Dog dominance can happen in any breed and it’s not specific to one gender although it’s more common in males. Some dogs show signs of dominant behavior while they’re still young pups. Others only show signs of dominance after reaching adulthood.

At an extreme level, dominance in dogs can result in aggressive behavior. If this is your dog’s case, you should reach out to your vet or a dog trainer for help.

What is dominant and submissive behavior?

Before diving into what are the signs of dominant behavior in dogs, let’s start by understanding what it is.

Dominance and submissive behavior are two sides of the same coin. They’re related to social systems developed within a group of animals, commonly known as a hierarchy.

Social animals (like dogs and wolves) use hierarchies to reduce conflict within the group. Each member’s position is defined according to the consequences of their interactions with other members of the group.

The dominant members of the group end up being the ones that control access to resources such as food and mates. When it comes to our dog, these resources might come in the form of toys, food, their bed, and even their owner’s attention.


Signs of dog dominance

To identify signs of dominance in dogs you need to carefully examine your dog’s body language. With practice, you’ll start to notice some subtle signs. Usually, dominant dogs walk with their head held high, tail up and rigid and the ears will be facing forward.

Dogs don’t become dominant overnight and don’t show dominance signs at all times. It happens over time and as you allow your dog to get away with dominant behavior. Some common signs that can happen sporadically and become regular over time are:

  • Guarding their owner, food, or toys
  • Pulling on the leash
  • Mounting other dogs and even humans
  • Refusing to jump off the couch or bed
  • Refusing to listen and follow a command from their owner
  • Responding to a command by growling, jumping, barking, or nipping
  • Attempting to “herd” children or other pets by biting on their heels

If nothing is done, these behaviors can get worse and turn into aggressive behavior. 

Not all dogs will growl or bite, especially if their owner always gives them what they want. Dominant dogs will only growl or bite at someone who challenges their social status.

Causes of dominance in dogs

Dominant behavior isn’t specific to any breed nor is it a personality trait in any dog. There are some factors that increase the chances of a dog developing a dominant behavior. Some of them are:

  • Lack of training: dogs that are well-trained are unlikely to develop dominant behavior. This is because you’ve set rules and boundaries for your dog to follow. It’s important that you discipline your dog whenever you see signs of dominant behavior so it doesn’t escalate.
  • Lack of socialization: dogs that are comfortable with the world around them are less likely to develop dominant behavior. When properly socialized, dogs are able to read social cues and communicate with other dogs.
  • Health conditions: it’s possible that there is a health condition behind dominant behavior. It can be something that causes a hormonal imbalance or even poor eyesight and hearing. Any condition causing your dog discomfort can lead your dog to bite, growl, or bark as a response to pain.


6 tips to deal with a dominant dog

Having a dog that shows signs of dominance can be exhausting and scary at times. But there’s a way around it. Here are some tips you can start to follow to prevent and stop your dog’s dominant behavior.

  1. Take your dog to the vet to rule out any health condition as a cause for your dog’s dominant behavior.
  2. Spay or neuter your dog. Doing this may help reduce the role that hormones play in your dog’s behavior.
  3. Have regular training sessions at home. Give your dog plenty of opportunities to let out any built-up energy.
  4. Don’t allow your dog on the couch or on your bed. If needed, limit your dog’s access to any furniture or room using baby gates or even a crate.
  5. Don’t give your dog any of your own food from the table and don’t allow any begging.
  6. Always use positive reinforcement and reward good behavior.

Making sense of it all

If your dog shows signs of dominance to a point where he becomes aggressive, don’t deal with it on your own. You may make it worse and risk injuring yourself, your dog, or even your family and other pets.

Reach out to your vet or a dog trainer so you can work together on a training plan for your specific case. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Different causes of dominant behavior require different approaches.