Is Your Dog Really Being Dominant?

For the longest time ever, traditional training ideologies and the media have been telling us that our dogs are trying to be the ‘alpha’. We are taught to believe that misbehaviors stem from them wanting to establish a higher rank in the household, therefore, we need to train them into ‘submission’. However, contrary to popular belief, most dog behavior problems are a result of insecurity and/or a desire to seek and maintain safety and comfort. 

In the realistic world of dominance among dogs, studies have shown that although social hierarchies exist among them, such as one being more controlling than the other, such dynamics are not fixed. For example, a dog may place a higher value on a food resource as compared to another, while another may place a higher value on a preferred sleeping location. Dogs that live in multi-dog households are usually able to work out among themselves as to who has primary access to what. This comes with mutual understanding and acknowledgment and therefore, submission among them is not being physically forced. This freely given submission displays an instinct among dogs to avoid conflict to ensure safety and survival. However, fights can still occur when dogs place an equal value on resources such as objects, food or people and the desire for priority access increases competition and therefore confrontation. 

Although such disagreements can occur, some dogs disrupt the status quo by bullying others. These dogs are commonly mislabeled the ‘pack leaders’ or ‘alpha dogs’ when they display aggressive or controlling behaviors. Contradictory, these dogs are often the opposite of confident and self-assured. Although they can influence the behavior of dogs that are willing to protect the resources they actually care about, it is important to understand that the macho, bullying behavior has no place in a natural, well-functioning dominant/submissive dog relationship or a human/dog relationship. Having said that, such behavioral problems are often misdiagnosed as dominance-related and traditional behavior modification techniques designed to prevent dogs from ‘raising status’ over their owners usually include punishment, intimidation and fear - the exact opposite of what dogs really need to overcome most behavioral issues and can often make the behavior worse. Ultimately, the human concept of dominance by establishing higher rank and using power and control in a forceful/violent way misguides the understanding of canine relationship and social hierarchies, as well as the attempt to manage and train dogs. In fact, forced submission is not a representative of how dogs establish a healthy relationship between themselves or us. 

To understand more about the concept of dominance in dogs, please visit

Done by: Nurse Raelyn