. The puppy is afraid, but psychologically unable to be completely submissive. They usually show signs of fear and try to run away from a threatening situation, but when escape is prevented, they bite. It happens when children insist on petting a frightened dog, and happens at the veterinarian's office. These puppies need the firm leadership and reassurance best achieved through obedience training.
It is natural for puppies to chew, that's one of the ways they explore and learn. Try to keep valuable objects that are chew-able safely out of reach and provide a satisfactory alternative like a Nylabone chew toy. Destructive chewing is merely a way to work off excitement and relieve frustration, not an insidious plan to get even with you. Help encourage your puppy to be calm. Be easygoing. Don't encourage tug of war or play that involves chewing and biting. When you leave home for the day, don't make it into a big deal for the dog. By showing lots of emotion of any sort: whether your making threats or acting excited to see them, it doesn't matter, you build up emotional stress. This is often vented in destructive chewing. Your last three or four minutes at home should be spent calmly reading or sitting. Then get up and leave, ignoring your puppy completely--don't even say goodbye. Arrive home the same way. Ignore your puppy at first and avoid the area where things are most likely to have been chewed. If things are a mess when you get home, don't let your puppy know you care. Behave calmly. Clean up later when your puppy isn't watching. Do not build up more stress by scolding, that just makes things worse. Again, work on teaching simple obedience and building the teacher-learner relationship. Puppies need a calm, dependable master.