Dominant Behavior in Dogs

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Just as in the human world, some dogs are naturally more dominant than others. This behavior can be influenced by factors such as how a dog is raised, but from the time puppies are just a couple of weeks old, dominant traits can be recognized.

Dominant behavior isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing, but it is something that must be managed before it gets out of control. First, it is important to understand that there is a huge difference between a dominant dog and an aggressive dog. While a dominant dog wants to be in charge (be the leader of the pack), an aggressive dog wants to do harm to other animals or to people. A dominant dog is not necessarily a dangerous dog, but it is important to recognize, understand and tame his dominant behavior. The dog must understand that YOU are the leader of the pack and that HE is a follower. A dog that is dominant is not always aggressive. If you are unsure about where your dog fits, get the advice of an expert, such as a vet or a professional dog trainer.

In the dog world, there is a social structure based on ranking, starting with the leader of the pack on down. Some dogs have no desire to be the leader of the pack while others are willing to fight their way to the top. In your household, a dominant dog may want to be the leader, not only of other animals in the house, but of you as well.

Dominant dogs can be large or small, and are found in every breed. There are degrees of dominance. Some dogs will be happy being the leaders of the other animals in the house while submitting to you. Other dogs will keep vying for power until they think that you are submissive to them.

Many dog owners do not even recognize that their dog is displaying dominant behavior as most of these behaviors are in no way violent. It’s very important to learn the traits of a dominant dog, so that you can recognize if you have one. You may be living with a dominant dog right now and not even realize it. Learning the behaviors of a dominant dog is an important step in helping your dog become submissive to you and other family members.

Below are some behaviors often found in dominant dogs.

  • The dog will try to push through a door before you. He will knock you out of the way to get outside first.
  • The dog will try to prevent you from petting him on the top of his head.
  • The dog will attempt to move you out the way when sitting or laying with you.
  • While playing, the dog will growl or bark at you.
  • The dog will not release food or toys when you command him to do so.
  • When the dog wants something that you have, such as a treat or toy, he will bark at you until you give it to him.
  • The dog will jump on the furniture before you have given your permission.
  • The dog will not obey basic commands such as “no”, “sit”, or “get down”.
  • Instead of obeying when you give a command, the dog may try to begin to play.
  • The dog will mark your personal items, such as clothing or shoes.
  • The dog will mouth you. Even during play this is a dominant behavior.

The above list includes some examples of dominant (NOT aggressive) behavior, but is not an exhaustive list. If your dog displays any of the above behaviors, he may be dominant. Again, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, just something that must be managed.

You have to take control back from your dog. He must know that YOU are the leader of the pack, and that he is a follower. The techniques you use to accomplish this should never be physical, and should not put the dog in a position where he feels the need to become aggressive.

The first step in taking back control from a dominant dog is basic obedience training. This training is, of course, a good idea for ALL dogs, but is particularly necessary with a dominant dog. In addition to basic obedience classes, below are some tips to help you reestablish your role as leader of the pack. None of these tips should be applied with anger towards your dog. Do everything in a calm, non-confrontational manner.

  • Recognize one of your dog’s favorite places. This could be his bed or a favorite chair etc…Stand in that place for a couple of minutes many times during the week.
  • Do not pet your dominant dog unless he has done something, such as obeying your command, to earn your attention.
  • If you play games with your dog, especially a game with a clear winner, such as tug of war, YOU must always be the final winner.
  • Eat before you feed your dog, and make sure that the dog sees that you are eating first.
  • Do not allow your dog on the furniture without permission. Also, the dog should get off of the furniture on command. If he doesn’t, pull the dog off, but do not use unnecessary roughness.
  • If your dog sleeps in your bed, move him to the floor or to a dog bed in your room. Or, move him from the bedroom completely.

Again, DOMINANCE IS NOT AGGRESSION. The tips here will only work with a dominant dog, not an aggressive one. If you think that your dog is going to harm you or another person or animal, it’s important to seek professional help right away.

A dog that thinks he is the leader of the pack is not going become to submissive to you in one day. You must be consistent in your training to reestablish your dominance. As long as you are consistent, you will soon be viewed as the leader of the family by your dominant dog. Rather than being a negative thing, this will help your dog to feel more secure as he will be crystal clear about where he stands within the family.

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