Ways That Dogs Try to Gain Dominance

What makes you think I'm up to something?
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Dominance in dogs can be frightening for owners. While dogs may fight other dogs in their pack for dominance, some dogs will also try to show dominance over humans, including their owner. Regardless of who the dog is trying to dominate, there will be certain behaviors to look for. Understanding what behaviors to look for can help you put a stop to your dog trying to gain dominance over you or your family members.


Growling, snapping and biting can all be ways for a dog to gain dominance over other dogs and/or humans, according to dog training writer Lisa Giroux. This is the most dangerous way dogs try to exert dominance; it can be risky for all involved. When this is the form your dog uses, you need to take measures to stop the behavior. If the issue is taking place between two dogs, you can work to never show favoritism between the two and you can feed them in separate areas to prevent aggression over food. When using growling to gain dominance over other dogs, the dominant dog may growl to back the other dogs away from the owner or the food. If your dog is trying to show dominance over you, it's best to get a professional involved. Note that growling can mean signify other feelings, such as fear, anxiety, stress, pain or playfulness.

Getting on Top

Dogs trying to gain dominance will also try to get on top. When trying to gain dominance over other dogs, the dog may try to stand taller or even try to pin the dog under him. Even small dogs can try to gain dominance over humans by standing on the owner's feet, sleeping on top of them or trying to get above them by getting on the back of the couch.

Being Persistent or Stubborn

According to Dog's Life Magazine, not listening to your commands, being stubborn, being demanding and even nudging you until you pet her can all be signs of dominant behavior. It can be easy to dismiss this behavior, but doing so can encourage the behavior and lead the dog to continue finding ways to show dominance over you.

Standing Proud

The way a dog stands can say a lot about his role in a pack. Dogs that walk with their heads down around other dogs are submissive. A dog growling with his head down, however, is an aggressive one. Submissive dogs look more laid back and relaxed, while dogs that are trying to gain dominance will stand tall and stiff. Their heads will be up and they will try to make themselves look as big as possible. The dog looks proud of himself -- and he is proud, because he thinks he is alpha.

Other Issues That "Could" Signify Dominance

There are other issues that may or may not have to do with dogs trying to gain dominance. One theory is that dogs will hump humans or other dogs as a sign of dominance. This theory is debated due to the fact that humping is an intrinsically sexual act. Therefore, the dog may or may not use it as a way to gain dominance. Another issue may be the dominant dog defecating or urinating, but this is usually territorial behavior rather than dominant behavior. Last, if you notice that all the dogs in your home seem to follow one of the dogs, this dog is showing dominance. He's the literal leader of the proverbial pack.