How to tell if your dog tends to be dominant

How to tell if your dog tends to be dominant

Canine interactions can be fascinating to watch, and dogs as a species are highly social, and they naturally seek out the company of their own kind for play, companionship and entertainment.

Dogs form complex social grouping on both a permanent basis with other dogs they live with or see regularly and on a casual or transient basis with dogs they meet in passing too, and social interactions between well socialised dogs all fall within set parameters and norms, which are universally understood by the participants.

This does not necessarily apply to dogs with behavioural problems or those that have not been adequately socialised, but aside from these caveats, canine social relationships and interactions can be read and interpreted accurately by their canine participants – and humans who know how to read them too.

However, most dog owners aren’t as good at or familiar with reading and interpreting the sometimes complex meanings of canine social cues as they like to think – for instance, many dog owners think that a dog averting their gaze is being disrespectful or acting guiltily, when in fact they’re displaying good manners and giving off a calming, appeasing signal.

Dogs playing together often take part in role play and switching behaviour too, which might see a naturally more dominant dog allow a submissive dog to get the upper hand within a transient, make believe situation without putting them in their place. Behaviours like this that make perfect sense to dogs can make it even harder for dog owners to read canine behaviour accurately – so how could you tell if your dog was actually dominant, or rather, has a natural tendency to be dominant?

A dominant dog will not necessarily be dominant over people, and/or might be well enough trained and handled as to respect the humans as their pack leaders whilst still being generally dominant with other dogs.

Being dominant isn’t necessarily a negative trait either, as long as it is not aggressive or problematic – but in any collective of dogs, one of them will be the most dominant, or apt to be dominant in the absence of another dominant dog, and knowing if this is your own dog or not can be useful.

If you are wondering how to tell if your dog is dominant, this article will explain what to look for. Read on to learn more.

Play and socialisation

Dominant dogs tend to be confident and bold with others, and will often be the dogs that instigate play and make the first moves towards another dog – as well as the one to call time when they’ve had enough.

However, this doesn’t mean that your dog won’t let other dogs take the dominant role as part of play, nor that they might not defer to a more dominant dog in their turn!


Dominant dogs are confident, and this manifests as being calm and reasonably bold, but does not mean being aggressive or out of control. Canine aggression is usually rooted in fear, which is of course on the opposite side of the coin to confidence, and being out of control comes from poor training and management, neither of which are akin to confidence and so, dominance.

Eating first and getting first crack at resources

A dominant dog will be the one that expects to be fed first, or that naturally gets first go at food, treats or resources.

This may manifest as taking another dog’s food or being pushy if they’re not the first dog to be given a treat.

The same is true when it comes to affection and the attention of people – a dominant dog will expect to be closest to their owner or handler, and treated as the first placed dog, and is apt to be the most demanding of attention and physical contact. They might be apt to lean on or otherwise seek constant physical contact with their owner, which is more an expression of “this is mine!” than a gesture of affection.

Mounting and humping

Mounting and/or humping other dogs is poor canine manners, and something that should be corrected and nipped in the bud if your own dog does this. Mounting and humping are both highly dominant behaviours designed to put the other dog in their place, and not all dog owners know that both neutered and unneutered dogs – and females as well as males – may instigate mounting as the dominant party, and on a dog of either gender!

Making and maintaining eye contact

Making direct eye contact is a challenging behaviour between dogs, and ultimately a test of wills to see which dog averts their eyes first – and so, is the more submissive.

Your dog won’t tend to be the one to look away first if they’re a dominant dog.

Being deferred to by other dogs

When greeting other dogs, if your dog is usually the one doing the most proactive butt sniffing, standing over the other party while they roll around and show their throat and belly, or being licked on the mouth and muzzle by the other dog, all of those dogs are being deferent, having recognised your dog as the dominant party.

Winning games and toys

Dominant dogs will tend to be the ones that make it home from the dog park with a ball, even if they didn’t go there with one! Whether it comes down to keeping hold of their own resources or taking things from other dogs, dominant dogs don’t tend to lose their toys in games with others.

This is the dog that will not let go of the shared stick, and that always wins the tussle over a knotted rope!

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