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The dominance myth – the real reason behind your dog’s behaviours

Published on 27th December 2016

HELP! My dog is dominant

The term ‘dominant’ gets misused alot in the dog training world. Many owners feel their dog is in command, influencing their power on others and despite what many dog owners think their dog is NOT trying to take over the world.

Dogs shouldn’t be given labels and often behaviours are specific to each individual situation. So let’s look at some examples where the word dominant is used inappropriately and how you can help:

Example 1: My dog dominates smaller dogs in the park

Some dogs have a bully like mentality, they appear confident and pushy targeting the smaller or younger dogs in the park. However these types of dogs are often anything but confident and there is often an underlying fearfulness or insecurity.

How can you help?

Control and manage the types of dogs your dog meets, have appropriate boundaries and set ups to keep your dog below its threshold. I would avoid the busy doggy parks and connect with other dog owners who can practice some parallel walking and appropriate meetings.

Example 2: My dog will growl at other dogs in the back of the dog walker’s van

Some dogs really don’t enjoy other dogs being in their space. Think of a situation where you are tightly compact on a train, or a random person sits by you on a bus and strikes a long conversation (when all you want to do is have a moment to yourself). Feels uncomfortable doesn’t it? So just imagine how a dog would feel if another dog kept invading his or her space, or if there is a lack of space for them to retreat safely too.

How can you help?

Ask if you can see the dog walker’s set up. She/he may need to change the location of where your dog travels or have extra room between crates. If the anxiety continues it may be an idea to swap to solo walks – where your dog can still meet other dogs at a distance below its threshold, but without the need to travel.

Example 3: My dog plays so routh – she’s always trying to be the dominant dog, often scaring smaller dogs

Pushy play styles, which appear rough and one sided are nothing to do with dominance but often are a result of a lack of socialisation with appropriate play mates. Many dogs fail to read the other dog’s body language and often rough play was tolerated by a few dogs which they grew up with, then generalising to other dogs.

How can you help?

Controlled appropriate play meetings, where you can take your dog out of the situation before it becomes over aroused or too rough. You may need to practice watching both dogs body language and communication. Play must be two sided with lots of breaks.

Example 5: My dog won’t let me near the sofa! It’s taking over the house

Dogs that use aggression, otherwise known as ‘resource guarding’ to get what they want, or to warn others to keep their distance from a valuable resource are not displaying dominance, but rather anxiety-based behaviors These can then become over exasperated when faced with verbal and/or physical threats from their human owners. When one bases their interaction with their dog based on dominance it is harmful to the dog-human relationship and leads to further stress, anxiety and aggression from the dog, as well as fear and antipathy of the owner.

How can you help?

You need your dog to feel confident and relaxed when you are near and it’s highly valued resource, below its threshold. Counter conditioning can help change the way your dog feels and I always recommend contacting a accredited behaviourist for resource guarding issues.

Thanks for reading
Helen Motteram, BSc (hons)

For more advice and support email: helen@socialpawscheltenham.co.uk