Ask the Dogfather: “Dominant” dogs


Tom Shelby, who has trained dogs and their owners on Martha’s Vineyard and in New York City, answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. This week, the dogfather counsels the owner of Izzeira, who was pinned to the floor by a less-than-polite dog.

Dear Dogfather,

Love your column.  Wondering about social protocol?  This is probably an isolated situation, doesn’t happen often, however, when in a public place (the bank), I have my dog, Izzeira, on a leash, and an unleashed dog comes over and growls and pins my dog to the floor.  The owner says, “It is alright, he is just showing that he is the dominant dog.”

I was not alright with that. What should I have said??

Thanks,  vethorse

Dear Vethorse,

Keeping in mind that my wife reminds me from time to time that sometimes I’m socially inappropriate with my directness, my first thought is, “Who do I kick first, the dog or the lady?” The “dominant dog” owner is clearly not from around here, but seemed to speak pretty good English for someone from a different planet. Which is good, so she’ll be better able to comprehend your response spoken in English instead of Jupiterian.

Perhaps I’ll be accused of anthropomorphizing here by saying to dominant dog owner, “Your off-leash dog pinning my dog down and terrorizing her is as acceptable as my husband knocking your husband down and getting on top of him and threatening him!”

Actually, Vethorse, this is really a tough question to answer because if dominant dog owner has a dog like this in a bank, off leash and saying its behavior is okay, then she’s so clueless, who knows how she will respond. Anger usually begets anger in return, but how can you not be angry as your dog is being beaten up, if not physically, mentally.

Perhaps just keep it simple: “Your dog needs to be on a leash and you need to take responsibility for its unacceptable behavior,” or to be less argumentative —  just, “Your dog needs to be on a leash!”

Hey Vethorse, out of curiosity, what did you say?

Good luck and may you never see dominant dog lady and her dog again.

The Dogfather

PS: Love those questions — keep ‘em coming! Write to