Home » Library » Learn » Training Theory

Is Dog Dominance Fact or Fiction?

Filed in - Training Theory

The answer is...it is a fact.

However, we need not imply that simply because dog dominance is a fact, dogs are constantly trying to "rule the roost," or that we need to eat first, go through doors first, never let our dogs sleep on the bed, etc. That would be circular reasoning.


Yes, dogs do form hierarchies. No, those hierarchies are not stable; they are contextual and change over time.

Dominance is a relative term, not absolute. Only very rare individuals are considered to be "dominant" all the time. Most dogs are not suited to being "alpha," and most of them realize it. When it comes to alpha, you either are or you aren't.

When it comes to individual behavior problems, leadership is absolutely essential. But what does that mean? Will a behavior problem simply disappear because you eat first, don't let your dog sleep on the bed, and always go through doorways first? Absolutely not!

It is important to set rules and boundaries. Good leaders do that, but these rules and boundaries should not be arbitrary. It makes no difference to a dog if you eat first or last. Service dogs are fed all day long in training and rarely have any behavior problems that could be attributed to "dominance." They often go through doors first, and I know of a good many highly trained service dogs that share their owner's bed—and even sleep on their laps in some cases. None of these dogs have "dominance" issues!

The shortest path to solving a behavior problem is to look at the behavior for what it is.

The shortest path to solving a behavior problem is to look at the behavior for what it is. What purpose does it serve? How is this problem behavior working for the dog? Are this dog's needs being met? What behavior would we like to see instead of the unwanted behavior?

Then we can set about making what works for the dog the same thing that works for us, like a good leader should.

[Editor's note: Reprinted with permission from Positive Petzine.]
About the author
User picture

There's No Such Thing As An "Alpha" Dog.

While I agree that dog "dominance" is a fact, we can't forget that dominance is a relationship between individuals over the control of a resource.  In other words, it is a "behavior", not a "personality trait."  As for the use of the word "Alpha" - this term (like most of our disinformation about dogs) comes from wolf scientists, who have since disowned it (see David Mech's "Whatever Became of the Term "Alpha Wolf.").  Even had the repudiated wolf science held up, it's extrapolation to domestic dogs would have been a stretch, since "Alpha" refers to the breeding pair of wolves in a pack, and dogs share no sexual discretion as practiced by wolves.


I believe there is an alpha. Alpha are the ones that lead (which means they're the ones that get to breed). While growing up in Asia I used to go to my grandma's farm. The dogs there form packs and there is a lead dog that pretty much does what tis supposed to do. Lead. And a lot of the dominance theories match what I saw in those dog packs. Some dogs are born naturally dominant or submissive. Many people see dominant and submissive the wrong way. A mother dog is dominant over the puppies. But then again there are so many theories and ideas.

Post new comment

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <embed> <object> <div>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Glossary terms will be automatically marked with links to their descriptions. If there are certain phrases or sections of text that should be excluded from glossary marking and linking, use the special markup, [no-glossary] ... [/no-glossary]. Additionally, these HTML elements will not be scanned: a, abbr, acronym, code, pre.
  • Each email address will be obfuscated in a human readable fashion or (if JavaScript is enabled) replaced with a spamproof clickable link.

More information about formatting options

To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.