Who’s the Top Dog Here? Dealing With Dominant Behavior.

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Does your dog think he’s the leader of the pack at your house? Ignoring commands? Pushing through doorways ahead of you? Trying to move you from your favorite resting spot? When it comes to behavior problems, he may be sending you hints that he thinks he’s the top dog, and you’re the underdog.

A dominant dog may not want to hurt anyone, but just wants to be in charge. And though this article refers to the dog as “he,” it could easily be “she.” It could be a big Labrador or a little Chihuahua. Gender and size have little to do with dominance in dogs.

Remember that dogs don’t necessarily think like you and I do. They operate on a system of social behavior inherited from their wild ancestors. This centuries-old system is what keeps order among the family, or the dog pack. Dogs crave the security of knowing where they stand in the pack’s ranking. Once they understand who is in charge, they may feel much more at ease.

Look for the following signs of dominant behavior:

  • Preventing people from petting him on the top of his head.
  • Growling or barking at you during play.
  • Trying to mount or hump people. (Even female dogs may do this)
  • Refusing to release a toy or bone when commanded.
  • “Marking” (peeing on) your personal items.
  • “Mouthing” (not necessarily biting, but placing his teeth on) you.

Trying to correct dominant behavior? An obedience course is the place to start. The obedience training should involve everyone in your family, at least to some degree; consistency is key when it comes to your dog’s discipline, so everyone needs to be on the same page.

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In addition to obedience training, here are some ways you can use the language of the dog pack to reinforce the message of who is in charge:

  • Does your dog have a favorite spot? A pet bed or a favorite chair? Stand or sit in that spot for a couple minutes, several times a week.
  • Don’t pet the dog unless he does something praiseworthy.
  • Before the dog’s feeding time, make sure he sees you eating first.
  • Never let the dog get up on furniture without permission.
  • Don’t let the dog sleep on your bed. If you want to let him sleep in your room, he should stay on the floor or in his own dog bed.

Most importantly, be consistent. Over time, your dog will get the message and will learn to enjoy your leadership, and you’ll enjoy your dog more, too.

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