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Should you lay on your dog to show dominance?

5 Things your dog might be doing to show dominance that you didn’t realise

Dogs are naturally dominant so it is important from an early age to determine dominance. A dog doesn’t have to be aggressive to be dominant as there a many forms of dominance from passive to extremely dominant. Your dog can be influenced by his or her surroundings so it is important to understand the signs and in particular the signs you may not be aware of.

To help with these signs we have found 5 common traits a dog may show to establish dominance that people are not aware of:

Have you ever noticed that your dog likes to sleep above your head? Maybe they like to lay their head on your shoulders? Although that may be cute, it is your dog showing dominance so the next time your pet does this, tell them off and make them move. If your dog fails to comply then we would recommend they sleep on the floor in their own bed to help you re-establish dominance.

Does your dog ever decide to stop moving while they are on a walk? Maybe they are walking nice and slow behind you and for no reason they decide to stop? This is passive dominance. They are trying to tell you that they don’t want to move where you want them to and they will continue to move when they are ready. Our tip to help stop this would be to use your voice correction to tell them off and keep them moving. You dictate when it is ok to stop and smell the roses not them.

It is ok to have your dog up on the couch with you but it is important for them to understand it is your couch not there’s. If they always jump up without permission or refuse to get off when told, then this is a sign of dominance. Getting them in the habit from a young age that they are only allowed up when invited and to get down when told is important for their ongoing obedience training.

We all like to show our four legged family friend attention, with lots of pats and lots of play time. Have you ever noticed that when you stop patting your dog they nudge you to keep patting them? Or maybe they give you a look or start whinging? Maybe they love fetch and constantly put the ball back in your hand after you tell them that’s enough. This is another sign of dominance. They are demanding your attention. Although this trait can be quiet cute, especially when they nudge you, it is a trait that should not be encouraged.

Lastly you may not be aware that by your dog never licking or kissing other dogs is a sign of dominance. Ever noticed when your dogs don’t kiss? Or maybe they have a furry best friend they don’t kiss? A dog kissing another dog is essentially the same as humans and our social kiss on the cheek when we great each other. It is their way of saying hello and that they come in peace. By your dog not doing this it is them establishing dominance.

There you have it! Our 5 signs that your dog is showing dominance that you may not be aware of. Obviously there are way more than 5 signs and things to keep an eye out for are:

  • Not listening to known commands
  • Growling at people or other animals near their food
  • Walking in front of you
  • Growling if disturbed during sleep
  • Running through the door before you
  • Excessive barking

At an early age it is important for your furry friend to understand that you are top dog. The main reason being to help with their obedience training. They are more likely to listen and follow your commands if they understand you are top dog.

Please, Oh Please, Stop Perpetuating the Dominance Dog Theory

The idea of being a dog’s “alpha” is a popular one — but it’s not an effective way to train.

Updated November 10, 2022

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As a pet parent, you’ve probably heard about “dominance dog theory,” a popular way of thinking about dog training. Advocates often support their argument by citing scientific evidence — especially data from ethologists — that dogs are pack animals. As such, they argue, dogs don’t need love from us — they just need to know their place. Sigh. It’s true that dogs are highly social animals, but that doesn’t mean they only operate by hierarchical pack rules. When it comes to human-dog relationships, we have to think bigger.

Understanding Dominance Dog Theory

Here are some “rules” under dominance dog theory:

  • Don’t pet your dog unless they work for it first.
  • Don’t let your dog move their head so that it is higher than your own.
  • Don’t feed your dog until after you’ve eaten.
  • Don’t step around your dog if they’re in your path; make them get up and move, even if they’re sound asleep.
  • Don’t let your dog sleep with you or cuddle with you on the couch.
  • Don’t clean up after your dog while they’re watching you.

Why shouldn‘t you do these things? Because each action is said to cause your dog to think they’re dominant over you. Believe me; this isn’t what’s best for your or your dog’s happiness. As many other trainers and behaviorists repeat endlessly in books, blogs, and seminars, dominance is simply a description of a relationship between two individuals who want the same thing.

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What Does Dog Dominance Mean?

One animal is said to be “dominant” over the other if they always have primary access to the pork chop that falls on the floor, or the favorite toy, or the cozy lap of a dozing pet parent. Basically, it’s about the resolution of situations in which there might be competition for a resource. It is not about coming when called, or sitting when told to sit, or accepting unfamiliar dogs into the yard.

We’re not even sure how the concept of dominance relates to interactions between dogs, much less to interactions between two entirely different species, such as humans and dogs. At present, thoughtful ethologists and behaviorists are re-evaluating the concepts of “dominance” and “social status” as they relate to the domestic dog. Although there are questions and quibbles about some of the finer points, experts almost universally agree that the concept of “getting dominance” over our dogs is, at best, not useful, and more often is harmful to our relationships with our pets.

The Myth Of The “Alpha Wolf” Lives On

Yet, the idea that we must “dominate” our dogs lives on, zombie-like, in spite of years of research and experience that demonstrates “being dominant” over our dogs does not improve obedience. In fact, we know that using positive reinforcement results in the best behavior, the fewest behavioral problems, and the richest relationships. Given that, the question we need to ask ourselves is this: Why is the concept of achieving dominance over our dogs so seductive? Why is it so hard for people to give up? Given that humans are complex animals, I suspect there are many answers.

Surely, one reason that so many people are enamored of the concept of dominance dog training is that social status is highly relevant to our species. No matter how egalitarian we are, the fact is that in restaurants, some people get better tables than others.

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However, we don’t seem to make the mistake within our own species that we make with our dogs, confounding social status or control with teaching or conveying information. Dogs are supposed to come when called, refrain from jumping up on company and walk at perfect heel just because we tell them to. Each of those actions requires learning; they are not natural to dogs and have to be taught.

Dog Training Isn’t That Simple

Maybe another reason we are so susceptible to the fallacy of “getting dominance” over our dogs is that it makes dog training seem simple. One-stop shopping — just get your dog to accept you as “alpha,” and voilà! Your dog will stop jumping up on visitors and will quietly walk through the neighborhood at your side, ignoring all the interesting stuff — ahem, squirrels — they pass on the sidewalk.

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It’s appealing to think that one overriding concept will take care of a host of behavioral issues. And hey, how hard could it be to talk your dog into believing that you are the alpha? You’re the one who can open the door, you’re the one who brings home the dog food and you’re the one with the opposable thumbs. But training is much more complicated than that, and time has to be given to associating cues with each individual behavior.

The idea that all we need is respect (cue Aretha here) and our dog will behave perfectly is understandably seductive. Too bad it’s incorrect. Far worse, it can lead, at best, to a dog who performs because they are intimidated, and at worst, to a dog who is abused. The fact is, dogs will respect us only if we are consistent, clear and fair. They will love and trust us only if we are loving and patient and are able to communicate to them in ways that they understand. That does not mean we need to “spoil” them and allow them to behave like rude and demanding house guests. However, we need to teach them how to behave in the society of another species, rather than expecting them to do what you say just because they want to please us.

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Patricia McConnell

Patricia McConnell, PhD

Patricia McConnell, PhD, is an animal behaviorist and ethologist and an adjunct associate professor in zoology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, as well as the author of numerous books on behavior and training.

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