Blog Pi-Bo

Hierarchy in the Family: Who’s the Boss?

We are often asked about a dog’s attitude to different family members and whether this process can be controlled. 

— how to determine who Susan loves and respects more
— why she is more obedient with her mum than with dad 
— what to do to become an ‘alpha’

In reality the hierarchy in our family ‘packs’ is far from being so straightforward. Moreover, what dominance theory supporters mean by hierarchy - does not actually exist.  

What dominance theory supporters claim

First thing you should do is show Susan who’s the boss here. This is the only way to make your life with the dog comfortable. Otherwise she will just step all over you with her hairy paws, making you her ‘doormat’ (whatever this means). That paints quite a scary picture.  

Here’re a few things that are offered to prevent this from happening: sleeping on a higher place than the doggo, always making sure you’re the first one to enter a room, allowing the pup to eat only after the owner fills their belly. 

By the way, these things prove to be working. But not because Susan recognized and accepted the owner’s ‘alpha’ position, it’s simply because these are nothing more than rituals to her which, to a pup, mean certainty and comfort. The doggo just learns that these are the rules here - the owner goes through the door first, lunch time comes only after the parent’s lunch. So, obedience here is not connected with hierarchy. The dog is obedient in these cases not because the Master told her so but because this is a familiar and habitual routine. It’s all about predictability and order. 

How are things in reality?

The way dogs see it - there is no straightforward and simple vertical hierarchy in the family. It’s much more complicated than that and has more to do with certain roles within the family, than with statuses. 

Here’s what we mean by that.

The status is a contingent title, like an ‘alpha’ or a ‘president’. The status is quite a stable thing which does not change depending on the context. An alpha is always an alpha. 

The role is a model of behavior, like for example, ‘a caring mummy’ or ‘a screaming dude’. Unlike the status, the role is a very flexible thing, which can change, depending on the situation. For example, mum is the best hug-provider and gives the best squishies to doggo cheeks. Dad is the softest one to sleep on. Grandma is the best at dropping edible stuff on the floor. 

So, who will Susan be most obedient to in this family? The correct answer is - to the person who will teach her to do so while making their actions easily understandable. 

The rest depends on the situation. Say, if Susan got hungry, she'd be more likely to follow grandma around. If she’s full and wants to have a nap - hey, it’s time to pay daddy and his sofa a visit! If she feels like her cheeks desperately need to be squished - this looks like a job for mum! Different people can go up and down in the family hierarchy within a day or even an hour. It all depends on the doggo’s needs at a certain moment.  

Can one person become for Susan the best at everything forever? Sure. It usually happens in small families, consisting only of the dog and the owner. 


In the dogs’ world there is no clear vertical hierarchy with an alpha whose orders are always obeyed. The same is true about the world of humans. Our roles and certain characteristics within certain situations are what’s important to the pups. Depending on those, one can become a leader for some time. For instance, if fireworks are exploding outside and frightened Susan is rushing to her dad because she knows he will always protect her. These roles are not hammered into the dog’s head through harsh drilling, asserting your dominance and being the first one to enter a room. The doggo starts to feel what they are by communicating with the owners, watching them in different situations and coming to its own conclusions. 

One cannot force the dog to trust, respect and be obedient. One can only force it to be afraid. Respect and trust come with time as long as there’s careful treatment while obedience is something which is specifically trained.