Recognizing and understanding canine dominance

David Shankbone, CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Creative Commons

David Shankbone, CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Creative Commons

This post is written for This and That Thursday, hosted by Two Brown Dogs and our friendly Ruckus the Eskie.


This Thursday, I have decided to discuss dog dominance, the signs of which many dog owners may not necessarily be alert to.

Needless to say, dealing with dominant behaviors in pets can be a challenge which takes time, effort and perseverance to overcome.

How do owners recognize the signs of dominance in pets and more importantly, overcome them? What turns sweet Fido into a domineering canine boss, sometimes over his owner?

What causes dominant behavior?

carterse, CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Creative Commons

carterse, CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Creative Commons

Pack Instinct

Dogs are social animals who have a natural instinct to be members of a pack. They would cooperate with each other for survival in the wild and in general. The tight structure necessitates that they get along with each other to minimize disruption and conflict. The pack order helps to lessen tension and competition, very much similar to the office or social politics we are familiar with. The presence of a pack leader should lessen aggression and stabilize a pack.

Dogs usually start a series of confrontations within the pack to establish their rank within the group. The dog who has a hold over the rest of the pack,exhibits dominant behaviors and defeats the rest into submission will usually get the top spot. Subordinate dogs will in turn display behaviors that show submission and that confrontation is not necessary.

Therefore,a pack is established in a multi-dog household. The first is Alpha and the last, Omega. Such a phenomenon also explains the occurence of dominant behavior.

Inhibited behavior versus dominant behavior

Some dogs also have a propensity to be less inhibited in their behaviors than others and would naturally assume dominance over shyer, more inhibited dogs. The roles may, at times, be reversed. Between my two dogs, Misty and Cloudy, Cloudy, being the rambunctious West Highland she is, is the more dominant of the two. Misty, when pushed into a corner, does give this little girl a run for her money though. Dominance power play, as with office politics, is common among canines too.

No interest in leading a pack

Some dogs, like some of us, have no interest in being leaders and are pressurized by pack privilege when they assume higher ranks in the pack. That can create instability in the lower ranks and start a scuffle for the top position, with dominant behaviors emerging.

Human disinterest in the top job

The above explains what happens when humans show disinterest in leading the pack. in the house, the human is always the pack leader. When he or she shows weakness , the dogs observe the signs and start exhibiting dominant behaviors.

What are these behaviors exactly?

A dominant dog is usually:

  • Stubborn

  • Headstrong

  • Demanding

  • Pushy

  • Begging

  • Paws in order to get its owner to play

  • Nudging in order to be petted

  • Sits on the very tops of sofas and loves looking down on its “kingdom”

  • Prevents others from approaching its owners

  • Whining or barking at owners without being told to do so (many consider this cute)

  • High pitched whines of protest against something it does not wish to do, like take a bath.

  • Jumping on human owners without authorization.

  • Persistently “claiming” a piece of furniture as its own without wanting to get off

How do owners cope with dominant dogs?

JoF, CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Creative Commons

JoF, CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Creative Commons

Once these dominant behaviors are spotted, coping with them becomes easier. Measures should be taken as soon as they are recognized.

Be a pack leader.

Understand that dogs see their human owners as other dogs which should assume the

top position in a pack. The Alpha Dog automatically becomes Beta after you.

To establish authority and to get him to obey commands, be calm, assertive but not mean when the dog exhibits unwanted behaviors.

Eat before dominant dogs.

A strong pack leader would usually be the first to eat at a meal. Make a dominant dog wait his turn while you eat first, ignoring it if it starts begging for food.

Make your dominant dogs sit or wait while food bowls are being prepared.

A dominant dog will usually hassle in the kitchen. Make it wait while you prepare their meals.

Walk through doors first.

When bringing a dominant dog out, walk through the doors first. Do not let the dog lead.

Train it in basic obedience.

A dominant dog should have skills in basic obedience, like sit, stay or down.

Dominant behavior can be corrected, with a few steps in a positive direction.

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10 Replies to “Recognizing and understanding canine dominance”

  1. Thanks for participating in TNT! Great information. Each one of our Chessies has tried to move up in the pack in our house. They recognize hubby as the pack leader, but eventually try to move over me…uh no. I use a lot of the techniques in your post to reinforce their place.

  2. Great post! Gizmo is not a particularly dominent dog but lately he’s developed a new quirk…If he thinks I’m paying too much attention to another dog he’ll start humping my leg…this is new and not desirable so I’m firmly discouraging it, but i do think it’s interesting

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