Is Your Dog a Bully?

Is your dog a bully at the dog park or even with the other dogs at home?

What is a dog bully? A dog bully is a little like the bully on the kindergarten playground. He wants to play with the other children and wants to be liked, but hasn’t learned the proper play protocol. Dogs can be the same way. They may be overly zealous in their attempts to play, knock others around, chase them mercilessly, or growl or posture (dogs, not kindergarteners). This could happen because of poor socialization as a puppy or a genetic tendency to ignore doggie social “codes”. These dogs are usually easily aroused (it has nothing to do with sex, although neutering or spaying can sometimes help) and find it difficult to calm down.

All dogs have movements and facial gestures that they use to communicate their intentions clearly with each other and with humans. Most dogs learn this at an early stage in their life if they are raised in the ideal conditions, that is with their mother and litter mates until they are at least 8 weeks old. Some dogs that missed out on this may be socially “stunted”, but they can usually be taught how to play nicely with other well-mannered dogs.

Dogs with cropped ears or tails may be at a disadvantage because other dogs may perceive them as aggressors with “pricked” ears or may not be able to interpret their intent if they have “stubby” tails.

Sometimes it is a matter of different play “styles” and two dogs with different styles can play nicely with each other once they figure out which one to use. Some dogs with oppositional play styles may not ever be comfortable with each other. This usually happens when one dog that is shy meets a dog with a more physical play style. The shy one doesn’t appreciate being mowed down and may react physically by snapping, growling, or lunging to drive the other dog away. Some shy dogs may on the other hand just shut down and try to get as far away from the aggressor as possible.

Although the bullying can be corrected or at least minimized, the longer it is allowed to go on the harder it will be to correct it. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Don’t let the bully continue to practice it, he will only get better at it. Never take a bully dog to a dog park. You have no control over what other dogs will do or how they will react to the bullying dog.

You are your dogs protector. If your dog is stressed and seems to be trying to get away, remove him from the situation. If, on the other hand your dog is the aggressor, remove him away from the other dogs.

If your dog is a bully there are things you can do. Prevent, manage, and train.

Preventing the bully:

Do not allow him to play with other dogs off leash. If he is under your control with a leash he simply won’t be able to practice most of his aggressive behaviors.

Managing the bully:

With dogs he knows well (not at the dog park) allow short play sessions under your supervision. As long as he is behaving let them play but as soon as you see the first sign of bullying, remove him.

Training the bully:

First become a student of your dog. You need to become aware of the first signs that he is becoming aroused and how long after that he begins bullying. Some samples of the signs are:

  • Hair standing erect on the neck and back
  • crouching
  • moving slowly and fixedly toward the other dog
  • staring
  • growling or other vocalization
  • ears completely forward and tail held rigid and high over the back.

Learn to know your dogs signs and interrupt and redirect him just BEFORE he begins the bullying behavior.

  1. Teach a solid “focus on me” command. See: “Teaching your dog to focus only on you and why it’s important” for more information. Teach him to stop whatever he is doing and to come to you and sit in front of you and look at you EVERY time. Getting him to this point will take time and a lot of patience. But it is the best way to stop a bully.
  2. Once he has this down pat you can start allowing him short play periods with dogs that he knows well or dogs that are more “laid back”. Watch him closely. After a few minutes of play call him to you and reward liberally.
  3. Repeat step 2 four or five times during each play session, then quit and separate the dogs. Reward your dog liberally, so that he learn that even when play time is over he still has something good waiting for him.
  4. Try a play session a day with this same dog that he knows or one with an equivalent temperament for a few weeks and gradually increase the amount of play and “time out” sessions. If at any time he doesn’t respond to your “focus on me” command he needs more training. Go back to that until you are sure that it is “solid”.
  5. If play and “time out” sessions are going well you can begin to up the ante, so to speak. Put a light weight leash on your dog and ask a friend to bring their dog over to play (one that he doesn’t know so well). At the FIRST sign of arousal, call him to you. Use the leash to reel him in if you need to. When he gets there, reward him and pet him slowly and calmly from head to tail while talking to him softly. Then release him to play some more.
  6. Gradually increase the opportunities to play with other dogs while under your control. Remember to call him BEFORE he begins his bullying behaviors. Never let him “practice” those behaviors. Take your time with this training.  Take it slow and be consistent. If you try to increase each step to quickly, he may have a relapse. Be sure to always reward him for non-bullying behaviors.

google-blond-long-hairedInterrupting the behavior before it starts is the key. If he is not on a drag line, keep a water bottle near to squirt him to “interrupt” the bad behavior. You can always use your body to “block” him if you see him heading towards a confrontation. Redirect and reward. If he gets to aroused, take him to a quiet corner until he becomes calmer or remove him from play altogether.

If your dog learns the “focus on me” command and does it EVERY SINGLE time he will be easier to train. If your dog that never learns this will only be able to be managed. The choice is yours. This will take a lot of time and patience on your part, but it will be worth it in the long run.


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