Is Your Dog Dominant or Submissive?

Dogs are pack animals, and every pack has a leader. In your family, you as a family are your dog’s pack. To have a well-behaved and well-adjusted dog, you need to make sure that he knows he is not, in fact, the leader of his pack – and that YOU are the pack leader.

This may be easier said than done with some dogs – yet it is incredibly important. Your dog needs to be submissive not only to you as his master or mistress, but also to younger children. This is imperative for the safety of all family members and to avoid the development of problem behaviours.

Is your dog naturally dominant or submissive?

Every dog will require some work to help establish that you and the human family members are pack leaders over your dog’s position in your family pack. The amount of work this requires will differ between dogs and depends very much on his natural inclination to be dominant or submissive.

Is your dog an alpha? One way to ascertain your dog’s natural inclination is to socialize him with other dogs from an early age. Puppy preschool is a great place to start, as is doggie daycare for a dog who has basic training and has been fully vaccinated.

When you socialize your dog, pay close attention to how he interacts with the pack.

Signs of a Dominant Dog – “I’m in Charge!”:

  • Mounting other dogs
  • Standing tall, stiff, with hackles raised
  • Ears up and forward
  • Tail held high and waving
  • Starting (and winning) staring contests with other dogs
  • Stealing food and toys from other dogs
  • Attention-seeking
  • Pushing to the front during group dog walking
  • Always winning games of tug-of-war
  • Failing to ever lick other dogs on the mouth

Signs of a Submissive Dog –  “I’m no Threat!”:

  • Makes himself look small
  • Ears back and eyes averted
  • Tail held low or tucked
  • Turning away when other dogs stare at them
  • Allowing others to win a tug-of-war
  • Backing off to allow other dogs to steal toys or food
  • Licking the mouths of other dogs and providing other forms of affection/attention
  • Rolling onto his back to display belly – a sign of vulnerability
  • Urinating when greeting other dogs

Most dogs will reside somewhere in the middle of this spectrum and the degree of dominance or submission displayed will alter depending on which group of dogs they are with. Most dogs will be dominant in some relationships but submissive in others.

What Does it All Mean?

A dominant dog will not always be bossy – some take on a protective role. It’s all about what is important to the dog.

Many dogs use dominance and submission in play and trade-off these roles for fun.

A more submissive dog will be easier to manage and keep at the bottom of the family pack structure. Dominant dogs will possibly reject a subordinate position in your family pack and will require more training, focus, structure,  and work to keep them happy and balanced. It’s important to be consistent with your dog to not send mixed messages. Positive reinforcement of the rules and hierarchy in your home is the way to achieve this.

A well-adjusted, well-trained dog who knows who’s boss will enjoy and get benefit from doggie daycare far more than a dog who wishes to exert his dominance in all areas. He will also be easier to handle at home. But even the most dominant dog can be trained – and understanding his dominance/submission level will enable you to safely socialize him for your family and other dogs.

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