Taking on the leadership position is essential when it comes to the bond you have with your dog. Neglecting to do this is asking for trouble, because Buster can become dominant and think he's the king of the castle who doesn't have to answer to anyone. To know whether you're doing a good job in showing him who's the boss, learn how to identify dominance in dogs, so the moment he displays one or more traits, you can nip his behavior in the bud.
Dominant behavior in domestic dogs is a reflection of their ancestors who lived in groups and had to constantly struggle for their position within the pack. This social hierarchy helped promote cooperation and reduce conflicts. The leader, or alpha dog, controlled everything from food to mates and den sites. When you bring a puppy home, you become part of his pack. He'll try to challenge, test and overpower you, but you must take charge and make him understand that you and all other members of your household are in a superior position.
Buster's posture can tell you a lot about whether he's dominant or not. When interacting with him, if he tries to make himself as large as possible, stands on his toes, looks you in the eyes, raises his tail and leans forward while his ears point up, it might be an indication of dominance. He'll come across as tense and somewhat threatening. If he stays low to the ground, lowers or wags his tail and doesn't stare you in your eyes, he's submissive and you're on the right track.
Buster's actions can tell you whether he's taking on a dominant stance. If your furry pal constantly keeps nudging your hand to get you to pet him, he's telling you what to do and might perceive you as his subordinate. Giving in and petting him reinforces his dominant behavior. Other signs that your dog is dominant can include guarding of his food and toys, growling and snapping at you, and refusing to get out of your way when required.
To correct your dog's dominant behavior, be assertive and take charge. Have him work for what he wants. Tell him to sit before feeding him, before chasing a ball or before walking him. Don't tolerate undesired behavior, such as lounging on the couch, stealing food from the table or jumping on you. Practice obedience training regularly and always reward desired behavior. You want him to look to you for permission to do whatever it is he desires to do. If it's to the point where Buster gets aggressive if you confront him, consult an animal behavior specialist.
If you have multiple dogs, observe them closely to see who the leader is among the pack. The top dog is the dog who walks first through the doorway and is followed by the other dogs. He gets the first pick when it comes to food and toys. He might also mount the other dogs to show them who's boss or put his paws on their shoulders. The other dogs might show submissiveness by avoiding eye contact with the leader, keeping their head low and lying on the ground with their belly up in the air.
- Arizona Humane Society: Understanding Dominant Behavior in Dogs
- ASPCA: Canine Body Language
- The Dog Bible; Tracie Hotchner
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images