Updated: Mar 9, 2021
People keep telling me their dog wants to be the boss! But does you dog really want to be the boss?
I heard from one puppy owner that their dog was trying to be the boss by stealing the older dog's toys. Another owner told me her dog was trying to boss around her husband by pawing at him when the dog wanted to be lifted onto the sofa. I had a client who claimed her dog used to try and boss her in the car, barking if she didn't take her to the park!
So does you dog want to be the boss? No your dog has simply learned effective ways to get what it wants.
Let's start with a young dog that steals stuff from an older dog. Puppies generally come with what is referred to as a "puppy license". It is the same behavioral forgiveness we allow small children. If a little kid takes something from your hand because they want it, we react very differently than we would if an adult did the same thing. The same principle holds for a puppy license - a very young dog can often get away with taking stuff from an older dog.
Now of course this all depends on the response of the older dog!
For some older dogs, the puppy license never expires, and they will patently let the pup take stuff from them even when that dog matures into adulthood.
For other dogs however that puppy license does expires, and the theft by a four month old pup may be allowed, where as the same theft from an older pup will be met with a growl (and perhaps eventually a run off) when the older dog has decided the puppy's license expiration date as arrived.
And lastly for some older dogs, there is no puppy license at all, and the pup will be chased and growled off of any of the older dog's stuff. Some older dogs will even make a job of stealing everything that is given to the pup, claiming all the stuff for themselves.
All three of these scenarios require a good owner to get involved. Letting dogs "work it out" is a bad idea which can lead to high vet bills, and dogs that hate each other. A good trainer can help you with management and training to make sure all of these scenarios end up happily for everyone involved.
How about the owner who claimed her dog said was trying to boss around her husband by pawing at him when the dog wanted to be lifted onto the sofa?
This dog has simply learned how to get lifted onto the sofa! Paw at Dad's leg long enough, and Dad will pick me up. It has nothing to do with being bossy, and everything to do with cause and effect. Working with a good trainer, you can learn behaviors you LOVE that you can then reward the dog for by lifting her on to sofa. For example you can teach spin around and dance, or take a bow, or roll onto you back and play dead...all of these are trainable behaviors that can be rewarded by a lift up and snuggle on the sofa.
And the dog that barks to go to the park? He has learned the same lesson as above, barking will get mom to take me to the park. If every time your dog barks you go to the park, you're building in the cause (barking) and the effect (we go to the park). Working with a trainer you can learn how to extinguish the barking behavior, so your dog doesn't make you crazy by barking in the car when you can't go to the park.
So no, your dog doesn't want to be the boss of your other dog, or the boss of your husband, or the boss of whom ever is driving, Your dog has simply learned how to get what they want, and we have to learn how make sure that is a behavior we can live with!