Is your dog dominant or depressed?

Updated: 4 days ago

Struggling dogs have been described as attention seeking, demanding, dominant, trying to be the pack leader.


The dog’s brain is an organ and like other canine organs it can struggle.


When a brain is not functioning correctly, we see anxiety, depression, aggression, hyperactivity, and just as in humans a struggling canine brain isn’t taken as seriously as a struggling heart, liver or kidney. I often hear he/she will grow out of it, they will settle down, ignore the dog, show them who is boss. Struggling dogs have been described as attention seeking, demanding, dominant, trying to be the pack leader. In my work I always seek to be respectful and considerate of a dog’s feelings and emotions when building a behaviour change programme.


We can struggle with conversations about dog’s suffering with mental health issues such as stress, anxiety or depression, but as the canine brain is very similar to ours, there is no reason to believe these emotions aren’t being experienced.






We feel very comfortable talking about prevention of disease for our dog’s bodies. We buy and administer flea and worm treatments, vaccinate and clean their teeth to prevent decay. We feel comfortable with diets and medications that support dogs with kidney, heart or joint diseases. Yet, in my experience, many dogs suffering from mental health issues, particularly those coming in from abroad are still being labelled dominant and subjected to a rank reduction programme, long before anyone considers treating them for stress, anxiety or depression.


The foundations of emotional health are (in no particular order):


  • Diet and nutrition

  • Sleep

  • Freedom from pain

  • Play and appropriate exercise

  • Expression of breed typical behaviour




What can we do?


  1. Find yourself a pet behaviour therapist or trainer who takes all of the above into consideration when working with you

  2. Look for a veterinary practice who has an holistic ethos and is open to discussing all aspects of your dogs health, physical and emotional. They may not be able to help you directly with all your questions, but in my experience vets are happy to refer out and work with specialists.

  3. Diet – do your research, be prepared to experiment, there is no one perfect diet for every dog, respond to your dog’s individual dietary requirement.

  4. Pain – far too many dogs live with undiagnosed pain. Don’t wait for the limp! If you notice any changes in your dog’s movement or mobility, get it checked out. Seek second opinions from canine physios and other specialists.

  5. Sleep – is your dog getting good quality sleep? Are you or your neighbours disturbing them? Is there sleeping area comfortable with plenty of space to stretch out and move around? Does your dog have freedom to move from warmer to cooler areas? What surfaces do they choose to sleep on during the day, can you replicate this at night?

  6. Provide a variety of walks and types of exercise suitable for your dog’s age and condition. A mix of aerobic off lead exercise (rent a secure dog run if necessary) combined with slower on lead decompression walks, where your dog can scent and sniff.

  7. Play is another form of exercise that also provides learning opportunities and gives your dog something positive to focus on


Read more about why confidence building can transform your dog


For every dog owner


Avoid comparison, comparing your dog to other dogs, or yourself to other dog owners is rarely helpful. Every dog, every owner and every living situation is different and should be treated as such.


Trust your dog, if your dog is showing signs of fear or distress, take them seriously. Remove your dog to a place of safety, and use some of the interventions listed above, if things don’t improve seek help from a qualified pet behaviour therapist who understands canine emotional health.


Be patient, it can take time and an integrated approach of different professionals to help dogs that are chronically stressed. Use a diary, video or photographs to track your progress. Join a supportive social media group to share stories and learn that you are not alone.


A dog's brain needs a Dopamine to help with learning, learn more here


Can I help?

Think your dog might be struggling with their emotions, a 1:1 session would give us time to talk about what is happening and put some tailored strategies into place. work-with-me

Not sure if a 1:1 is for you, get in touch to discuss further clare@clareteachingdogs.com

For a supportive group of people and more hints and tips join our Facebook Group, The Dog Learning Space


If you are the owner of a rescue dog and want to learn how to build an amazing relationship with them, then my online course could be the perfect learning resource for you.

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