How to Train Your Dog to Be Dominant

Medium
1-6 Months
Behavior

Introduction

There are a lot of myths out there about dogs, and one of the most enduring is the idea that every canine is either dominant or submissive. In fact, this old story was developed from observing wolves, not domesticated dogs. 

More modern theories of dog behavior help us understand that a canine can exhibit dominant or submissive behavior depending on the situation but, just like people, the emotional lives of dogs are far more complicated than this simple black and white picture.  

Instead of using dominance or submission to judge a mentally fit dog, professional trainers focus on building a confident dog. Confident dogs are less likely to exhibit fear-based aggression, tend to get along better with other dogs, and approach new situations with a positive attitude. 

Read on to find out more about how to help your dog become more confident!

Defining Tasks

Giving your dog confidence is one of the most important behavior traits that you can possibly give them! When canines are insecure, they can easily be pushed into “fight or flight” mode. This means they perceive threats that aren’t even there, and may bite or growl in self-defense or run into oncoming traffic in a panic. 

A confident dog has a higher threshold before they will behave defensively. This means you have a safer and happier dog! 

The length of time it takes to teach confidence depends on many factors, most notably, your individual companion’s history. If your dog tends to be fearful already, then the process will take a little longer. Be patient and look for opportunities to reward your pup for calm, curious and confident behavior and you will start to see results within a week to a month in most cases. 

Confidence is important for all life stages. However, there are different aspects to focus on for puppies, adults and dogs that are already insecure from abuse, neglect or trauma. We will offer three different methods for building confidence so that all your bases are covered!

Getting Started

Training your dog to be confident is an ongoing and continuous process. It is a way of interacting with your dog that teaches them that the world is a safe place, as long as they follow basic manners. 

Identify some things your dog loves, such as:

• A game of toss
• A small food reward
• Praise
• Tug games

Once you know what they love, you are ready to look for opportunities to let them know they are a good dog. Good behavior does not need to always be commanded. Sometimes it is great to just notice that your canine is offering up a great 'sit' and make a big deal out of it. Who doesn’t love some unexpected praise?

Below are some more tips for how to train your dog to be confident, depending on their life stage and insecurity level. 

The Confident Puppy Method

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Step
1
Basic manners
Sign up for a basic manners puppy training class that uses positive training methods. There you will learn how to focus on reinforcement to shape your dog’s behavior. By teaching them what to do right, you will avoid most punishment. This gives your growing puppy confidence that they are safe in the world. It also makes punishment count more when it is appropriate, such as in cases of safety or to “proof” already learned behaviors.
Step
2
Socialize
Socialize your puppy early and often. Giving your puppy a chance to play with other puppies, once their first round of immunizations is complete, lets them learn vital doggy language so that they can play safely with other dogs. This will help them learn that playing with other dogs is something to look forward to and enjoy.
Step
3
Day trip
Take your puppy with you as many places as you can. Bring your treat bag mixed with some of their regular kibble and reward them whenever they give great behavior like not jumping, not barking, or walking well on the leash.
Step
4
New people
Give treats to people that want to pet your puppy as well. Encourage them to wait for a 'sit', or other appropriate behavior, before dispensing treats or praise. This teaches your pup that new places and people are nothing to fear.
Step
5
Tug
Play tug-of-war with your puppy, and let them win often. This builds confidence, not dominance. It teaches your puppy that you are lots of fun and a great playmate!
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The Confident Adult Dogs Method

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Praise often
Look for opportunities to reward and praise your dog when they are doing things that you love. Just like people, dogs like to be validated for doing things that make their loved ones happy.
Step
2
Avoid punishment
Avoid punishment at all costs. If you find yourself yelling at your dog over and over for the same thing, then you have failed to teach them an appropriate alternative behavior. Before using punishment, make sure your canine knows the “right” thing to do.
Step
3
Time out
Try taking away good things for problem behavior instead of direct punishment. For example, stop petting them when they jump, give them a “time out” if you catch them chewing on furniture, or end a training session if they are distracted.
Step
4
Games
Find a game that your dog loves to play, and play it often. Examples include tug of war, fetch or hide and seek. Let your canine win the game and keep things fun and exciting for best results.
Step
5
Training
Learn positive training methods, such as those offered in the many Wag! training guides. If you make a little time every day for a few short, 10 to 15-minute training sessions, you will be amazed how much confidence your dog will find!
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The Insecure Dogs Method

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Step
1
Observe
Observe your dog and take careful note of both when they seem comfortable and when they seem anxious. Make note of both the positive and negative triggers.
Step
2
Good stuff
Make sure that the things your insecure dog loves are happening more than the negative triggers. Reward and praise your dog when they are calm, relaxed or pleasantly playful.
Step
3
New associations
For negative triggers, try exposing your dog to them indirectly and distracting them with something they really love. For example, if your canine companion is nervous around the vacuum cleaner, try having the vacuum cleaner out of the closet and in the corner and turned off while distracting your pup with a game of tug-of-war that they enjoy. This can build a new association with the negative trigger. If your canine freaks out, then you have “over-exposed” them. Try again another day from a longer distance away.
Step
4
Keep it positive
Avoid rewarding negative emotional states. If your dog gets whiny, pees on the floor, or exhibits other kinds of fear and insecurity, be sure to never reward that with attention. It may seem counter-intuitive, but unless your dog is experiencing real trauma, reassuring them for being afraid of nothing is simply reinforcing that negative reaction.
Step
5
Get help
Know when it is time to consult a professional animal behaviorist. Insecure dogs can be dangerous. If your dog has expressed aggression to other people or dogs, it is too important to ignore. Consult a professional that uses positive training methods right away.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
Ronin
German Shepherd
6 Months
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Question
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Ronin
German Shepherd
6 Months

Very submissive. Other dogs dominate him very easily. He barks at strangers but wouldn't hurt a fly. I want him to be more confident, territorial and dominant.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
706 Dog owners recommended

Hello, First, know that territorial and dominant behavior often increases with mental maturity between one and two years of age. I wouldn't encourage anything related to aggression at this age. I would however work on confidence. Teaching pup things where pup can successfully overcome new things, like obstacles and mental challenges can help to build confidence. Calm consistent leadership can also help. Check out the video linked below. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elvtxiDW6g0 I would also work on desensitizing pup to things they are nervous around. Like when you are on a walk and pup first sees another dog or person walking by, before they act nervous, while they are still thinking about the other dog or person - give a treat and act up beat about the situation. If you wish to formally train pup to guard your property, a professional protection trainer can be hired for any bite work and formal training once pup is past one year, if pup has been well socialized and learned obedience during their first year of life with you, to have the confidence and attention to you needed. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Sharry
French Bulldog
6 Months
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Question
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Sharry
French Bulldog
6 Months

He’s over friendly nd over excited dog i want to make him a little protective and a calm dog

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
126 Dog owners recommended

Hi there! This is a multi-fold process, and a lot of it has to do with maturity, which will come time goes on. Usually at about 9 months, dogs become a bit more secure in themselves. But in the mean time, you can practice the tipe below to speed the process along. 1. Work on obedience training. Daily obedience work, even when it is only for a short time, provides submissive dogs with a lot of confidence. Family members are proud of dogs that perform on command and dogs pick up on this feeling. If the obedience training is harsh, though, a submissive dog will just get worse. Find a positive reinforcement and reward-based training class in your area. If the trainer works with a discipline-based system, it is not appropriate for a submissive dog. 2. Socialize your dog as much as possible to make them adaptable. The sensitive socialization period for your dog ended when she was a puppy, about 15 weeks of age, but she can still be socialized as an older dog, it is just going to take a lot more work. To socialize your dog, take her out as much as possible, let her meet new people, let her meet your friends dogs (if they are friendly with other dogs), and let her run free at the dog park so that she will meet new dogs. (Some dogs will be too nervous to play at the dog park so this phase may only come later.) 3. Give your dog a job or get her involved in a canine sport. Most dogs are not able to "work", however, so in order to give them an activity to build their confidence, it is a good idea to get them involved in one of the canine sports. Flyball, agility, Frisbee, dock diving, and other activities may be available in your area. 4. Use counter-conditioning techniques to help her overcome fear. This is the best but also the hardest (for you!) of the methods available to treat a submissive dog. For each thing that your dog is afraid of, you have to train her to have a pleasant feeling. When a dog is no longer afraid of the situation, he is confident and no longer going to be submissive. If you decide to try to build her confidence through counter-conditioning, the first thing you have to identify is the trigger. What is stimulating your dog to be so submissive? If she is only afraid of one thing it is easier to train her; unfortunately, most submissive dogs are afraid of almost everything. Spend some time with your dog to become familiar with her fears. The next step is to teach him that the scary thing is actually a good thing. When she is exposed to the scary object, give her a tasty treat and let her relax around the object without any pressure. The final step in counter-conditioning your dog to face her fears is to expose her and not provide a treat or even notice that he is being exposed. If you need more help on using counter-conditioning, the animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell has a book that I have found to be useful. The techniques are great and will help your dog develop confidence but as with most behavior modification, takes patience and persistence. Please let me know if you have additional questions. Thanks for writing in!

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