Today, in the world of dog training, it is truly confusing in that there are so many opinions as to what is true or not true when it comes to the behavior of our beloved dogs. Many recommendations are based on the model of wolf pack observations 10-20 years ago. It is easy to accept all of these teachings as our domesticated dogs have undeniable genetic ties and similarities to wolves. However….they are NOT wolves.

Many think of dominance as it pertains to the wolf pack as an individual or individuals who are overbearing and ruthless in order to maintain control. While they may be ruthless when it comes to protecting their pack from potential threats, there are in fact relatively few outbreaks of physical violence as that would jeopardize the members and put the whole pack at risk.

When we look at our pet dogs we are often told or led to believe that they are forever looking for their chance to “take control” of the family “pack” that they live in. This is in reality almost never the case.

True, the family dog feels it is a member of the family pack. True, by their very nature the family dog generally feels most secure and happy when there is structure and predictable behavior from their humans. However, most dogs are more than happy to hand over leadership to the humans without a fight or even ambivalence as long as the human leadership proves to meet their needs and is fair and consistent. 

Most problems in this area show up when there are no clear rules to be followed by the pup and/or they are unfair and worse yet inconsistent.

Canines are brilliant in their ability to peel away all the extraneous layers and discover “what works” in terms of providing them with their needs (actual or perceived.) They are fast to figure out that when mom is on the phone and they bark for attention that in “that” situation the rules of not barking at you don’t seem to apply. They are quick to pick up on the fact that if they bark at or nudge us for attention that they “might” get the attention they are seeking. Again, it is up to US, the humans, to make sure we are consistent in how we reinforce our rules and not confuse our dogs with “mixed messages” as it were.

One of the easiest, and by the way the most non-confrontational way to establish yourself as the benevolent leader of your dog is to simply have control of ALL the resources that your dog wants and needs. If you make yourself the gateway to all things that your dog wants and needs then by simple default YOU, the human, naturally is seen and accepted as the leader. Asking for simple behaviors before the dog receives what it wants or needs goes a long way toward establishing your leadership status. This could be a sit before going outside or coming inside, a down or sit before throwing a toy, etc.

In my opinion the most harmful and actually ineffectual way to establish yourself as the “leader or dominant” one in the family unit, is to choose physical ways to that end. In the past, antics such as alpha rolls, rubbing a dog’s nose in excrement, yelling and scolding when discovering a dumped trash can, and holding and squeezing a pup’s mouth for mouthing or barking are a REALLY good and fast way to establish mistrust of you or your hands and make establishing a working relationship with your dog MUCH harder. Resorting to those types of “dominance displays” on your part only serves to establish that you are to be feared, mistrusted, and sometimes avoided. Is that what we want to relay to this creature we wanted to be “best friends” with? I think not.

This is not a dissertation on “dominance theory” but merely some ideas to hopefully provide another viewpoint and shed light on the fact that dominance displays from the human are not NEEDED nor PREFERRED in order for our beloved dogs to perceive us as their leaders.

Just something to think about.