Do you really have to be a “pack leader” and be “dominate” over your dog for him/her to be well behaved?  The answer is NO. Your dog is not a wolf and your family is not a pack. Dogs have had 15,000 years of domestication history to undergo changes in both their appearance and their behavior as compared to their wolf ancestors.

How much does a Pekinese resemble a wolf? Not much. Just as we’ve morphed and modified the physical appearance of our dog breeds, 15,000 years of living with people has also changed their behaviors. In addition, for more than 50 years most segments – especially the most popular ones – of the dog training field have gotten it wrong. What’s out there in the popular literature on dogs about “dominance” has very little connection to information in the scientific literature about social dominance in social species of animals such as wolves, deer, horses, birds and others.

Dogs are predisposed to be subordinate to people and mostly all you need to do is to be consistent and clear to your dog about your expectations for his behavior. Dogs, like your children need feedback from to learn what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Too often, problems are caused because we don’t give our dogs enough feedback for GOOD behavior and too much and the wrong kind of feedback for unwanted behavior.

Social dominance is about competition, not about control. Your dog can be ill behaved and you may have very little control over his behavior, but still be in a socially dominant role in your relationship with him.

Behavior problems are usually not caused by “dominance” problems. Home alone problems, excessive barking, housesoiling, most aggression problems, not obeying, eating feces, not coming when called, etc. have nothing to do with social dominance.

Whether your dog runs out the door in front of you, walks ahead of you on leash, prefers to lie in doorways, leans against you, eats before you do, sleeps on the bed with you, or plays tug of war with you has little bearing on whether 1. you are in the dominant role in your relationship and 2. whether he will ultimately use aggression during a competitive or non-competitive interaction with you.

You do not need to deprive your dog of attention, snuggling on the couch or bed with you, responding to his requests to play – all the things you like to do with your dog – just to have a good relationship with him. We strongly recommend against using “scruff shakes” and “alpha rolls” to discipline your dog. These procedures do NOT mimic dog or wolf behavior, and can be dangerous.

Want to learn more? Take our FREE online course  “Five Myths About Dominance in Dogs” 

We have more information about dominance in Dr. Hetts’ “12 Terrible Dog Training Mistakes book and in our online course “Keys Principles and Guidelines for Working With Behavior Problems, available at