Alpha Dog Behavior or Play behavior

Don’t mistake your dogs play behavior for dominance or alpha behavior.

To often we make the mistake of misinterpreting our dogs playing for something else. It is entirely normal for a dog or puppy that is trying to get us to play with them to growl, bark, show his teeth and bite us. Remember this is a dog, this is how they play with each other. Not only don’t they have a clue that some of us don’t like that. They don’t know how to play any other way. Our dog is not going to think to themselves, OK they are humans, “Let me get the Monopoly game” this is a dog. Every year millions of happy dogs, that where attempting to play with their people get abandoned and euthanized, because the dog owners thought the dog was becoming dominant.

For those of us with small children, it’s relatively common place for a little kid to bite or hit their brothers or sisters. We teach them not to do that because that’s unacceptable behavior, then we say play nice. For those of us that can tell the difference between our dogs normal play behavior, and what is not. We can tell our dogs a million times that we don’t like that behavior. But guess what they don’t speak English, so their never going to get it unless we learn to speak their language.

So please remember, unless taught differently our dog will growl, bark, show his teeth and bite us, ( called mouthing) when attempting to play with us. If you are not sure what your dog is doing, hire a dog trainer to tell you if your dog is playing. ( Hopefully you find a trainer that actually knows something). Or you can make a video of your dog displaying the behavior, upload it to youtube or something like that and send me the link to it. I’ll be more than happy to tell you what your dog is doing.

The Spirit Dog

Related Article

How to be your dogs, Alpha Dog

Copyright © 2008 A.S.Papszycki


12 Responses

  1. Dearest Spirt Dog,

    We recently added a husky to our family. When we got her she was 8 weeks old and is now 12 weeks old. I am very concerned that she may be a dominant puppy. We took her to her first puppy class last night and the trainer says she is definitely a dominant puppy.

    I have two childrent (14 yo and 6 yo). My 6 yo is some what afraid of her because she nips and bites. When we first got her she was growling when we would get close to her if she was eating, but now that seems to have gotten better since we started to feed her out of our hands and we also have her sit and wait for her food. Recently she has also started object guarding. She’ll growl and then snap and try to bite.

    When we take her out and she sees other dogs, she’ll growl and bark, but not all the time. There’s a cat that we run into and she’ll want to play with the cat. She listens quite well and is very food motivated. We have taught her to sit, stay, lay down, hi-five, and paw/shake.

    Because I haev kids and I know she will be getting pretty big, I want to kmake sure that she stops the biting and growling. I also want to be able to take her out with out having to carry her around for fear of her biting another dog. Any ideas?

    The trainer has suggested that throughout the day we cradle her and put our hand on her chest until she stops struggling. Please help.

    Thank you,


  2. Hello Trevman,

    Did I get back to you on this ?

  3. We have a bloodhound born in dec /08 we got her when she was seven weeks old, she was the largest and biggest eater of the 13 siblings. She growls and snaps at us when she is eating, or sleeping, and has absoluetly no respect for our 2 children aged 9&11 we have tried to take the food away when growling and also have tried feeding her from our hand out of her bowl, taking the food away has no effect, feeding her buy hand seems to work but if you go back to just giving the bowl she growls and snaps at us, so that doesnt seem to be helping either I have smacked her on the snout on occasion and that has seemed to gain a little respect for me, but not total obedience. we are at our wits end as this dog is very large already almost 40lbs at less than 4mths. Any advice how to control this beautiful female before she gets to large for adults to control

  4. She listens but only when she wants to. She is a very stubborn dog. It seems went she has very little energy she listens. But we can’t seem to figure out how best to train her. I say this because she listen great and does as she is told some days. Where as other days she almost seems as if she just can’t remember the command. We just started think it is because she is so hyper. She likes to play fetch but wants you to chase her for the ball. She bites at your shoes as you walk. She resently just started getting bad about jumping on people when they come over.

    I live with my parents soon and she was a birthday present for my dad. She goes with my dad every week when he goes to work, which is for like four nights and five days that he stays some place other then home. This is how she finally learned to go outside and go to the bathroom. She is outside on the job site with my dad all day when he is working. So at night she is tired.

    Does that information help?

  5. Hello Alexa,

    Could you please tell me how well does she listen to you when she’s not doing the humping thing. I mention this because apparently it will be easier for you to stop it before it begins. Tell me a little bit about her, you and your family that lives in your home.


  6. I have a 7 month old boxer/pit bull mix. She is very sweet and cuddly for the most part. But she also has her moments. We have tried everything with her. But we don’t know whether it’s playing or dominace when she wraps her front legs around you (mostly your legs, and mostly when your laying down). But then she starts to growl, and when you go to put your hand on her head or on her to get her off of you she shows no fear in biting. And will not let go of your leg. If you try and move your leg she growls and holds tighter, if you are still trying to move your foot she sets her mouth right next to your foot and growls. At one point we thought she was playing but now we are not so sure. She did this maybe two times when we got her at 6 weeks old, and now it has come back. If you could help me figure out which it is or have any suggestions and could email me, I would greatly appreciate it.

    Thank you

  7. The only people that sound like idiots to me are some professional dog people. I’d like you to forget about the size thing, it doesn’t matter to dogs and they don’t understand it anyway.

    But if we think along those lines, then we will be creating problems that don’t exist.

    After she puts him in his place and he does his little stupid thing, than what happens ?

  8. Ive only had my female shepherd, I had her professionaly trained at 5 months old. She growls back at him and “puts him in his place” I guess you could say, it doesnt seem to faze her. She just mouths him, but it gets on his nerves after awhile I can tell, I think its b/c she is so much bigger than he is. Im sorry If i sound like an idiot its just that I want to make sure he is a happy sound dog that isnt aggressive

  9. Hello Sarah,

    OK, first off in case you haven’t thought of this yet. DO NOT try and kiss his face unless he is totally relaxed, that’s a real good way to accidentally get bit in the face.

    I am not a big fan of forcing a dog into a dominant down. In the dog world a more dominant dogs does not force the other dog down, the other dog either lies down when the big boss comes over or they run away. For humans to try forcing a dog into the dominant down position, is another real good way to get bit.

    In case you aren’t aware of it because of more inaccurate behavior advice, dogs don’t mount as a show of dominance. The cat bed thing should show you that.

    The mouthing thing can be a real pain in the neck, but don’t be alarmed this is one of the only three ways dogs know how to play. You have an opportunity to use this ( mouthing) to your benefit.

    Go to Home depot or Lowes or any hardware store and buy a couple of pairs of welders gloves ($12-$20). Wear the gloves to either initiate the play or when he randomly starts the play. This accomplishes a couple good things, 1) it keeps us from getting a bunch of puppy bites on our hands, which with those little razor teeth really hurt. 2) It will give him the opportunity to learn how to use his mouth more gently with us. 3) But probably the most important thing using the gloves will accomplish is, it will give us an opportunity to learn how to control our dog by using our voice and body language.

    Rough play does not make dogs aggressive, contrary to popular belief. But obviously if you are really not comfortable playing with your puppy like that, don’t.

    Now, when he gets testy while playing with your older shepherd, what is her response to his testiness ?

    I don’t think you mentioned how many previous dogs you had.

    And by the way, when I call some dogs idiots it’s meant with affection. I love these dogs regardless of how their own intelligence level compares to other dogs.

  10. Well like I said, he has growled at myself twice now when I have held him against his will and went to kiss his face. He mouths us constantly. He doesnt like being on his back or held too much. The first day we brought him home he tried mounting my leg and my cat bed. I knocked him off of course. He is very social, does follow us around and licks us (hands/face). He plays with our other shepherd fine but does get testy with her if shes too rough.

  11. Hello BelleGSD,

    The good news is your new little guy is not dominant, The not so good news, and please don’t take offense is he’s an idiot. If you haven’t read this post, read it first then continue reading this.

    What I failed to mention in that post is how these guys have a tendency to bark at just about everything. This in all likelihood going by your description, is not the most confident dog in the world. Dogs display nervous behaviors in two main ways, 1] How your female reacts is one of them,non-confrontational, quite, submissive. And 2] what your little guy is doing, putting on a big show in attempt to scare away what he’s afraid of.

    This is a relatively easy thing to deal with as long as you stay relaxed while working with him. How many dogs have you trained besides Belle. But more important how many dogs have you had that listened to you in all circumstances.

    Tell me a little more about him, and I’ll figure something out for you.

  12. I just recently purchased an 8 week old male gsd puppy from a breeder. My husband and I currently have a 6 year old female shepherd that is completely trained and has always been submissive. Well this new puppy we have is different. Sometimes when I hold him, he will growl at me and fight me to get down. He doesnt like to be held against his will. He also “mouths” constantly, barks at our cats and us when playing. I was told by the breeder he was the dominant puppy of the bunch. My question is if I truly have a dominant puppy or if this is normal puppy behavior. My other female shepherd has never ever growled at me, she also doesnt fight if we hold her down, etc. Im just worried b/c I dont want a mean dog on my hands. Any help would be appreciated. Please email me.

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