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Recognizing Dominant Behaviors in Dogs

List of dominant behaviors which can occur in dogs (this list is not yet complete)

Besides the obvious guarding, growling and biting, many dogs display a variety of dominant behaviors that commonly go unrecognized by their humans. Dogs very rarely display the highest level of dominance overnight. There are usually signs leading up to it over the years and dominant alpha dogs do not always growl and bite. If the owners are giving the dog what it wants, sometimes there is no reason for the dog to growl or bite unless it is challenged. Dogs understand that they exist in a human world. After all, who gives them food and opens the door for them to go potty? When humans perform these tasks on demand from the dog, though, why wouldn't the dog think it’s the leader? It is easy for dogs to get the impression they are alpha in their pack. Since many canine alpha behaviors are not acceptable in human society, for example, biting, it is important for humans to retain their leadership over their dogs.


Below are some common behaviors dogs display when they believe they are above humans. Keep in mind that a dog does not have to display all of these behaviors to be in a dominant frame of mind. Sometimes an alpha dog will only display a few of the behaviors at random times, depending on what the dog decides it feels like doing at any given moment. Smarter dogs tend to challenge the pack order more than dogs of average or below-average intelligence.



Headstrong and willful




Pushing a toy into you or pawing in order to get you to play with them

Nudging you to be petted

Sitting in high places, looking down on everything

Guarding a human from others approaching. People like to call it “protecting” but it's actually “claiming”—dog owns you.

Barking or whining at humans which many owners consider "talking" (without a command to do so).

High-pitched screams in protest of something dog does not wish to do.

Jumping or putting their paws on humans (without a command to do so).

Persistence about being on a particular piece of furniture when asked to stay off (dog owns it)

Persistence about going in and out of doorways before humans

Persistence about walking in front of humans while on a lead

Persistence about getting through the doorway first

Refusing to walk on a lead (excludes untrained puppies, dogs with injuries or illnesses)

Nipping at people's heels when they are leaving (dog did not give permission to leave)

Not listening to known commands

Dislikes people touching their food

Standing proud on a human lap

Persistence about being on top, be it a lap or stepping on your foot

Persistence about where they sleep, i.e. on your pillow

Annoyance if disturbed while sleeping

Likes to sleep on top of their humans

Licking (giving kisses) in a determined and focused manner

Carrying themselves with a proud gait, head held high

Not liking to be left alone and getting overly excited upon the human’s return (see Separation Anxiety in Dogs)



Dominant Stance

Just looking at a dog and the way he carries himself can tell you what frame of mind the dog is in. For example, a dominant dog will walk high and proud, puffing himself out as much as he can. He carries himself with what looks like dignity to the untrained human eye. The body is carried stiffly, tail is up and rigid, ears are on alert.

Submissive Stance

Submissive dogs, on the other hand, carry themselves in quite the opposite way. They hold their heads low, shoulders down, tails down, slinking themselves smaller. To the untrained human eye it looks like a submissive dog is a sad dog. Not so, the posture of these submissive dogs is telling all around them that they do not wish to challenge anyone. They come in peace. Dogs are “fight” animals, which means their natural defense mechanism is to fight when they are threatened. That is why they make it so obvious when they do not wish to fight or when they do.

Since dominant dogs look so proud and, we all have to admit, cute, if you don't know what the dog is really saying, and submissive dogs kind of look sad since they hold their heads low and slink themselves down, it's no wonder so many people have dominant dogs. When their dog acts submissive they mistake that for a sad dog. When their dog acts dominant they mistake it for a happy, proud dog. Dominance tends to get rewarded.



Fear Aggression

This yellow Labrador was growling and barking ferociously at a lady. The dog at one point trapped the lady in the corner of the garage until the owners were able to come and call her off. Most people would mistake this behavior as dominant-aggressive, but if you look at the dog's body language you will notice it is different than the Chihuahua shown above. The dog's tail is down and slightly tucked. The ears are back rather than forward. Notice how the dog is leaning slightly backward, rather than forward. This Labrador is insecure and fearful and she has learned to deal with these feelings by acting out aggressively. This dog may still bite a human out of fear, but the reasons for her behavior are not the same as a dog who is acting aggressive out of dominance.




Eight- year- old Emiliano "mastering the walk" with Darley the Beagle mix

Dogs have an instinct to migrate and an instinct to be led by their leader. Teaching a dog to heel on a lead is the single most effective way to communicate who is the leader of your pack. Dogs are happiest when they can be secure about the pack order. Humans are happiest when their dogs are relaxed and respectful of their surroundings. When dogs are allowed to walk in front of the humans while on a lead, it is communicating to them that they are above the human in the order. When the pack order is not made clear it causes dogs a lot of stress and anxiety. Have you mastered the walk with your dog?



Written by Sharon Maguire © Dog Breed Info Center ® All Rights Reserved




Toy-Small Dogs / Roughly Ranging up to 20 Pounds (9 kg)

Medium Dogs / Roughly Ranging from 20-50 Pound (9-23 kg)

Large Dogs / Roughly Ranging from 50-100 Pound (23-45 kg)

Extra Large Dogs / Can get to be over 100 pounds (45 kg)


Natural Dogmanship

It's a Way of Life

A Group Effort

Why Dogs Must be Followers

What Does it Mean to be Dominant?

Dogs Only Need Love

Different Dog Temperaments

Dog Body Language

Dog Training vs. Dog Behavior

Punishment vs. Correction in Dogs

Are you setting your dog up for failure?

Lack of Natural Dog Behavior Knowledge

The Grouchy Dog

Working with a Fearful Dog

Old Dog, New Tricks

Understanding a Dog's Senses

The Human Dog

My Dog was Abused

Successfully Adopting a Rescue Dog

Positive Reinforcement: Is it enough?

Adult Dog and the New Puppy

Why Did My Dog Do That?

Proper Way to Walk a Dog

The Walk: Passing Other Dogs

Introducing Dogs

Dogs and Human Emotions

Do Dogs Discriminate?

Speaking Dog

Dogs: Fear of Storms and Fireworks

Providing a Job Helps Dog with Issues

Teaching Dogs to Respect the Kids

Proper Human to Dog Communication

Rude Dog Owners

Canine Feeding Instincts

Human to Dog No-No's: Your Dog

Human to Dog No-No's: Other Dogs

FAQ About Dogs

Small Dogs vs. Medium and Large Dogs

Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Dominant Behaviors in Dogs

The Submissive Dog

Bringing Home the New Human Baby

Approaching a Dog

Top Dog

Establishing and Keeping Alpha Position

Alpha Boot Camp for Dogs

Guarding Furniture

Stopping a Jumping Dog

Using Human Psychology on Jumping Dogs

Spaying and Neutering your Dog

Submissive Peeing

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Whelping: Puppy Nipple Guarding

The Truth behind the Pit Bull Terrier

Protecting Your Puppy from Dog Attacks

Chaining Dogs

SPCA High-Kill Shelter

A Senseless Death, a Misunderstood Dog

Amazing What a Little Leadership Can Do

Transforming a Rescue Dog

DNA Canine Breed Identification

Dog Bite Survey

Raising a Puppy

Stages of Puppy Development

Introducing a New Crate to a Puppy or Dog

Puppy Temperament Test

Puppy Temperaments

A Dog Fight - Understanding your Pack

Understanding your puppy or dog

Runaway Dog!

Socializing your Dog

Should I Get a Second Dog

Is your Dog Out of Control?

Illusion Dog Training Collar

Top Dog Photos


Training your Puppy or Dog

Puppy Biting

Deaf Dogs

Are You Ready for a Dog?

Breeders vs. Rescues

Find the Perfect Dog

Caught in the Act

The Pack of Dogs is Here!

Recommended Dog Books and DVDs

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