St Martins Veterinary Clinic
St Martins Veterinary Clinic

Social hierarchy and dominance

Avoiding potential behavioural problems

Many behavioural issues in dogs are caused by over-humanisation and allowing them to assume a higher position in the social hierarchy than is fit. Dogs are pack animals and will relate to you and your family as a pack. While some dogs prefer to be subservient some will try and raise their position in the pack hierarchy and attempt to become dominant.


Much interaction with your dog which you think is quite innocent can be interpreted by dogs as subservience and give them an inflated idea of their position in their pack. As much as you want your dog to be part of your family remember he/she is not a human, does not have human intelligence, feelings of guilt or self-worth and cannot rationalise and interpret what to us are just signs of affection and if you treat him/her as a human he/she will treat you as a dog.


There are some basic rules you must follow, however much this may go against your human instincts, in order to prevent dominance and hierarchical behaviour. If you start with these rules no problems will occur, even if problems have started by following these rules you can reverse unacceptable behaviour – you can treat old dogs new tricks:

  • You must initiate and terminate all interactions. No attention, stroking or treats should be given unless they are earned, this should at the very least be a sit response. If your dog comes to you for attention initially reject him/her then initiate the interaction and terminate before he/she does. 
  • Playtime, walking, feeding times etc must always be at a time determined by you. Do not allow your dog to lead you; you must lead him/her, especially when going through doors. Keep him/her on a short leash and frequently reinforce walk to heel, sit and stay commands.
  • There needs to be a penalty for unacceptable behaviour, as most dogs crave attention this can be by simple walking away, giving 'time out' in a dog crate or another room, or with a pet corrector - this can be brief screeches from a dedicated screech alarm or as simple as a tin can half filled with small pebbles (dogs hate the noise this makes) at first thrown alongside the dog (not at it!) then eventually just the threat of this should do.
  • Forbid any attention seeking such as jumping up at the body or onto furniture.
  • Always reward compliant behaviour especially sitting to command initally with a treat then simply just a touch or eye contact.
  • Games must be played so the human wins i.e. you must always win a tug or war and retain the toy, ball etc. or at least make him/her drop it. Possession of a treasured toy must always be earned by a sit or stay response.
  • Do not carry him/her around; all four feet must always be on the ground.
  • Do not allow on beds, in bedrooms, upstairs or on sofas. Height infers rank and allowing dogs to assume these positions gives them an inflated opinion of their place in the hierarchy.
  • Hide toys or Kongs with treats around the house to find and keep him/her occupied without you. 


Dogs are intelligent and need stimulating behaviour: walks and playtime obviously are important but you must learn to think dog - don't expect your dog to think human!

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St Martins Veterinary Clinic

126 Station Road  

West Drayton

UB7 7JS


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