What Is Dominance?
Wild dogs, like wolves, live in packs. Canines
develop a social structure called a dominance hierarchy. This dominance hierarchy is very important to to pack
as a whole, it maintains stability and reduces conflict. Imagine going to work and noone knowing who is in
charge! It would be a madhouse. The same holds true for canines. Every dog has a place, which is determined
by their interactions with other members of the pack. The higher up or dominant dogs control valuable items like
food, mates, and places to sleep & rest. In a domestic dog, valuable items can be considered food, toys, furniture
to sleep or rest on, and attention from owners.
Of course, for a home to be a safe & secure place
to live for both dogs and humans, the humans have to be in the top positions. Most dogs naturally assume a submissive
role towards humans. But there are some dogs that will decide to challenge that leadership. It has nothing to
do with how well they are treated or how much they are loved. Sometimes what to us are signs of affection towards our
dogs, can be interpreted by the dog as signs of submission. At the end of the day, dogs play by dog rules, and if you
have a dog that has a bit of a dominant streak, you really need to learn what those rules are.
Is My Dog Dominant?
Signs of dominance in a dog can include:
- Pushing past you to go through a door first.
- Jumping up on you.
- Refusing to move out of your path when needed.
- Getting up on the furniture without permission and
then refusing to get down.
- Insisting on affection, such as nudging your arm or
- Guarding valuable item such as
food or toys from you.
- Growling or baring teeth for ANY
reason, irregardless of whether you think that is an "understandable" reaction or not. (usually, for the record, it is NOT)
- Snapping at you for ANY reason, irregardless
of whether you think that is an "understandable" reaction or not. (usually, for the record, it is NOT)
***For the bolded items in this list see the "Food Aggression"
and "Aggression" sections at the end of this page.
Being A Good Leader & NILIF
If your dog is only doing things that are
not bolded above, there is an excellent article HERE regarding being a good leader. This article talks
about NILIF (Nothing In Life Is Free) in an in-depth way, and how to take charge of your home. NILIF is one of the best
non-confrontational ways to show your dog that you have the leadership role. For most situations, unless your dog is
being aggressive towards you, firming up your role as leader and being a better leader really does take care of a lot of it.
My personal dogs know their place.
It is on the couch. It is OK with me if they get up on the couch, they move when I tell them to move, they move when
my daughter tells them to move, and generally cause no problems with this. I don't sleep with them. This works
for me and my dogs.
If, on the other hand, your dog won't move when you want him to or you simply don't want
him up on the furniture, make him get down and stay down. Give him a dog bed or a pillow or a folded up blanket that
is his on the floor, lure him down with a treat and make him go to his spot to get it. You can parcel out his kibble
rather than giving it in his bowl as a meal if he is really determined and up there all the time so you aren't overfeeding.
Gradually make him stay on his bed longer and longer before he gets a reward. If he is a particularly hard nut to crack,
try leashing him to you and making him stay with you all the time. You can correct him immediately and he won't be able
to sneak up on the furniture the minute you turn your back.
Human Food & Begging
It is best not to give human food or allow
begging. If you must give your dog a bit of human food, give it over their regular meal in their bowl. This sounds
really simple and I am not going to say that my dogs never get a little treat from my or my daughters plate, but if your dog
is showing signs of dominance, do try not to do that. When a dog begs, and you give him food, in his mind he has given
you a command to give him some of that and you have complied, reinforcing his mistaken idea of who is in charge here.
Dogs can be real attention junkies!
The more they get, the more they want. If your dog is always nudging your hand, practically demanding attention, it
is normal to think it is cute, and endearing, and pet them. For a lot of dogs, it doesn't go any further than that.
For some dogs, this encourages their mistaken notion that they are in charge. Hey! I commanded her to pet
me...and she did! Yippee! You see how this can go.
Don't give your dog attention on demand.
Every dog needs affection and love, but when you are working on the computer, it is really hard to type and pet your dog at
the same time. Ignore the behavior if you don't feel like giving any affection at that moment. Resist the temptation
to push them away because this can be taken as a pet by the dog. Say a firm "NO!" I say "NO! Go on!" without making
eye contact and refuse to give any attention at all. When you do feel like it, call the dog over, make them do something
like go into a sit or down, give them attention and affection on YOUR terms! When you have had enough, stop. You
control the time and amount of affection, not the dog.
Taking your dog through a basic obedience
class can really help with dominance. It helps to firm up your role and can give you ways to communicate to your dog
that they understand. Going through a formal obedience class is best, and PetSmart offers a fairly good class for a
pretty reasonable price. Talk to the trainer first, though and make sure you are comfortable with his or her methods
before signing up for an obedience class anywhere.
If you are unable financially, or time wise
to take your dog to an obedience class, and it does happen...here is a website about clicker training. It has all the lessons for a basic obedience class,
and you can print them out and use them for free. Read through the home page, the FAQ page and the "What Is Clicker
Training" page and if you decide to persue this at home, a clicker will cost about $2. It is very important to do the
first 3 lessons, The Clicker, Attention Please, & Targeting in that order. After those 3 lessons, you can go in
whatever order you prefer.
If your dog actually lunges
or snaps at you when you approach his food, don't try the method below. You don't
want to get injured or bitten. Call an animal behaviorist or personal trainer for help. Your local humane society
may have some contact information, or resources for you. If your dog is a rescue, try calling the shelter or rescue
you got the dog from. Many rescues or shelters are willing and eager to help the dog maintain his home and be a successful
adoption. If your dog was obtained from a reputable breeder, don't hesitate to contact them, explain in detail the behaviors
you are seeing, and a reputable breeder not only knows the breed, and how to work with that breed, but will be more than willing
to help you and their pup have a successful home life, or can at least point the way to a behaviorist that has breed experience.
If your dog growl or bares his teeth while
he is eating if you approach his bowl, he is displaying food aggression. What you can try is for the next week or so,
hand feed him. Take his regular amount of kibble, put it in a baggie, and feed it by hand. This lets him know
in a very concrete way that you, not he, controls that resource. Make him do something for every handful, like sit or
go into a down. Gradually increase the time he has to hold the sit or down in order to get the food. After about
a week of that, put a handful at a time in his bowl and make him do something for that as well. You can work with extending
the period of time he has to hold his sit before he gets the food, putting the food in the bowl and making him wait to get
it, etc. Once he has worked his way back to actually getting a meal in his bowl, always make him do something for you
like sit and make him wait for permission to start eating. Dogs sometimes "forget" and need a reminder to stay on track.
If your dog is displaying the bolded Signs Of Dominance above,
well, there is some aggression involved. The main thing to remember is you don't want to get bitten or injured.
Correcting aggression using physical means is not the way to go in the vast majority of cases by the vast majority of owners.
If your dog has actually snapped at or bitten you,
at that point it is best to call an animal behaviorist or personal trainer for help. Your local humane society may have
some contact information, or resources for you. If your dog is a rescue, try calling the shelter or rescue you got the
dog from. Many rescues or shelters are willing and eager to help the dog maintain his home and be a successful adoption.
If your dog was obtained from a reputable breeder, don't hesitate to contact them, explain in detail the behaviors you are
seeing, and a reputable breeder not only knows the breed, and how to work with that breed, but will be more than willing to
help you and their pup have a successful home life, or can at least point the way to a behaviorist that has breed experience.
When You Need Professional Help...
Even a couple of sessions can give you a starting point
and also a professional trainer's take on your dog can be a valuable thing. Most dogs when they are behaving
in this way are trying to tell you something. In a few cases they are trying to tell you "hey, I'm a nut" and these
particular dogs may be better off not being tortured by their own thoughts. Most times, although they are unintentionally
getting that message across, that isn't what they are trying to tell you. An experienced dog trainer meeting you,
and your family, and your dog, and giving you their take on the situation can be a very valuable tool in determining exactly
what your dog is trying to tell you.
Here are some guidelines for choosing a professional
From the National K-9 Dog Trainers Association:
And from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers: