How do dogs communicate dominance? Examples

Dogs are fascinating creatures, deeply ingrained in our lives as loyal companions. Within their social structure, dominance plays a crucial role in defining relationships and maintaining order. 

Understanding how dogs communicate dominance is essential for dog owners, trainers, and anyone involved in canine care. 

In this article, we will delve into the intricate world of canine communication, exploring the various signals, body language, and behaviors dogs employ to establish and assert dominance.

Defining Dominance

Dominance, within the context of dog communication, refers to the hierarchical relationship between individuals. It is not synonymous with aggression or control but rather a means of social organization. 

Dominant dogs display behaviors and body language that convey their position in the pack, influencing the actions and responses of other dogs within the group.

Body Language and Posturing

Dogs rely heavily on body language to communicate their dominance. The following are some key postures and signals to observe:

Direct Eye Contact: Maintaining prolonged eye contact is a powerful display of dominance. A dominant dog may lock eyes with a submissive dog, conveying their authority and asserting control.

Stiff, Upright Stance: Dominant dogs often carry themselves with an erect posture, demonstrating confidence and authority.

Raised Hackles: When a dog’s fur along the back and neck stands up (known as piloerection), it signifies arousal and can be a sign of dominance.

Tail Carriage: A dominant dog typically holds its tail high and may wag it slowly and purposefully. Conversely, a submissive dog will lower its tail and tuck it between its legs.

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Mounting Behavior: Mounting is not exclusive to sexual behavior; it can also be a display of dominance. A dominant dog may mount another to assert its social status.

Vocalizations and Signals:

In addition to body language, dogs communicate dominance through vocalizations and other signals. Some common signals include:

Deep, Low Growls: A dominant dog may emit low-pitched growls to communicate its authority and warn others to back off.

Barking and Snapping: Dogs may resort to barking or snapping to assert their dominance or establish boundaries. These vocalizations can vary in intensity, depending on the situation.

Play Bow: The play bow, where a dog lowers its front body while keeping the hindquarters elevated, is an invitation to play. However, a dominant dog may use a modified play bow to assert control and indicate dominance.

Guarding Resources: Resource guarding is another way dominant dogs communicate their position. They may growl, snap, or exhibit other defensive behaviors when another dog approaches their food, toys, or territory.

Establishing Dominance in Packs:

In a multi-dog household or social setting, dogs will naturally establish their dominance hierarchy. It is essential for humans to understand and manage these dynamics appropriately. Here are some tips:

Avoid Interfering: It is important to allow dogs to establish their own social structure unless intervention is required to prevent aggression or injury. Constant interference can disrupt the natural hierarchy formation.

Consistency and Fairness: Provide consistent rules and boundaries for all dogs in the household. Treat each dog fairly and avoid showing favoritism, which can lead to conflicts.

Supervision during Feeding: To avoid food-related aggression, separate dogs during feeding time or provide individual feeding stations to prevent resource guarding behavior.

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Socialization and Training: Proper socialization and training are key to developing well-adjusted dogs. Positive reinforcement training techniques can help establish a balanced relationship with your dog based on mutual respect.

Recognizing Dominance-Related Aggression:

While dominance is a normal aspect of canine social structure, it can lead to aggression if not properly managed. Understanding the difference between normal dominance behavior and aggression is crucial. Signs of dominance-related aggression may include:

  1. Prolonged and intense displays of dominance, such as excessive growling, snapping, or biting.
  2. Inability to back down or settle disputes peacefully.
  3. Frequent fights or injuries within a social group.

If you notice these signs, it is important to consult with a professional dog behaviorist or trainer who can assess the situation and provide guidance on addressing the aggression.


Understanding how dogs communicate dominance is key to maintaining a harmonious and balanced relationship with our canine companions. 

By observing their body language, vocalizations, and interactions, we can decipher their messages and respond accordingly. 

Remember that dominance is a natural part of dog behavior, and when managed appropriately, it contributes to a stable and well-functioning social structure. 

With patience, consistency, and proper training, we can foster a respectful and loving bond with our dogs while navigating the complexities of dominance.