So Your Dog Thinks He's The Boss…

Guidelines for Living with the Dominant Dog

You've finished your chores and the popcorn is in the bowl, hot and buttery, and the new video is loaded up. You can't wait to lie back, relax and enjoy the movie you've been dying to see. You slip over to the sofa only to see your beloved pup already sacked out there. "Okay, time to get up!" you tell him. He just looks at you. You grab his collar and try to force him off, he growls, and maybe gives you a warning snap. You decide the floor is just as comfy.

Sound familiar? Then you are living with a dominant dog. You know, the one that growls at you when you come near at mealtime. The one that pulls you all over creation when you go for a walk. The one that barks at you when he wants something, and doesn't stop barking till he gets it. The one that steals food off your counter, or even your plate. These are all signs that your dog feels his status is just above yours. You can change this, and safely, too.

Hiring a trainer or behaviorist accustomed to dealing with dominant behavior should be your first move. Until you find one, and while you are training, practicing these easy steps will aid in getting back your "top dog" status. This is important because your dog understands alpha status. He is already there.


1. You must NEVER allow your dog to sleep on your bed or furniture. This elevates your dog to equal or better status as you. The dog must sleep on the floor at night, in a crate if necessary, and sits or lies on the floor when it is with you.

2. You should always eat your meals before you feed the dog. Your dog must wait until your food is cleared from the eating area, preferably in a down/stay away from the table. The alpha, or top dog always eats first, your dog knows this instinctively, so the first to eat should always be you.

3. Your dogs should always walk through any door AFTER you. Command your dog to sit/stay before going in and out all doors. You must always give a verbal "okay" or other release command before the dog goes through the door. The alpha always precedes the lower status, or omega, members, and they say whether they get to go or stay.

4. Keep all dog toys off the floor, and out of reach of the dog. You initiate and end all playtime with toys. Then you pick up their toys and put them away. Your dog must not make its own decisions, but must look to you for them.

5. Never confront, yell at, hit or shake your dog for inappropriate dominant behavior. It's very likely that the dominant dog will perceive this as a threat and retaliate. Any dominant behavior on the dog's part and you remove him from the area with as little emotion as possible and isolate him for 5 minutes or give him the cold shoulder. Don't use his crate if that is his bed. You can put him in the bathroom with the door closed for a few minutes.

6. Always make your dog work for petting or other rewarding attention. A simple sit or down command qualifies as work. You should not give any reward without the dog doing something to earn it.

7. ALWAYS praise for good, appropriate, correct behavior. It just makes good common sense.

8. Finally, BE CONSISTENT! If you are not consistent with these practices, your dog can become confused and his behavior erratic. Everyone in the home must treat the dog the same way always.

When dealing with a dominant dog, you can not feel sorry for the way you must treat it. You need to be the benevolent dictator, ruling with a firm, yet loving hand. Remember that your dog is not a human baby, and you must not treat it so. Following these rules actually speaks to the dog in a language he understands

After you have practiced these guidelines for a while, they will become second nature to you. Your dog will become manageable, and will even enjoy life this way, as it gives your dog concrete rules to live by. Dogs love rules!

© Dave Lester



Updated 9/02/08

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