Dog Dominance Behavior

There are many misconceptions about dog dominance that can be harmful to your relationship with your dog if they're applied to training and socialization techniques. It was once thought that when a dog was displaying undesirable behavior that he was trying to establish dominance and gain rank in the social hierarchy. Most bad behavior actually occurs because it has been inadvertantly reinforced by the dog's owner.

Canine Dominance Defined

Being dominant is not a personality trait in dogs. Dominance is a dynamic established between two animals when one animal displays a series of postures and warnings, or is forceful or aggressive, and another one consistently submits to these rituals. This behavior helps dogs establish which one of them takes priority in regards to resources such as food, preferred beds, human attention and toys. The dog that is dominant in one household can change abruptly when another dog is introduced into the family, or if the dominant dog becomes too old or unhealthy to maintain the lead position.

Myths about Dog Dominance

Some normal dog behaviors are often attributed to dominance, but rarely is dominance the motivator for bad behavior. Instead, dogs usually do what works for them.

Stealing food has been blamed on dog dominance when in fact, eating a steak that is within a dog's reach while his owner is not looking has nothing to do with gaining social rank. Dogs love to eat meat, and once they discover that they can get a tasty morsel from the table, bad behavior has been trained. Placing a paw on his owner is seldom about gaining control of the best recliner, he does it because it causes his owner to speak to him. Urinating on your personal objects is not your dog's attempt to express displeasure or take ownership. Marking behaviors are often a coping skill for a dog when he feels anxious.

Never assume that a dog is trying to "take over" when he misbehaves. The opposite is usually the case. Your dog needs training and guidance to learn acceptable behavior. Once he feels secure, he is less likely to act out.

Using Dominance Theory for Training

Training your dog using techniques such as biting, growling, rolling and other behaviors that humans equate with wolves is not a safe or effective method. Force and aggression make dogs fearful. A frightened animal will often choose to fight rather than submit. Even when the dog does submit to a person who has forced him to the ground or hurt him, it does not train him to behave appropriately. It only teaches him not to display certain behaviors when his owner is present. Dominance training usually requires repeated coercion, and creates an antagonistic relationship between a dog and his owner. Training your dog using positive training methods that motivate him to behave appropriately and perform consistently is the best choice. A dog that feels confident and lives in a stable environment is less likely to display aggression to assert his role in the family.