He protects his toys, food, bed, even you. He might growl or even bark at you when you pick up his bowl. He leads you on walks and to passersby, it looks like he is walking you. At night, he takes up the whole bed and leaves you a sliver of space on the edge. He stands in front of you when strangers approach and barks at them.
He pushes the other dogs in your house out of the way when it’s feeding time. He steals their bones, even though he has his own. He won’t share his toys or bed with the other dogs.
These are signs your dog is dominant, either with you or other dogs. Why does he demonstrate dominance even though his food source and lifestyle are secure?
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs learn how to live in a pack from birth with their mother and littermates. When dogs roamed the wild before they were domesticated, they teamed up in social packs for survival. Dog packs share many characteristics with wolf packs. Dogs rely on the pack and follow the leader, or the Alpha dog. In a wild pack there is an Alpha male and female dog and dogs of all sizes can take on those roles. The Alphas determine the hierarchy of the group and that includes everything from hunting to eating to sleeping. The higher up in the pack a dog is, the better and your dog will do what he can to have a better status. However, if a dog disrupts the hierarchy, the Alpha dog and pack will give consequences. This system of balances keeps dogs’ behavior in packs in check.
The pack provides security in numbers and strength and makes surviving in the wild possible. While dogs are domesticated today, this trait is ingrained in them. They value the structure of a pack and need that Alpha presence. In your household, you should be the Alpha, but your dog might see an opportunity to climb the pack hierarchy. As soon as you give in to your dog’s dominant behavior, he moves up in the hierarchy. It might start with something as simple as jumping when you’re placing his food bowl on the floor, but it can escalate to aggression and object guarding.
A dog shows dominance in a lot of ways. With humans, a dog can be defiant when he ignores known commands, takes your spot or even stands on your lap, growls when you take his objects, or barks to protect you against others even if they’re not strangers. With other canines, dogs can guard their objects like toys, bones, food, and bed. Showing teeth, biting, or growling are signs of aggressive dominance.
Encouraging the Behavior
Your dog might show dominance, but it is important to establish yourself as the Alpha in the house. Most dog owners don’t want to have dogs stealing their seat, demanding attention, or getting the food first. Dogs understand the pack hierarchy and that there are consequences for behaviors, so if you don’t give consequences, they will assume they’re moving up in rank. If you let your dog get away with one thing, it can increase to another and snowball to the point where you are the pet and he is in charge.
Dominant behavior is natural and between dogs there is a hierarchy. If your dog is being dominant but not aggressive toward the other dogs in your house, the behavior shouldn’t be too concerning. However, if a power struggle develops, you should talk to your vet or trainer to determine how best to handle the situation. Even if you are established as the Alpha in your house, your dogs have their ranking, too.It’s common for owners to be unsure if you’re not sure if your dogs are showing aggression or playing with each other. Dominance aggression can be distinguished by body language. A stiff body, lunging toward each other, staring, showing teeth, growling, or biting hard. Dogs who play will be relaxed, take turns laying on their backs, and play bite or mouth.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If your dog shows aggressive dominance, take him to a trainer as soon as you can. Even if protecting you gives you a sense of security, it can become problematic when you can’t call him off. This is something a trainer can assist with.
If your dog becomes aggressive toward another dog, make sure the trainer knows the full situation. If your dogs ever begin fighting, do not jump in the middle of the dogfight. You will put yourself in a dangerous situation. To distract the dogs and attempt to stop the fight safely, spray the dogs with water or make a loud sound like a horn or door slamming. However, don’t shout because dogs will interpret that as barking and encouragement.
It might seem strange that you clean up your dog’s poop and somehow, you’re supposed to be the dominant one, but that’s the way it goes. If you’re struggling to establish your dominance in your household, talk to a trainer and learn some skills. Do not let your dog become the leader of the pack in your home.