Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
Does Your Dog Enjoy Bullying Other Dogs?
One of the wonderful things about dogs is that they are blessed with their own unique personalities. This is what makes dealing with them rarely, if ever, boring.
As with a group of people mingling at a party, when you put several dogs together, you will notice a vast array of temperaments. Some solitary dogs will stray away from the crowd, others will mingle with the others, some will take the lead, and then some will try to bully other dogs. Just like the average teenage bully we have all perhaps known in class, these dogs seem to enjoy being pushy and behaving in inappropriate ways.
While we know human bullies tend to harass, intimidate and threaten, what do dog bullies do? Most likely your dog bullies other dogs if he frequently engages in the following behaviors.
Signs Your Dog Is a Bully
- Overwhelms other playmates with overly pushy behaviors
- Pushes other dogs out of the way
- Continuously steals toys or food from other dogs
- Uses overly rambunctious play styles
- Ignores "I've had enough" signals and other appeasement signals from other dogs
- Pesters dogs who don't want to engage
- Engages in "all in your face" play
- Stands up and puts his paws and head on the shoulders of other dogs for most of the time
- Engages in mounting
- Enjoys pinning dogs to the ground
An Important Note: While many dogs play in the above rough ways, a good way to tell if your dog is really bullying is by looking at how the other dogs react to his behavior.
If other dogs interact with your dog and come back for more play when they take a brief pause, most likely they don't feel like they're being bullied and are actually enjoying this play style. If on the other hand, the victim is trying to go away, sends appeasement signals, is being cornered and holds his tail low or between his legs, most likely he isn't enjoying the interaction . . . at all.
Same goes with a dog who growls, snarls and gives other distance-increasing signs. When play stops, he likely isn't looking for more and gives out a virtual sigh of relief while scrolling his coat—as if saying "ah . . . finally, Mr. Bully is leaving me alone!"
Why Are Some Dogs Bullies?
But what really causes certain dogs to bully? There may be various explanations. Often these are younger dogs who haven't learned much social etiquette. No playmates or adult dogs have taught them that their behavior is unacceptable. Normally, older dogs growl and send distance-increasing signals to these youngsters suggesting them to back off, or else . . .
Many times what looks like bully dogs are really dogs who haven't been socialized well and have learned little about how to interact correctly with other dogs. And then, on top of that, there's always the chance that genetics and early experiences in the litter may come into play. Regardless of the cause, these dogs must be taught how to properly interact with other dogs.
How to Stop a Dog From Bullying Other Dogs
Whether your dog bullies your other dog who shares your household or other dogs at the dog park, you may be wondering if there are any ways to reduce the bullying behavior. Your dog's bullying behavior can be quite damaging to softer, less resilient dogs.
Success rates are much higher in young, novice dogs who have just started bullying versus dogs who have done this for years and their behavior has become more ingrained.
For this reason, it's important to intervene early, at the first signs of bullying. Following are some tips when dealing with these dogs.
Note: Never touch two dogs when they are having "arguments". Their arousal levels are high and you risk getting bitten!
Intervene as Necessary
So Mr. Bully has spotted his victim. The other dog is telling him in doggy language that his play style isn't appreciated. Yet, Mr. Bully doesn't get it; actually, he seems rather amused, and his pushy behaviors start to escalate. In a case as such, it's best to intervene.
A time-out is a good way to stop the interaction from going wrong. A timely intervention prevents the bully from rehearsing bully behaviors over and over, while the victim dog is prevented from being put into a position of having to defend itself. A traumatic play experience may have an impact on these dogs who in the future may develop offensive or defensive fear-based reactions towards dogs.
Time-outs, in this case, teach the bully that play is stopped the moment he engages in bully-style behaviors. If you use negative markers, you can verbally mark the behavior that is unwanted in a timely manner by using a negative marker such as "whoops!" This way your dog knows exactly which behavior resulted in the time-out. Letting your dog wear a tab comes in handy so you can safely remove him from play.
Use a Positive Interrupter
Another alternative may be using a positive interrupter. Train dogs to respond to a noise or command that tells them to immediately stop whatever they are doing and come towards you. I like to use a smacking sound.
A positive interrupter may be used to replace a time-out once the bully dog is learning better behaviors and you want to interrupt play when it's getting a bit too rough, but before it becomes actually bullying behavior. (See Emily Larlham's video on using a positive interrupter below.)
Select Appropriate Play Partners
Most likely, the dog park isn't the best place to bring along a dog with a predisposition for bullying. First and foremost, it's unfair towards other dogs who do not appreciate certain behaviors, and on top of the that, the bully one day may mess with the wrong dog (we will see more of this in the next bullet point).
Instead of taking your bully dog to the dog park and allowing him to rehearse his bullying behaviors over and over, hand select dogs who enjoy his play style, and of course, intervene with a timeout if at any time either dog has had enough.
Don't Set up for Failure
This is a true story. A friend of mine once told me her dog was famous for being a top bully. One day at the dog park, another lady who was known as a "dog whisperer" told her: "Bring him to my house, I have a dog that will put his behavior immediately to a halt". So they scheduled a play session at this "expert's" home.
Here goes bully dog, who quickly approaches the other dog's face on as he always did. The other dog quickly pins him to the ground and delivers a deep puncture wound that required several stitches and hundreds of dollars in vet bills—not to mention emotional scars and a fear of stranger dogs from that day on. If your dog is a bully, don't feel tempted to expose him to aggressive dogs that "will put him into place"; it may end up terribly.
We may assume that running into the wrong dog who doesn't accept nonsense may prove beneficial as it may teach the bully a lesson, consider though that things may turn ugly. Ideally, the bully dog would encounter a dog who tells him "off" in a serious way but without hurting him via ritualized aggression, but there are always chances he may end up with a dog that may leave him traumatized.
So instead of learning "OK, wow, I really should leave this guy alone," he may end up learning to be fearful of other dogs, or in the direst situation, may even learn to attack dogs first.
Find a Trainer With a Good "Teacher" Dog
A trainer may have the perfect dog that can help your bully learn how to behave himself. This dog should be resilient enough to withstand the bully behavior, and at the same time, unlike the dog mentioned above, should communicate through effective "ritualized aggression" that certain behaviors are unacceptable. This along with the several time-outs, negative markers and positive interrupters should help reduce bullying behaviors.
Train More Impulse Control
For dogs sharing the household, your bully may need to learn more impulse control. If you are petting your dog and Mr. Bully dog shoves his way in between, ignore and move away. You don't want to reinforce bully behaviors with attention. Instead, teach your bully dog that patience is a virtue. Teach him to sit and wait his turn patiently.
If the same goes on with treats and none of your dogs is a resource guarder, give your non-bully dog a treat first and then give it to bully dog. If he tries to push, stop and remove yourself. Soon, he'll learn that giving treats to your non-bully dog becomes a predictor that he will get a treat too if he's nice enough to be calm and say please.
Ensure Exercise/Mental Stimulation Needs Are Met
Last but not least, it's important to ensure the bullying dogs' needs are met. We often see younger dogs bullying older dogs and assume it's bullying behavior, when in reality these are dogs full of energy and in extreme need of mental stimulation.
You'll see these younger dogs pestering the older dog when he is trying to sleep or harassing him in hopes of involving him in play. Indeed, once the youngsters are tired out through walks, training, interactive games, foraging or canine sports, their bullying behaviors tend to decrease dramatically.
As seen, there are several steps you can take to help your bully dog learn better social etiquette. Always best to consult with a reputable trainer or behavior consultant.
Emily Larlham's Positive Interruptor
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2014 Adrienne Farricelli
Andrea on February 24, 2020:
This is an old page but still very appreciated! My whipped mix dog is so much a bully and does all of those behaviors described!
She is such a sweetheart, listens, is mostly quiet and calm, but when another dog shows up, it’s play play play, and only her way. She stops listening and starts whining to get to the dog (even if the dog is way off in the distance). If she does meet the other dog, she gets right in their face and jumps on them and whips her butt into them. I’ve seen her play with more patient dogs who just ignore her. She mostly pushes them and runs in circles trying to get them to chase her, which they never do. Other times, dogs will get annoyed and start fighting, which she fights back. I used to think she was the one starting the initial attacks but then I realized it’s because she gets right in their face and tries to play but in an inappropriate way. The other dog gets mad and snaps at her which then she snaps back and a fight starts. I noticed the exact moment how it starts. Instead of the usual butt sniff, slow tail wag intro, she puts her face up to theirs, pushes them with one paw, and runs in a circle, hoping they’ll follow, and repeat until the dog does something. It’s difficult to stop because she starts before she even meets the dog. She sees them, whines and is so distracted until they’re out of sight. Our other dog used to play with her and liked it but I think he got tired of it and now snaps sometimes. When we got her (from the shelter), we could see she had high energy and didn’t have problems at the dog park in the beginning (besides taking off and running non stop). Then there were a few times she got into it with some other dogs, so we stopped going.
She also barks at our other dog if he does something he’s not supposed to (like grab a shoe-she polices him) or will round him up/corner him until we can grab him. If he’s playing with a toy, she’ll bark at him constantly and grab it until he lets go. She only wants the toys he has.
She loves to run and play, is very high energy. Unfortunately now, she has a partially torn ccl (acl), from playing, so is on cage rest. But hopefully when it heals soon, I am definitely going to try these techniques with her. I feel so bad because she loves to play and run but she just doesn’t get it. I’d like to at least get her to a point where I can walk her by a dog without her being distracted and stop worrying if she ever got out of the yard. Thanks for sharing ways to work with the bullies!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 28, 2014:
Hello, grand old lady, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Yes, with dogs you rarely get bored, they all have their own personality and quirks. Bully dogs aren't much fun for the dogs being bullied, but luckily, these dogs can be taught how to behave in a more socially appropriate manner.
Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on May 27, 2014:
This is the first time I heard of bullying dogs. I love your hubs, because they really show different aspects of the personalities of different dogs. I have an aggressive dog, but I don't think she's a bully. In fact, she protects my smallest dog and really loves her. But she isn't too sociable so I usually have to keep her on her leash. At any rate, this is a great hub, and very interesting.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 27, 2014:
epbooks, awesome to hear you are involved in rescue, it's so rewarding. I fostered several dogs in the past and it was a wonderful experience. thanks for stopping by!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 27, 2014:
DDE, Bullying is never fun, regardless if among humans and dogs.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 27, 2014:
Billybuc, Awesome that your 3 dogs are very docile, bullying isn't fun! Thanks for stopping by!
Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on May 27, 2014:
Mine are all fairly well behaved with each other, but my newest rescue isn't too fond of meeting new dogs outside the pack, although he doesn't bully, he just barks and causes a scene. Great information in this hub!
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on May 26, 2014:
I have noticed dogs behave this way. There were five dogs and one dog of the Rottweiler bullied the rest of the dogs and often he became very vicious. Interesting perspective here. I enjoy reading about dogs.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 25, 2014:
Our three are very docile, but this is great information on how to deal with the dogs of others. Thank you!