tips to avoid dominant dog problems

3 Tips to Avoid Dominant Dog Problems

Let me first describe a dominant dog.

Listed below are some characteristics that will give you some visual clues of a dominant dog:

  • Pushy
  • Assertive
  • Challenging
  • Self-assured or very strong-willed
  • High Energy
  • Excitable and easily distracted

tips to avoid dominant dog problems

Your dominant dog is not necessarily bad. He just needs a lot of structure and leadership “from you” – more so than his sibling that may be calm, laid back and easy to please. This contrast between dominant dog and laid back sibling usually never presents a problem.

But, when your two dogs are closer in temperament, you could make some mistakes thereby creating conflicts.

For example, if you are trying to raise them as “equals” you may be setting the stage to provoke an eventual disagreement or fight. With dominant dogs there is no such thing as equals. In fact, you could be increasing conflict between your dogs and you don’t even realize what’s happening.

Don’t Incite a Riot with Your Dominant Dog

Let’s just say you are petting your older, more dominant male dog and your younger dog approaches. Your older dog growls and you correct your older dog. What’s just happened? You’ve just reinforced your younger dog’s position and increased his confidence when you are in the room. Confused? How about this.

A Human Example

Let’s say your youngest son is complaining to you because he just got yelled at for playing with his older brother’s toys. If you correct your oldest son, then he becomes powerless around your younger son “in your presence.”   If you correct your youngest son for messing with his brother’s toys without asking permission, it ends right there.

Now let’s talk about your dogs.  

Don’t create conflict with your dogs.  Just like your children, reinforce your dominant dog’s status by putting his bowl down first at feeding time, pet him first, let him out the door first.  This clarifies his pack status.  You will find that your dogs will feel less stressed with a clear understanding of the order of things.

Wouldn’t you agree that most people, maybe yourself included, find the idea of giving one dog, preferential treatment hard to do? It may go “against the grain” of our nurturing nature.

Let’s look at 3 tips you’ll want to keep in mind, which may cause conflict or fights.

3 Tips to Avoid Dominant Dog Problems


  1. Don’t play with your dogs at such an intensity they become aroused beyond what they can tolerate. This may cause conflict or fighting over your attention.
  2. Avoid having both dogs in small, confining spaces. An example would be your front door. When guests arrive, this can create high excitement with both dogs in the same space.
  3. Feeding time can be a frenzy sometimes creating competition for food. If you have been feeding at the same time, begin to vary your feeding time.

Try this: instead of feeding at 5:30, feed at 6:00. Change it up every day.

If your dogs become over-excited at meal times, leave their bowls on the counter and walk away. Repeat this until you get quiet, calm compliance at mealtime. Good obedience training helps with this. A well-disciplined down/stay can do wonders! Both dogs should sit and down for their food.

If you are struggling with feeding times, separate the dogs at feeding time. One you have each individual dog under control with your obedience commands, you can then feed together. Remember, you always want to establish a clear, consistent pecking order as I’ve mentioned. Work on your obedience every day for 2 minutes, 3 times a day. You will be amazed at the change in your dogs.

Together We Can Raise A Happy and Obedient Dog

Jim Burwell, is Houston’s most respected dog trainer for 25+ years, serving over 10,000 clients. Jim takes the science of dog training and shows you how to make it work with your family and dog. He gives you the ability to get the same great behavior from your dog.

12 replies
  1. Melanie
    Melanie says:

    I have an 8 yr old Maltese that is neutered and a 12 yr old female Shih Tzu who have been living in harmony for 7 years now. About a year ago I acquired my sisters male chihuahua. My dogs are very familiar with him as he stays with us when she was out of town. The Maltese keeps marking throughout the house. I have cleaned the areas with natures miracle but he keeps marking. I’ve used a belly band and disp male wraps. I don’t want him to have to wear those forever and I don’t want to have to re-home the chihuahua to my neice. They mostly get along fine but fight for my attention at night in the bed. I’ve tried keeping the boys out of the bed but Kingston is big enough to jump in the bed once we are asleep. Help

  2. April
    April says:

    I have 2.5 yr fem 60 lb boxer high energy, and a 1.3 male 80 bulldog mix (think Boxer bulldog mix.) They both came into the shelter I volunteered at as underage orphan strays and I took them as fosters had them ever since. I am aware they both did not have enough time with mama… The boxer sort of helped me raise the bulldog. They have always played rough. They started play escalating fighting when people were in the yard with them, we stopped by not going outside with both at same time. Last week had them at dog park, put them in a small car together, and took them on walks same hand. THIS week started fighting in the house and it has been almost every day, and getting very vicious and hard to break up. Takes two people holding hind legs and waiting till they let up for a second to separate… they are very thick skinned and have been scrapes and bloody raw spots, only a couple punctures. I have appts with 3 trainers for evaluations. I have had to stop my volunteering to deal with this and keeping them cratedor leashed separate in same room. ANY ADVICE, to me it seems they have both instigated at diff times. I am totally broken hearted, devastated my peaceful pack has gone haywire. I have other dogs both large and small not involved.

  3. Deborah
    Deborah says:

    Just a note: I have never demanded any of my dogs feel they had to be perfect – I am certainly not so they aren’t either : ) We love each other unconditionally.

  4. Deborah
    Deborah says:

    Hi Jim! I have a dominant dog, Taylor – he’s dominant over the two other furbabies but I find it interesting that he will not let anyone go through a door until I go through – I never ‘taught’ him that I was the head of the pack — it’s just how it all worked out with us. He is 12 and the other two are 8 each. Our lives work just fine this way : ) We try to all respect each other just as people should try to do. Or at the very least, tolerate : )

  5. Diana Owens
    Diana Owens says:

    Jim, I read your advice with interest. I have the classic very dominant dog in my household of four dogs. He’s a three year old male Border Collie who spends everyday with me at work while my other dogs stay home. (Very bonded with me) Generally they all accept his status and there are no problems. But lately there have been spats with the older, smaller Beagle. He is 10 years old and we’ve had him since a puppy. I think he challenges the BC’s authority by growling and not giving way and the BC snaps at him and even knocks him down. I rush to the scene, but should I take action? The little Beagle had been the dominant male for many years, so is it a natural progression for him to step down, or will there be worse fighting?

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