Is Your Dog Dominant? (download PDF here)

Is your dog driving you crazy with its bad manners?  Is it jumping up on people?  Pulling on leash?  Do you wonder if your dog is trying to assert itself - trying to become the pack leader?  Is your dog possibly dominant?

The answer is no.  Absolutely - unequivocally - no.  Your dog is not dominant.

How can I be so sure?  Because many trainers have the concept all wrong.

Dominance isn't about a trait that belongs to a dog.  It's not a motivator either.  It's a description of a relationship.  Sound confusing?  Here's an example to make it easy to understand.

I provide food for my family.  I am the dominant food provider if you compare me to my husband and son. However, at a friend's home I submit to what they are serving.  I am both dominant and submissive depending on the circumstance.

Let's say there is one cupcake.  I decide to eat it.  Did I do so because I want to become dominant?  Not likely.  I probably just wanted to eat it.  Perhaps I could be accused of having bad manners.  But I don't eat cupcakes to up my rank in the family.

It's the same with dogs.  Stealing food, jumping up and generally misbehaving is about manners.  Pets jump to get attention.  They steal food because they want to eat it.  Your dog is not staying up at night plotting to take over the world.

Experts in the field compare dominance structures to families.  Older animals are the breeding pair. Younger animals gradually take over as older animals die.  Other animals leave the group and form their own groups.  It's not really much different than a human family.

Instead of thinking dominance - think leadership.  Ask yourself what kind of leader you want to be.  Think of an employer, teacher, coach or other individual who exemplifies good leadership skills.  Strive to be like them.

Good leaders command respect - they don't demand it.

That applies to social animals as well.  Research indicates that fights are rare.  Dogs don't lead by force. They have a wide range of submissive gestures to avoid fights and conflict.

If you want to be a leader that commands your dog's respect, use these tips to achieve that goal.

Teach your dog.  Good leaders don't demand things the dog does not understand or has not practiced enough.

Be generous with praise and rewards.  Everyone likes to be recognized for a job well done.  Everyone likes to get paid what they are worth.  Make sure your dog knows when it is doing something good.

Set reasonable and clear rules.  Make rules easy to follow.  Be consistent.  Good leaders do not let the dog on the couch one day and punish it the next.  Make sure the whole family adheres to the same standards.

Give the dog what it needs.  Dogs need a healthy, balanced diet and clear water.  They need sufficient exercise and sleep.  Family pets should live indoors with their people.  When outside provide shelter from the elements.  They need safe chew bones and toys for entertainment.  They also need a quiet spot so they can learn how to relax.  Veterinary care, socialization and training are critical.  If you don't give your dog what it needs, you are not fulfilling your role as a good leader.

Set reasonable expectations.  Great leaders don't put anyone in a position where they repeatedly fail. Make sure your dog is learning at the appropriate level.  If a skill is too difficult, make it easier.  A good leader knows when it's time to say, "You're not ready for this step yet."

Get assistance.  Professional help is important.  Trainers help you spot and correct potential problems before they escalate.  They help coach you through rough spots.  Owning a dog is not a do it yourself project where you can try a little of this and that.

Keep a reasonable schedule.  Most dogs like a predictable schedule.  It doesn't need to be set in stone. But it does help to schedule meals, walks and naps at similar times each day.  Routines also help make it easier to teach things like house training.