How to Stop Dominant Dogs From Playing Too Rough

Tug-of-war isn't a good game for most dogs, unless you win every time.
Tug-of-war isn't a good game for most dogs, unless you win every time. (Image: DTP/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Dogs have their own individual personalities ranging from timid to overly aggressive. Aggressive dogs are often trying to establish dominance over other dogs or people, and playing rough helps reinforce their dominant positions. Obedience training can help you rein in dominant behavior and keep you at the top of the pack.


Obedience training helps you live more comfortably with any dog, but it's especially important with dominant dogs. Teaching him basic commands such as come, sit and stay will help you stop his rough play when necessary. Practice these commands daily so they become second nature to your pup; this can help him obey even when he's overly excited from stimulating play. This also sets you up as the dominant pack leader, which gives you the right, in your dog's mind, to put him in his place when he gets too rough.

The Right Friends

Playing with other dogs can help your pooch learn how to interact properly, but it can also unleash his dominant instincts. When socializing your dog, keep the groups small; large groups can be intimidating and cause your dog to become instantly defensive. His playmates should be about his same size and the same age or older. It's easy for dogs to try to dominate younger pups, but they are less likely to play rough with older dogs. Be prepared to call your dog to you or put his leash on him and pull him away if he starts playing too rough; ending his play is one of the best ways to teach him rough play isn't acceptable.

The Right Games

When you're playing with your dog, keep the games away from ones that give him the upper hand. When he feels dominant over you, even in play, he's more likely to get rough to further establish that dominance. Tug-of-war, for example, can go south quickly if you let him win. He can start biting closer to your hand, or even biting your hand, when he feels dominant. He can start rushing you and jumping on you while he's holding the rope toy to force you to play, meaning he's feeling dominant and empowered to misbehave because he's in charge. This can also happen if you let him bite at your hands and arms, such as when you're wrestling in the floor. Don't let him engage you in rough play. Take away rope toys is he's insisting on tug-of-war, and stop play immediately if he starts putting his mouth on your hands or arms or is jumping on you. Other games, such as fetch, can maintain your dominance while giving him the play time he needs.

Time Out

Dogs sometimes show dominant and aggressive behavior when they get overly excited, which is one reason to keep your play low-key and to let him play with only small groups of other dogs. When you notice his excitement level escalating to the point you think he'll start playing rough, pull him away from the excitement. This might be leading him to his bed and giving him the "stay" command, putting him in his crate or back into the car if you're at a dog park. Give him five or 10 minutes to cool down emotionally before letting him back out to play. Pulling him away from play helps teach him his limits, and telling him to "come" or "stay" reinforces your dominance.

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