7 min read


Is Your Dog Dominant?



7 min read


Is Your Dog Dominant?


Has your bruiser-Bulldog taken charge of the family - including the other dogs in the home? Are they constantly herding family members, claiming their spot as king or Queen of their domain?  

This could easily be a funny cartoon, but the reality is some dogs are bully-ish, not only to other pooches but to their human family! Dominance is an issue that makes some people live in constant fear of the school bully or mate who controls their life. If a dog is feeling dominance and it’s left unchecked, the result could be a problematic pooch that may lash out. 

That means dog owner complaints at the dog park and less people willing to enter your home. Dogs are certainly capable of feeling domination and can cause chaos with their bad manners.


Signs a Dog is Dominant

Having a macho woofer is a nightmare, as you are forced to walk in areas away from people and other dogs. You’ve been banned from the local dog park and feel like a social outcast in your own neighborhood. Your Rottweiler/mix is causing havoc and you’ve just about had enough!

Rexy’s a shelter dog and was trapped on a chain until you took him home. Now, he’s asserting his dominance over everyone in the family. That includes Misa, your daughter’s toy poodle, that gets the brunt of Rexy's rage.

Lately, he’s been scaring the neighbors when they try to pop over for a coffee. he charges at the front door, daring them to step inside. Misa whimpers all the time and has started urinating on the floor. Her fear of this Rotty-rogue has this normally cheerful poodle cowering in your daughter’s room.

Rexy loves pacing up and down, his ears flattened back with a rigid body stance that screams, "watch out punk!” He even bares his teeth at the cat, who hisses back, starting a war of the species that sees Rocky-Rotty win the match, as the cat disappears out the window.

Some commanding canines will dominate their territory making it near impossible for the salesman to enter their realm. The message conveyed is clear, “This is my patch and you better stay off!" That might be a good thing in the owner’s eyes, but what about when extended family or friends try to pass through the gate? Your dog could be running the fence, barking, and biting anyone who's game enough to enter.

Dogs like Rexy could be super-territorial, as they come from a background where they had no control. They lived on a chain, barking to be fed and howling most of the time from loneliness. He now guards his property, family, and food bowl with a vengeance

Rexy is not a bad dog. His need to dominate comes from a place of fear. His past has had a massive impact on the way he views the world and has no idea how to co-exist with people and other pets. Any kind of harsh punishment will make him worse and if he’s cornered he’ll growl, lunge, and probably attack.

Dog dominance is created, not necessarily born, and humans are in a position to humanely alter their behavior. Positive training techniques are the only recourse. If you attack a bear, it will defend its turf and attack you back!

Body Language

Signs a dog has dominance issues are:<br/>

  • Growling
  • Barking
  • Guarding
  • Howling
  • Biting
  • Ears Back
  • Exposed Teeth

Other Signs

More signs a dog can feel dominance include:<br/>

  • Pinning Other Dogs
  • Picking Fights
  • General Aggressive Behavior
  • Territorial
  • Charging At The Front Door

History of Dog Dominance


Dogs are the modern version of wolves and share around 98% the same DNA. For many, that’s as far as the similarity goes, as pooches are hundreds of different looking breeds created by humans over thousands of years.

You can’t talk about dog dominance without ruffling a few trainer feathers, as some well-respected dog trainers believe a dog inherits a pack style of dominance from its ancient ancestor, the wolf. Their image of a wolf pack is an Aplha male and female with underlings who often take on the boss for the management job.

There is another school of thought that says wolves live in the wild as families, with a mom and pop plus wolfy-kids. Dog trainer, Victoria Stilwell, tells us this dominant wolf pack concept comes from a 70’s study of captive wolves, where those at the top used forceful, aggressive measures to keep the others in check. This popular theory generated a buzz of dog training where humans became the (wolf) pack leader issuing control tactics over their family pets. The infamous alpha-roll came into play and Poodles and Pugs were thrown on their backs in a display of human leadership.

History teaches us how things were done in a particular way, but also leaves the door open for fresh thinking of an old subject. Dogs are no longer wolves and get along great with most people. Their vision of life is with humans, unlike their grandparents, who lived in groups of wolves. By altering their genetics, we've made them friendlier than wolves and interested in humans as companions.

A dominant dog can come in all shapes and sizes. Their behavior can be the result of lesser humans who have left their cruel mark on a Husky, Rottweiler, or Shih Tzu. The result could be a pooch with a massive chip on their paw, with an “I’ll get you before you can hurt me,” kind of attitude. This mutt is said to be dominant when the truth is, they are just trying to hold their ground.

Guard dogs may appear dominant but are generally trained to react in the correct way. They may be Pit-bull softies at home with the kids, but when they are guarding a property, their senses are totally cued.

Science Studies Dominating Dogs


K999 believes initiating alpha-rolls on a dominant dog will create a bigger problem. Using dictatorial tactics to make a pooch submissive teaches them to bow down to the human leader but initiates a boomerang effect, as the same dog goes on to bully submissive woofers or children.

This raises an interesting point. If the father of a family were to physically and mentally crush their child in order to make them behave, what kind of future adult would they be creating? The father might rule OK in his home but down the road, this submissive kid may be totally bullied by others or exert dominance over his adult family. However you look at it, the psychological scars will run deep, evoking a legacy of master and subservient relationships. Today's thinking errs on the side of healthy teachings between man and dog.

If a dog is acting dominant there will be an underlying issue that needs addressing. Any quick fix strategy is guaranteed to create an unreliable pup that could turn at any time. People seek out counselors or psychologists to heal the wounds of bullies with gentle techniques to repair the damage. The same ideas should apply to dogs as they learn better ways to do things with positive encouragement.

Science Daily featured a study by the University of Bristol’s Department of Clinical Veterinary, about dogs and dominance. Researchers took 6 months observing feral mutts and dogs at a homing center, to find that dominance is learned from events and experience. Most woofers were not inspired to be part of a pack mentality. They concluded it would be detrimental to use severe training methods to alter dominance behaviors.

A senior lecturer at the university was adamant that dogs do not have an innate need to control people or other dogs. The cruel tactics of pinning them down or jowl grabbing to assert human dominance is counter- productive and could make a dog aggressive.

Positive Training Ideas for Dogs that Dominate


There are opposing camps of thought in regard to the training of dominant dogs, so let’s take a look at the positive reinforcement - reward approach made famous by Victoria Stilwell. Her mantra is evident as she trains dogs without physical or mental anguish.

She points out that doggy-dominance should never be punished. If a dog becomes the house bully, lording over the humans and the other family pets, an intervention is needed. This popular trainer does not believe that a dog enters a home wanting to take control.

Science equates a dog's mental age with a 2-3-year-old toddler, so it doesn’t seem possible that their brains could create such a pre-meditated thought. A Maui-based child psychologist totally agrees. Her belief is a toddler would not have the cognitive ability to deliberately bully another child or adult.

Like a child, your dog already knows that the humans have a certain degree of leadership as they decide when they are fed, walked, and given toys to play with. Breaking a spirit to the point of no-return gets a dog that never truly blossoms. It does as it’s told and reinforces the theory by 17th-century philosophers that dogs are mindless robots.

Science has flung open the kennel door and shown us with intense studies our dogs are pretty amazing. Some of them can name over a 1000 toys while others are employed in the service of man doing spectacular things like looking after the mentally impaired and sorting out the bad guys for the police.

Training our woofers with a fun and positive approach allows them to reach their full potential based on the breed and ability. They will trust people and not fear them. Teaching a dog that good behavior gets rewards is comparable to the way we coach our children to be upstanding adults who can realize their dreams and talents.

If a dog is behaving badly it’s good to know what has caused the problem. It’s not always easy to find out, as some dogs adopted from a shelter may have been abandoned after a lifetime of abuse. Calling a top trainer who can identify the issue could really help.

Understanding what your dog likes can motivate a dog plus basic obedience like "sit", "stay", "wait", and "come" are essential cues for altering behavioral issues. A dog soon learns bad behavior gets no toys, treats, or attention. It's time to leave punishment in the past and have fun training our dogs to be a sociable, happy, and valued part of the family.

Have questions or concerns about your pet?

Chat with a veterinary professional in the Wag! app 24/7.

Get Vet Chat

Safety Tips for Dominating Dogs:

  1. Get advice from a professional dog trainer.
  2. Read articles about changing the behavior of a dominating dog.
  3. Keep people in the home safe.
  4. Ask your vet for advice.
  5. Keep them away from children.
  6. Don't let them off-leash in the dog park.
  7. Don't physically or emotionally punish the dog.
  8. Be aware they could bite someone.

By a Japanese Chin lover Linda Cole

Published: 04/10/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
Need to upgrade your pet's leash?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews


© 2023 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.