Dogs do not become extremely dominant overnight. It's usually a continual process that can sometimes take up years and that involves lots of signs and signals. It's very important to recognize these signals and to react to them accordingly to retain your pack leader role. If you lose it, you will no longer be the owner in your house, and you dog will set up its own rules for the family that you usually won't like and that can actually be destructive and dangerous. This includes biting, which is part of the alpha communication tactics but which is totally unacceptable in a human world. Make sure you deal with the signs of dominance in your dog while they are not at the highest level.
Here are some common things dog will do when they believe they are in a higher rank than humans. Generally, a dog will not show them all but just a few at different times. This should tell you that your dog is probably in a dominant state of mind. You should never encourage but always correct these types of behaviour.
  • Stubbornness (you do have to be more stubborn and wilful than your dog).
  • Demanding and begging (this is how dogs learn to manipulate us; it is usually a good idea to ignore such behaviour).
  • Bringing you toys and/or pawing begging you to play (it is not a bad thing to a dog to let you know what it wants, but if this becomes an obvious manipulation, you should be aware of that).
  • Nudging to be pet (same as above).
  • Guarding behaviour, when you dog wants to protect your from everything that approaches, especially when you cannot stop it. Sometimes people call it "protecting" and even "love" but it is not, at all. Your dog claims you as its property that cannot do anything without the dog's permission.
  • Barking at other people and animals without a command to do so. It may seem the dog is talking to them but it is very often the same dominant behaviour as above but at a lower degree.
  • High pitched screams in objection to something undesirable.
  • Jumping on humans while you have not given a command to jump.
  • Persistent jumping or sleeping on your bed, couch or other furniture when you command it to stay off (a dog should only be on furniture if it was invited to do so).
  • Going in and out the doorway before humans (the pack leader always leaves and enters the house first - this is a golder rule to follow when you take your dog for a walk).
  • Pulling the least while you walk.
  • Refusal to wear a collar or walk on a leash (this doesn't apply to young puppies, injured or ill dogs).
  • Nipping at people's heels when they have to leave (the dog hasn't given them a "permission" to leave).
  • Ignoring well known commands.
  • Possessiveness and protectiveness about food and toys.
  • A proud stance when the dog is sitting in your lap.
  • Disliking to be touched on the head, back, and shoulders (see the "Body language of dominant dogs" paragraph below).
  • Being on top, be it sitting on your lap, stepping on your foot, or sleeping on you. When a dog is physically above you, even if with just one paw, it makes the animal feel dominant.
  • Annoyance if disturbed while sleeping or eating.
  • Licking in an obsessed manner.
  • Disliking to be left alone and getting over excited when you return.

Body language of dominant dogs

When communicating with each other and humans, dogs can demonstrate a higher rank in various ways:
  • Placing the foreleg or head on the other dog's back or shoulder. This, by the way, explains why some confident dogs may dislike being touched on the head, back, and shoulders. In most cases, however, dogs simply dislike being touched on the head because they are often fearful and feel threatened from such an approach.
  • Growling or snarling while playing (and not only).
  • Persistent and focused staring (direct eye contact).
  • A proud gait with the head held high.
  • Ears forward or pricked (held back if the dog has become aggressive).
  • Showing teeth.
  • Forward stance.
  • Tail upright, it may wag stiffly and slowly.
  • Half moon eye.

Last but not least, please remember that the term "dominant" tends to be overused. Not all dogs acting aggressively or unruly are doing this because of dominance. Very often, it happens because of bad manners or defence. While dominance may be an issue at times, really "dominant dogs" that attempt to take the household over are quite rare. Cases of high level dominance should be assessed by a dog behaviourist who should also determine the correct course of actions. Dealing with a very dominant dog may be dangerous, and it must never be taken lightly.

Read also: Signs of Submission in Dogs