How to Tell the Difference if Your Dog Is Stubborn or Dominant

It's likely not time to call a doggie therapist yet.
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At times, Bandit's behaviors may leave you wondering if he's just being hard-headed or if he's likely testing the waters and your patience. Truth is, opportunistic dogs who seem to want to rule the roost in reality may have a totally different goal on their agenda. Understanding what revs Bandit's engine will help you better understand him and improve your relationship.

Defining Dominance

It's easy to label a dog as dominant, but the term is overused and often applied incorrectly. Dominance is meant to depict not personality but relationship between animals that sets hierarchy and establishes order of access to important resources such as food, resting areas and mates. Such organization among social animals allows them to avoid dangerous confrontations. Contrary to popular belief, successful social groups are formed by subordinate animals who submit because of voluntary deference rather than due to another dog's brute physical domination. For instance, animal X may voluntarily give up a resting spot to acknowledge animal Z's priority access to it; rather than animal Z forcing animal X to give it up.

Debunking Dominance

You may attribute Bandit's desire to sleep on the bed, pull on the leash or jump up to dominance, but in reality, plotting a strategy to rule the roost may not be on his agenda. Most likely, dogs behave the way they do for the simple fact that certain behaviors have a history of reinforcement. If Bandit pulls on the leash, it's likely because he's eager to explore the many sights and smells of the great outdoors; if he jumps on you, he's likely just saying hello; if he sleeps on the bed it's likely just because it's comfy, and so forth.

Defining Stubborn

Generally, a stubborn dog is defined as one who knows exactly what he's being asked to do but categorically chooses to refuse to obey. It's easy as well to categorize a dog as stubborn when the only evidence you see is that the command apparently went into one of Bandit's ears and out the other. However, don't be too fast to label your dog stubborn as a mule; often other dynamics at play are confused with hardheadedness.

Understanding Stubbornness

What may look like stubbornness in reality may be something else. For instance, if Bandit isn't listening to your command it could be the area has too many distractions, or the command hasn't been trained well yet. Other possibilities include that he may not be feeling well, you are not making training rewarding enough for him to feel compelled to participate, or the dog is confused, anxious and stressed. If you get easily frustrated, the dog may feel intimidated by you.

Helping Your Dog

Before blaming your dog for being dominant or stubborn, carefully evaluate what you can do to change the unwanted behavior. Behaviors that are often erroneously labeled as dominant tend to simply occur because they have been inadvertently rewarded, according to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior website. As a dog owner, you have the responsibility of providing gentle guidance in a constructive manner so your dog can learn acceptable and more appropriate behaviors.