Identifying Dominant Puppies: The Pack Feeding Test

The following is a series of exchanges (involving myself and two separate Facebook friends of mine) that will help you understand the difference between effectively subduing dominance according to what I instruct in my Perfect Dog DVDs and initially identifying dominance in a young pack of pups.



Hi Don. I came across a video on YouTube ( that showed some dog owners feeding a large group of pups together from the same dish. Very soon, one particular pup frightened all the other pups away from the food by using dominance. The owners then picked up the dish of dry food and rattled it, calling all of the pups together again to eat. When the dish was on the ground again, the pups gathered and started to eat from the same dish once more, but almost immediately the same thing happened. The bossy pup growled and snapped at the others until he was the only one eating. The owners repeated this a number of times before the video stopped.

What is your opinion of this video? Does this prove the dominance and pack hierarchy that you speak about?



Absolutely! It’s exactly what I talk about regarding the subordinate pack members submitting to the dominant leader over food (one of the main elements of life that dogs are willing to fight over). It very much proves that the dog that relinquishes food to another is lower on the hierarchy scale – which then supports my teaching that you should never hand your dog food (e.g. use treats as reward for good behavior) because in reality you’re sending your dog the very clear message that you’re the weaker one in the relationship. When you multiply this treat giving over days and weeks and months, you begin to understand why so many people struggle with their dogs.



Shouldn’t the people have stepped in and given the dominant puppy a correction, or removed him from the group and worked on the issue separately? I have learned from your system that allowing a puppy to be aggressive like that at such a young age really sets him up for failure. You teach that food aggression – and dominant possessiveness over any object – should be shut down immediately, so I’ve followed that in my own household. I simply don’t allow it. My two Labs eat side by side as well as my pug. I can reach my hand toward their food and take it with no issues. I also make them wait on their beds until I tell them it’s okay to eat.



You have learned well from my system! The amazing results you’ve achieved with your three dogs are proof that you’ve applied all of the instruction thoroughly and diligently. Congratulations on your success, and good on you for your efforts!

However, it’s important to distinguish between the purpose of the food test video and what I teach in my Perfect Dog system in terms of training your own dog after you’ve brought him home. When you have a new litter of pups, it’s always important to identify which ones are the more dominant pack members, so you know which ones to focus on in terms of subduing them and bringing them under your authority. Or, if you’re not keeping the pups, you need to assess each of their personalities in order to properly prepare each of the new owners.

In both of these cases, a brief test exercise like the one in the video quickly reveals important information. Having said this, however, I wouldn’t repeat the same group feeding exercise over and over as they did (unless it was very unclear as to who was the first leader pup). Once identified, I would eliminate the first most dominant pup for the next round of feeding in order to reveal the next most dominant pup, and so on until I had figured out the hierarchical order of the pack – and I would record my notes (rating their dominance levels according to their physical markings) so I wouldn’t forget, or get the pups confused.

I would certainly take particular note of all of the leader types seeing that these pups would present more of a training challenge. This does not mean that my training techniques would change according to each dog’s personality. Rather, the only that would change is the level at which I would work with each individual dog.

Once the series of tests were completed (which wouldn’t take long), I would most definitely step in at that point and begin my training, allowing nothing to slip by in terms of unacceptable behavior. I hope this clarifies things.

– Don Sullivan, “The DogFather”

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