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Is The Dog In Charge?

Maybe, but that doesn’t mean you have Dominant Dog Behavior issues

By: Teoti Anderson

Last Updated:


Could you have Dominant Dog Behavior issues?

Are you beginning to think your relationship is one-sided? Sure, you tend to spoil your dog. But perhaps lately you’re starting to feel like your dog wears the pants in your partnership. Do you need to worry that your dog is trying to be the“dominant” dog?

There are a lot of myths out there about dogs being dominant. Unfortunately, television programs and trainers without backgrounds in science and modern canine behavior have fed this fallacy so much that people worry about normal canine behaviors. 

Does your dog look you in the eye? Dogs look us in the eye all the time. That doesn’t mean they want to rule our lives or has dominant dog behavior issues. Dog likes to go out the door before you do? No problem—he has four legs and you have two, so he’s faster. Plus, he loves it outside so he just wants to get there quickly. You feed your dog before you eat? That may be to your convenience, but it’s not dominance. Does he pull on the leash? He’s not telling you he’s the boss, he’s just in a hurry (and needs training). Does he jump on you? He’s being affectionate (and needs more training). He’s not trying to dominate you. Puppy pee on your bed? That’s not dominance. You’ve left your puppy unattended before he’s earned the right to wander free, and before you’ve trained him to hold his bladder unsupervised. 

Dogs don’t spend their lives plotting to take over ours with dominant dog behavior. They’re very honest creatures. If a dog loves you, he loves you. If he’s scared of you or doesn’t like you, he won’t fake it. A dog doesn’t greet you with a wiggly butt and kisses one minute, then as soon as you leave, criticize you behind your back. That’s one of the reasons we love dogs so much—unlike humans, their feelings are broadcast for all to see. 

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) states, “Dominance is defined as a relationship between individual animals that is established by force/aggression and submission, to determine who has priority access to multiple resources such as food, preferred resting spots, and mates. Most undesirable behaviors in our pets are not related to priority access to resources; rather, they are due to accidental rewarding of undesirable behavior.”

For example, if your dog grabs your slice of pizza and runs under the bed, and you reach under there and try to grab it and he growls at you, that is your dog establishing priority access to a resource: pizza. This is dominance. [If your dog does grab something he shouldn’t and growls at you when you try to take it back, your dog definitely needs training. Trade for a treat if you have to, to avoid being bitten, but get qualified, professional help and teach your dog to bring you items instead of hoarding them.]

Not dominance? If you always give your dog attention when he jumps on you—even if it’s yelling at him—you’re paying him for jumping on you, so he will always do it until you finally stop rewarding him.

In either case, it may very well be that your dog is in charge of your relationship, but instead of worrying about dominance, a better question is, who is training whom? Where have you set the bar for training? If you ask your dog to sit and he lies down, do you give him a treat anyway? If you call him to come to you and he looks you straight in the eye before walking in the opposite direction, do you chase him? If you wish he would stop barking while you fix his dinner, but feed him to shut him up, who is training whom? 

Dogs are not diabolical, but they are opportunists. If your dog barks at you and you give him things, you’re teaching him that barking works. If you’re watching TV and he keeps dropping the ball in your lap until you finally throw it, you’re teaching him that pestering you works. 

Make sure you are only rewarding behavior you like. Set rules and stick to them. You can be a leader without being a jerk. If your dog has behaviours you don’t like, get professional help, avoiding trainers who prattle on about dominance and alpha-ness. Go ahead, spoil your dog. Just don’t spoil him so rotten that he exhibits dominant dog behavior issues and makes all the rules!

Last Updated:

By: Teoti Anderson
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