Living with a Dominant Dog

Living with a Dominant Dog

All dogs thrive on structure and leadership, but some dogs have dominant traits and require us to work a little harder at providing this. These traits can be shown through aggression around food when moved from furniture while interacting with other dogs and/or around strangers, mimicking a protective behavior. Sometimes, it is even displayed by ignoring commands or throwing a fit when asked to do obedience.

Some dogs are born with this; they are genetically wired this way. Just like some people are extroverted, some people are introverted, and some children are strong-willed. This is who they are. However, this does not mean that their behaviors are acceptable and that they cannot be molded. What follows are some things that can be done with an already trained dog to build a good relationship with them, and that can help suppress their unwanted behaviors.

1 – Practice when they can be successful. Don’t only use obedience when you think you need it the most. Give them lots of practice. If these dogs do not succeed and are only set up to fail, they will want to avoid these commands altogether. They do not handle failure well, as they have strong temperaments.

2 – They do not decide when and how things happen (No Free Lunch)

3 – Pay extra attention to when they demand petting by nudging, pawing, barking, etc. If they do these things, they must be given a command immediately (sit, down, place). They will interpret that their bossy behavior leads to obedience, not attention. And this will remind them that they are not in charge.

4 – When asking them to perform a command, before getting something they want, per the No Free Lunch, be sure they DO NOT get it unless they do what you ask. If you do not follow through with what you asked, they will not respect you. And this will carry over to the times you want them to respect you. Remember they WANT these things you are asking them to work for, so once they learn that YOU give them or allow these things to happen, they will be happy to follow your lead. Remember that the more respect the dog has for you, the better the bond and relationship you will have with them. These dogs do not like weakness and are not comfortable with it. Examples:

  • Food: if they do not sit/stay (or down/stay) for their food, they do not get it for that feeding. Try again next meal. They need to know this resource comes from you and not from their pushy behavior.
  • Doors: if they don’t stay until YOU release them, they don’t get to go through the door. Period.
  • Do NOT give a command that you cannot enforce!! You must be able to take away something your dog wants (food) or follow through with a correction for disobedience. You must be consistent until you have established consistency in your dog’s response and their dominant behaviors are suppressed. If you do not follow through with the obedience, you are only confusing your dog by sometimes acting like a leader and sometimes acting like a follower. This will only cause stress and support the unwanted behaviors. They must do what you ask them to do.
  • REWARD your dog! This is also very important. These dogs must know that they will get something they want when they follow your lead. This will naturally come with the food, going through doors, petting, etc. But remember to reward while walking nicely, coming, etc. The reward is much more powerful to a dominant dog than correction.
  • Turn what they perceive as challenges into a positive experience!
  • If your dog guards food, give them a chance to see that you’re not there to challenge them over food. While they are eating their kibble, toss something more desirable into their bowl (treats, meat, cheese, etc.) so they start looking forward to you approaching their bowl.
  • Same with toys and bones: call them away from these things to give them a special treat and then let them go back to the item they had. Repeat this many times initially and then continue it periodically.
  • Nails/Brushing: Give them a special treat even at the sight of these things. Then, give them treats while the brush or clippers touch them. Repeat this many times without actually brushing them and/or clipping their nails. Once your dog is comfortable with that, then very briefly brush them or trim one nail and then slowly add more brushing/trimming in. Continue having sessions where you pretend to brush/clip so they don’t always encounter the more “forceful” interactions with the clippers and brush.

Like people, all dogs are different and have different behavioral needs. By following these tips you’ll soon find that living with a dominant dog isn’t so bad after all.