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How to Train and Work with a Dominant Dog

By Jason Wright

October 24, 2023

Owning a dog can be an incredibly fulfilling experience, but when you find yourself with a dominant dog, it can come with unique challenges. Dominant behaviour in dogs can present itself in various ways, often causing obstacles to obedience and harmonious living, either within your home or in certain environments, such as when taking your pet for a walk. 

To navigate these challenges successfully, pet owners need to recognize what it means to have a dominant dog, understand the key behavioural indicators and underlying reasons, and, most importantly, learn how to train and work with their dominant companions effectively so that they can execute commands and display appropriate behaviour. 

In this comprehensive guide, we will highlight some of the tactics that can be used to work with a dog that is showing dominant behaviour so that you can create a balanced and well-behaved relationship with your pet, keeping your home and loved ones safe and your dog happy.

How to Identify a Dominant Dog

Recognizing whether your dog falls into the category of dominance requires a vigilant eye and an understanding of their unique traits and energy. Dominant dogs often exhibit distinctive characteristics that set them apart. These characteristics can be any or all of the following:

  1. Assertive Behavior: Dominant dogs typically display assertive behaviours in their everyday actions. This might involve pushing their way through doorways, demanding attention, or exhibiting territorial behaviours, such as guarding their possessions or favourite spots.
  2. Resistance to Obedience: Obedience can be a significant challenge with dominant dogs. They may resist commands and even outright defiance, putting your authority as their owner to the test.
  3. Territorial Aggression: Dominant dogs are often characterized by territorial aggression. They tend to protect specific spaces, objects, or even their owners from perceived threats, at times, with a degree of intensity that can be concerning.
  4. Excessive Energy: High energy levels are a common trait in dominant dogs. If not adequately channelled, this energy can lead to behaviour issues and restlessness that can be challenging to manage.
  5. Control Over Resources: Dominant dogs frequently seek control over valuable resources, such as food, toys, or access to particular areas, sometimes guarding these resources aggressively.

Reasons Why Your Dog May Be Displaying Dominant Behaviour

Unravelling the underlying reasons for dominant behaviour in dogs is a critical step in practical training. This will allow you to get to why your pet is acting the way they are, which in return can help you work with your pet to move past these issues so that they can follow a command, become obedient and allow a safe and harmonious home.

Dominance can be driven by various factors, including:

  • Genetics: Some dog breeds are genetically predisposed to exhibit dominant behaviour due to their historical roles as working or guardian dogs.
  • Lack of Early Socialization: Dogs that miss out on essential early socialization opportunities may develop dominance as a coping mechanism to deal with fear and insecurity. In addition, dogs that are not properly socialized at a young age can also develop dominant behaviours, especially if they were attacked or harmed by other dogs.
  • Inconsistent Training: Inadequate or inconsistent training can often contribute to the development of dominant behaviour in dogs. This is why clear, consistent boundaries and expectations are crucial for these animals.
  • Lack of Exercise and Mental Stimulation: Dominant dogs with excess energy and insufficient mental stimulation may resort to dominance as a way to channel that energy and cope with boredom.
  • Human Inconsistency: Dogs are astute observers, and inconsistent responses from their owners can lead to confusion, pushback, and the development of dominant tendencies. Maintaining a consistent approach to commands and boundaries is essential.

How to Work and Train a Dominant Dog:

Effectively working with a dominant dog requires a structured and consistent approach. There are several tactics and strategies to assist you in training your dominant dog:

  • Obedience Training: Working with a dominant dog can be incredibly difficult, especially if you are unsure of what you are doing. This is why we recommend enrolling in obedience classes or seeking professional training so that trained professionals can provide the structure and guidance needed to establish clear boundaries and reinforce obedience. Consistency in commands and positive reinforcement methods is fundamental.
  • Operant Conditioning: Operant Conditioning or Balanced Dog Training can help your dog understand which behaviours are beneficial and which are “bad” and must be avoided. 
  • With balanced dog training, the focus is simple: show your dog that certain behaviours can have positive or negative reactions. When a command is completed or a trick is performed, praise can be given to encourage your pet. However, if poor behaviour occurs, initiating a balance of corrections or consequences is necessary so your dog can understand that these actions are unacceptable. 
  • Exercise and Mental Stimulation: Providing ample exercise and mental stimulation for your dog is crucial for channelling their energy appropriately and reducing restlessness that can exacerbate dominant behaviour.
  • Socialization: Controlled socialization with other dogs and people is essential for mitigating territorial aggression and improving social skills. Controlled exposure in a safe environment helps dogs build confidence and adapt to different social situations. 
  • Clear Leadership: Establishing yourself as a leader, not alpha, is critical in working with a dominant dog. Clear rules, consistent boundaries, and a confident leadership style are essential components of successful training.
  • Behavioural Modification: In severe cases of dominance, consider seeking the expertise of a professional dog behaviourist. They can create a customized behaviour modification plan tailored to your dog's specific needs.

Always Remember to Monitor Your Energy

Managing your energy and demeanour when working with a dominant dog is vital. Here are several key strategies to help you maintain a balanced energy and effective training atmosphere:

  • Calm Assertiveness: To establish yourself as the leader, display calm assertiveness in your interactions with your dog. This means maintaining a composed and confident presence without resorting to anger or frustration.
  • Consistency: Consistency in your commands, expectations, and reactions is paramount. Inconsistencies can lead to confusion in your dog and undermine your efforts in training.
  • Confidence: Confidence in your interactions is crucial. It helps your dog understand their place in the hierarchy and contributes to your effective leadership.
  • Self-Control: Practice self-control and patience, particularly during challenging moments. Impulsive reactions can escalate to confrontations, which may exacerbate your dog's dominant tendencies.
  • Avoid Confrontation: When faced with dominant behaviour, avoid confrontations that can escalate into aggression. Instead, employ techniques that redirect your dog's attention to more positive and desirable behaviours. This avoids unnecessary conflicts.

The iTK9 Way: Working with a Dominant Dog

Living with a dominant dog doesn't have to be a constant struggle. Recognizing the signs of dominance, understanding the underlying causes, and implementing effective training techniques can help you build a harmonious and balanced relationship with your pet. Remember that patience, consistency, and clear leadership are the cornerstones of working with dominant dogs.

If you're struggling to work with your pet or unsure where to start, our trained professionals can help. They fully commit to working with them through behaviour, obedience training, and continued learning safely and effectively.

We do the hard work for you to attain a happy home and a healthy relationship with your pet.

Included in all of our programs are the following;

  1. In-Person Learning: Midway progress training video, two go-home lessons.
  2. Online Learning: Owner education course, instructional training videos, iTK9 member community, e-books & additional training resources.
  3. Owner Support: Photo updates of your dog training with our team and access to our team for questions & support.

Contact us today for more information on our programs, including Board & Train.

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