Signs of Alpha Dog Behavior

Dog packs have a strict order of superiority.
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Wild instinct tells dogs to rely heavily on social structure, which is asserted through signs of dominance. The pack needs a leader. A male will typically assume that role. In the domestic context, all humans should be superior to the dog, or his behavior may become unruly and possibly aggressive.


Dogs use urine to mark their territory. By cocking his leg and leaving his mark as high as possible, a male dog attempts to trick other dogs into thinking a much larger dog is in the territory. Continued marking around the home is a sign your dog is attempting to assert his claim to the territory. He is trying to let other dogs know he is the top dog in the area. This behavior is undesirable for practical and hygiene reasons, but also if uncorrected can lead the dog to think he is in charge of the house.

Eye Contact

When a dog maintains his gaze, he is trying to warn off a perceived threat to his territory or resources. Staring down is also a precursor to aggressive behavior. It can be difficult to correct this behavior in isolation, but your dog will typically elect not to do it once he is assured that you are above him in the social structure. If done to another dog in the home, it is a natural part of pack interaction and typically serves only to reinforce existing pack structure.

Refusal to Obey Commands

If a dog that is trained and understands a command refuse to comply, it can be a sign that he is “testing the waters.” He may be at an age where he feels he should be challenging for superiority. The key to overcoming this is to use an aversive stimulus, such as isolation, to correct slow obedience or complete noncompliance. Allow your dog two “strikes,” but if he ignores the third command, put him in a room on his own. He’ll soon learn that noncompliance has a negative outcome. It’s important however, to reward and reinforce compliance with verbal praise and treats.


Mounting is often confused for sexual behavior. Male dogs will mount other males to assert their dominance. Dominant dogs may attempt this technique on humans, either by mounting the leg or by mounting the person if they are in a vulnerable position, such as crouching to tie a shoelace. This behavior should be firmly corrected. Push the dog down and issue the “no” command. Then isolate the dog, either in a room on his own or in his crate.

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