How To Manage Dominance

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This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Dominance

In the first part of this article I discussed the difference between natural dominance and owner created dominance and how to recognize dominant behaviors being exhibited by your dog. In this second part of this series I will discuss how to manage dominant behaviors in your naturally dominant dog and how to keep from creating an artificially dominant dog.

The keys to living with, and successfully managing, dominance issues is to understand the differences between natural dominance and artificially created dominance issues and in practicing strong leadership principles to prevent further behavioral issues from occurring.

The Naturally Dominant Dog

The naturally dominant dog is a product of its genetics and to some extent its environment. There is not much you can about the genetics that your dog was born with so what you are left with is finding ways to manage the dog’s behaviors and its environment.

This does however bring up the issue for the need for good breeders who pay attention to breeding for temperament as well as for conformation. As well, it brings up the importance for potential owners to understand about temperament.

Know what to look for in a dog before you buy it. Once you make the commitment to own a dog, you are going to have to live with your purchase. Avoid purchasing the dominant puppy and your life as a dog owner will be much easier.

But what if you did end up with a naturally dominant dog?

Effective ways that you can manage your dog’s dominant behaviors

Umbilical training

Use the Umbilical technique, this technique helps to shift the dog from “me” thinking to “we” thinking. Naturally dominant dogs and dogs that have been created to be dominant by their owners think and they make choices for themselves. They think for themselves and they make the rules for themselves. In this state of mind, there really is no partnership between human and dog.

The Umbilical process forces the dog to follow the owner’s moves. It makes them aware that they are not in charge and it gets them in the habit of looking at the owner and watching them for their next cue. Be prepared, that dominant dogs are initially not very happy about losing their “throne”. The task of re-balancing power and re-establishing yourself as the one who is in charge is a process and it takes time. But really when you think about it, your dog did not suddenly become a dominant tyrant overnight. His behavioral issues were created over time and it was a process too.

Obedience classes

Sign up for obedience classes, and if possible, find a class designed for dominant dogs. Obedience training for these dogs is a must. Training work helps to drive home the message that there is a clear leader and a follower. A good trainer or behavior specialist can help you help you develop better dog handling skills. Obedience training helps establish much needed and previously lacking rules, boundaries, and behavior limits for the dog.

Correct and Adequate Socialization

For the naturally dominant dog proper and early socialization is a must. You will want to get professional help with this from someone who is familiar with dominant dog behaviors. Far too many owners are misguided when it comes to understanding the socialization needs of dogs, much less the socialization needs of the naturally dominant dog.

When someone brings their dog to me with because of dog behavior issues, I always ask about how or if their dog was socialized. Nearly everyone assures me that their dog was socialized but it does not take long to decipher that in fact, their dog was not properly socialized. Just because you have more than one dog does not mean that your dog is now automatically socialized with all dogs. Nor is he well socialized just because you take him for the occasional walk or dog park visit. If your dog practices rude or obnoxious social behaviors while he meets other dogs, this does nothing to teach your dog about proper socialization etiquette. Continuing to practice poor socialization skills only makes it harder to re-teach good skills later on.

Far too many owners think that socialization is something that happens automatically when you allow dogs to be together. This is NOT the case and it is certainly not the case with the naturally dominant dogs. These dogs have to be shown how to meet and interact politely with other dogs. Most times dominant dogs lack the desire to behave and treat other dogs as their “equal” because they view themselves to be “superior”, so you will have to not only show them what appropriate behavior looks like, you will have to insist that they demonstrate this behavior with all the dogs that they encounter.

If you fail to do this, they will continue to behave in a dominating way with every dog they meet. They will charge up to other dogs, get into their face, stare them down, try to stand over the other dog, and they usually attempt to mount the other dog to demonstrate their dominance. If this describes your dog’s behaviors, then either you have been unsuccessful at teaching socialization skills to your dominant dog or your dog is not understanding what is expected from him. Either way, this issue needs to be addressed as soon as possible before your dog becomes a biting hazard.

If your dog’s dominant behaviors are so severe that he launches an assault on every dog he sees, then for the short term, consider putting a muzzle on your dog to take away his avenue for biting and do not allow him to be off leash. These dogs should definitely not be taken to the dog park until they are given proper instruction and they can demonstrate more appropriate social behavior. Taking an out of control dominant dog to a dog park and then allowing him off lead is a dog fight looking for a place to happen. Don’t do it.

Correction and Timing

Make a commitment to correct the behaviors consistently and immediately. If you are inconstant or slow with your corrections you are teaching the dog to be more persistent with his bad behavior. A dog’s world is very black and white. For dogs, rules apply always or never. Unless you correct the dog every single time he does the behavior he will assume that he does not have to comply. For corrections to be effective, you have a 1.5 second window from the time a dog does the behavior to mark the behavior. That also means that if you are slow to correct a behavior then the lack of a timely correction serves to mark the behavior. The behaviors that are rewarded or reinforced remain.

Institute A “Work For It” Program

Most dogs with dominant dog behavior issues are under the impression that they are entitled to own everything because everything has been always given to them. Food, toys, treats, choice of sleeping spots; they have it all given to them. Especially in the case of naturally dominant dog, they should be given nothing for free. They should have to “work” for every meal, every treat, and every toy they get to play with. Working for it teaches them self control, as well, as it reinforces that there are no free rides. At the same time it also teaches them that having patience is rewarding.

Dominant Dogs Should Not Be Allowed To Have Ownership

Naturally dominant dogs should never be allowed to think they own anything because this only serves to reinforce the idea that they are dominant. You, the owner, can be the only one who owns anything in the house, yard, car etc. You own all the food, toys, beds and furniture. The dog gets something because you allow him to use or have it. By human social values this may seem cruel, mean or unloving but dogs operate by a very different set of social values.

In the dog world it presumed that a dominant dog gets his choice of resources. He does not need to ask for it. He does not need to fight to attain it. He just walks in and takes what he wants. They view this as a natural part of being dominant. So when owners over indulge the naturally dominant dog by allowing him to choose resources, allowing him to have possession, allowing him to make his own choices, and by placing no limitations on his actions, these actions only serve to confirm to the dog that he is indeed the dominant leader of the group. For the naturally dominant dog, everything in his life must be directed and allocated by you, the owner.

Every aspect of his life has to be controlled by you or the dog’s natural instincts to take charge will begin to emerge. Living with a naturally dominant dog will mean that you will always be required to actively manage every aspect of this dog’s life or he will manage your life.

Increase Physical Exercise

A physically tired and mentally tired dog is much less likely to have the energy to try and run the show. You can address two issues at once by umbilical training your dog using a waist leash while you walk or run. Exercise for the dog and umbilical training to re-establish leadership … all in one activity.

Spay or Neuter The Dominant Dog

Consider spaying and neutering the naturally dominant dog. While not all intact dogs are automatically going to be behavior problem, the combination of a naturally dominant dog combined with rampant hormone fueled fueled cocky behavior combines to form a recipe for a disaster.

Add to this mix, a dog that an owner that does not train or sets limits on his behavior and you have all the makings of a dog that will surely end up being given up to a shelter because he was uncontrollable in the home.

And to make things even worse, these out of control dominant dogs will most likely end up eventually put down because they are deemed uncontrollable and un-adoptable. This outcome is absolutely avoidable if the owners of dominant dogs step up to take the responsibility of living with such a dog.

Be A Strong Consistent Leader

If you commit to owning a naturally dominant dog then you will also be required to commit to being a strong leader consistent leader in the eyes of your dog. Learn and understand what actions convey the message of leadership to your dog. Learn how you can be a stronger leader in the eyes of your dog. If you choose to share your home with a dominant dog then this issue is not optional.

In this relationship, one of you will emerge to be the leader. If it is not you, then you are resigning yourself to living in a dangerous situation where the dog makes the rules. Dogs that are in charge of their owners and their environments eventually become a risk to bite or attack when they feel that their “authority” is challenged. That means that when you issue a dominant dog a cue (move over, let my walk by, drop it, come here, etc) he will view this as a challenge to his authority (that your behaviors helped to reinforce) and he will act accordingly.

He will demand your compliance to his authority and if he sees no compliance he will follow up with the only way a dog knows to reinforce the social rules; he will deliver a bite or launch an attack. This puts everyone in the household in danger.

If you are not a naturally confident leader, if you are a person who has trouble being consistent, or if you are a person who lives their life without stability, predictability, or follow through, then for the good of all, you may want to reconsider sharing your life with a dominant dog. Not everyone has what it takes be a good owner to a naturally dominant dog.

Sometimes the most loving act you can do is to admit that you cannot give a dog what he needs and to help find him a loving home with a person who can be all the things that a dog like this needs in his life. Always be willing to see the dog and give him what he needs to make him happy, healthy, and fulfilled – even if that means finding him a suitable new home.

The Artificially Dominant Dog

If the naturally dominant dog is a product of his genetics and his environment then the artificially dominant dog is purely a product of its environment. These dogs are created to be dominant by their owner’s actions and choices. These dogs are not naturally confident dogs but they find themselves thrust into the leadership position by a combination of circumstances:

  1. A lack of recognizable and consistent leadership skills being demonstrated by the owner causes dogs to be placed into a situation where they feel that for their own continued preservation and continued safety, they must step into the role of group leader.
  2. Continued indulging behaviors from the owners combined with a lack of rule setting cause these dogs to believe that they are indeed the dominant rule making member of the social group. Unfortunately these dogs lack any real natural traits that would qualify them as a good natural leader. More often than not these dogs are fearful, anxious and stressed from being thrust into this role.

Naturally dominant dogs are not the dogs that are at risk for biting or for physical attacks. The dogs that are likely to be a danger to launch an aggressive attack are those dogs that have been created to be dominant by their owner’s overly indulgent actions and their lack of leadership. These dogs are not naturally confident dogs and they will aggressively fight to own and to keep their resources.

Once they assume the leadership position and the resources that come with the job, these dogs then fear losing their artificially inflated social ranking and the resources that come with the position. These will be the dogs that will viciously guard “their” possessions, including their humans.

These dogs also feel that since it is their job to control and rule the group, they will do whatever they feel they must to achieve compliance from all other group members. What this means for the humans and any other animals in the household is that they will be mercilessly physically harassed to comply with any and all of their wishes.

How And Why Do People Create Dominant Dogs?

Most people inadvertently create dominant dogs because they do not understand dog behavior, dog leadership skills, or they lack the motivation to be a good leader for their dog. People can also create a dominant dog by over indulging their dog by lavishing an unbalanced amount of attention on the dog while at the same time fail to give the dog any guidance and placing any limits on the dog’s behaviors.

Some common ways for people to create a dominant dog are:

Misinterpreting The Dog’s Behaviors

Many owners never recognized the dog’s initial behaviors to be problematic so they never stopped or corrected the dog from doing the behavior. By not stopping the behaviors, the behaviors continued, grew worse, and then it spread into other aspects of the dog’s functioning. The dog assumed that since no one seemed to object to their behaviors, the behaviors persist. Any behavior that is reinforced, is fostered and will remain.

Lack Of Adequate Supervision

Sometimes owners have not been very good about providing consistent supervision, leadership, and guidance where their dog’s behavior is concerned. If dogs are not clearly shown which behaviors are acceptable, if the problem behaviors are not corrected, then the dogs will assume that what they are doing is acceptable behavior. Parameters and limits for acceptable behaviors must be made by the owners or the dogs will choose and set their own limits.

Owners must be available and willing to actively supervise their dogs. Simply being present in the room but preoccupied by other activities does not qualify as active supervision and neither does relegating a dog to the backyard all day without direct supervision. If there is no one there to correct a behavior as soon as it happens, the behavior will persist.

Unknowingly Reinforcing Bad Behavior

Sometimes owners don’t understand that they unwittingly reward and reinforce their dog’s bad behavior. All behavior is purposeful and for a dog to keep doing the behavior it means that the behavior is being reinforced at some level. That means that the dog is getting a payoff for exhibiting the behaviors. Dogs, by nature, are reward driven so that means that behaviors can be reinforced by giving your dog attention when they exhibit the behavior.

Yelling, lecturing, or even giving physical punishment to a dog may well be reinforcing the behavior because he gets your attention when he performs the behavior. This situation can be avoided by making sure that your dog is given lots of attention when positive behavior is exhibited.

The Overindulged Dog

This dog has been overindulged, allowed to do as he pleases, with no real rules, limits, or consequences for his actions and now he views the house, the contents, and the people in the house as HIS possession. People have good intentions when they shower their dogs with excessive love and attention but it seldom ends well for either of them.

The dog has been led to believe by the actions of his owners that everything belongs to him. This is sometimes called the Princess (or Prince) Syndrome. Dogs are not happier or feel more loved when they live in a chaotic or unstructured environment. Indulging a dog does nothing for the dog and serves only to make the owner feel better about what they are giving the dog in that moment.

Learn a more constructive way to show your dog love and affection other than indulging him to the point of neurosis. Over indulged dogs are not happy or well adjusted. They end up being out of control, neurotic, anxious, and a hazard to bite. Please, it is okay to show love to your dog. Just make sure that your actions benefit your dog.

If you love truly love your dog, support his needs. Dogs need to know that someone is looking out for their welfare and well being. Safety, well being, and predictability are synonymous with guaranteed survival so give your dog the predictability he craves through rule setting and expectations of behavior.

How Can I Prevent This From Happening With My Dog?

If you have already created a dominant dog then following the above techniques consistently will allow you to reset the power balance in your relationship. You can prevent creating a dominant dog by paying careful attention to the following rules:

  • Don’t over indulge the dog.
  • Set limits and rules for behaviors.
  • Know what strong leadership looks like from your dog’s perspective. Be a strong leader for your dog so that you do not get relegated to lower social ranking position again.
  • Take your dog to obedience classes to forge a relationship with your dog. Make sure that everyone in the household participates in the training of the dog. It helps the dog to understand that all the humans have equal ranking over the dog.
  • Make sure that your dog receives adequate breed specific exercise and mental stimulation daily to keep your dog from become bored and unhappy.
  • Be willing to be honest about your dog’s behaviors and about yours. Don’t make excuses. Make a commitment to address the problem right away.
  • If you find yourself in a situation where you do not have the time, the means, the motivation, or the ability to properly meet a dog’s needs, be willing to find your dog a good home where his need will be met. Do not create a broken dog and then try and find a home for it. Many dogs are euthanized every year because their learned behaviors make them un-adoptable.

As always we welcome your questions, comments, and stories regarding this topic. When we share our stories we may well be helping someone who is struggling with their Snow Dog.

Helping ALL Snow Dogs … one owner at a time.

Series Navigation<< Demystifying Dominance in Dogs
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6 Comments

  1. Elaine Bolger on

    Hey there, I have a 5 and a half month old siberian husky, he is great in all other ways, will sit, stay, recall trained with a whistle, but he is showing signs of aggression, when u try to stop him from doing something he wants to do which is usually take good off him that he has stolen, he will usually do a low growl, and he has bit my daughter when she took a pack of bagles of him but it was after she got them off him when she went to lift him outside he bit her on the arm, if he’s rummaging in something and u tell him to stop and try to remove him from it he growls, if he sneaks upstairs and u go after him and tell him to get down he growls at u, now I don’t back easy from him and I’ll still follow through on stoping him, but I’m worried that it’s going to excalate into full blown aggression, I have 4 kids aged 10, 12, 15, 16, so there’s a lot of kid traffic through the hs and I don’t want somnody to get bitten! He’s a happy dog, with loads of affection in him, but he’s also still doing a lot of mouthing! Any advice would be great, I will be starting obdieance training shortly, I just need to find the right classes for him. Thanks a mill

  2. I have a female who is 7 and spayed. She never showed any signs of being aggressive nor she never attacked her younger sister until the sister turned about 2 years of age. Her younger sister is now 4 and not spayed. I have to keep them separated at all times because the older one will attack the younger one if they are within a close distance. The younger one will defend herself when attacked and I refuse to let them “fight it out”.Separately I never have a problem with either girls, no behavior problems, they both follow any command I give them, and they understand I am the leader. I own their mother and she is the pack leader, and I believe this is a next in line pack position problem but I do not know what I can do about it and how I can stop the fighting . Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

  3. Mike Weisel on

    How do I stop my husky puppy from dominating another dog in our household? She will not leave our corgi mix alone. How do I go about correcting this behavior. The husky is 3 months old and we have a 12 year old husky mix and a corgi poodle mix that’s 4. She is signed up of obedience training and starts a week from Friday.

  4. Margit Maxwell on

    There are a lot of misconceptions about dominance out there but to make a blanket statement to say it does not exist at all is just as big of a misconception. Replacing the title of dominant with confident does not suddenly create it to be a different behaviour. It does however demonstrate that someone is arguing syntax and not behaviourism. Feel free to call it by whatever name you wish. This behaviour is exhibited by dogs and the workarounds for the behaviour still remain the same.

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