Mamas, Don’t Let Your Puppies Grow Up to be Bullies

September 17, 2018

dog bully pixabayThis morning, I saw a beautiful 8-month-old pit bull lying on his back. Was he waiting for tummy rubs? Taking a sunbath? Nope. He was lying there, afraid to move lest the three dogs who were bullying him start in on him again. The pit’s owner kept telling him to get up, but I could see that he was afraid. I said something nicely to the owner of the bullies, and then separately went and spoke to the owner of the pit bull. I commented on how handsome the dog was (really, he was) and mentioned that the dog didn’t look like he was having much fun. We chatted a bit and I explained that once the teenager became an adult he might not roll over so easily, and might well fight back instead. And that, unfortunately, does not often end well for pit bulls, regardless of whose fault a fight is.

I wish this incident were unusual, but it’s not. I see dogs being bullied by other dogs all the time. Some owners stand there, chatting away, completely oblivious to their dogs’ behavior. Others explain it away, saying things like, “Oh, they’re only playing” or “Dogs will be dogs.” I’ve even seen one owner laugh about his dog humping another, saying, “That’s his wrestling move.” Know what? It’s not funny, and it’s not okay. Sure, humping can be part of play and if the humpee doesn’t mind, fine. But if he clearly does mind, that’s when the line has been crossed from rough, dominant play to bullying. If a dog is lying there for a prolonged time, afraid to get up, that’s no longer play. That type of interaction can be dangerous, either in the moment if the bullied dog decides he’s had enough, or in the future, when the bullied dog matures, and is decides he’s simply not going to take it anymore. It is true that some dogs stay submissive all their lives, and never retaliate or stand up for themselves. Does that excuse bullying? Nope. It just means that poor dog is in for a lifetime of it.

Not everyone is aware of the intricacies of canine body language and behavior, but I think we’re all pretty clear on when a dog is being steamrolled by others, especially when it’s happening repeatedly or non-stop. The dogs aren’t likely to stop the interaction; it’s up to the owners to intercede. Even at home, having one dog who bullies another constantly is very likely to lead to the bullied dog going out and doing the exact same thing to others. It’s just one more reason to—sing it with me now—don’t let your puppies grow up to be bullies.
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Of Hanging Dogs and Unheeded Advice

September 7, 2018

penny smallThis morning, I saw a man hang his dog. Granted, the dog was wearing a body harness, but it was still disturbing to see the four small, white paws flailing four feet off the ground as the dog thrashed and snarled. We’ve passed this man and his two dogs a number of times on recent morning walks, and each time, one dog remains non-reactive while the other lunges, barks, snarls, and does everything but perform a 360-degree head turn while spitting green pea soup.

I normally say nothing to man, long ago having decided not to interfere with other people’s dogs unless it’s truly warranted. Besides, I want to enjoy my time with my own dogs. But it’s awfully hard to enjoy oneself when seeing a dog hanging, body harness or not. I forced a smile, stopped, and the man stopped a few feet away. The dog, back on the ground, continued to bark at the top of his little lungs. “I know a good trainer you could call if you’d like some help,” I said, smiling and using my most pleasant tone of voice while straining to be heard over the cacophony of barks. “What?” he yelled. I repeated myself. When he finally understood, he snapped, “Are you pay? You pay? Why you annoy me?!!” I said calmly that I wasn’t trying to annoy him, that I was trying to help. “I have her only three weeks!” he shouted, and stormed off, dragging the dog behind him.

While I don’t appreciate being snapped at, I actually felt bad for the little dog and also for the man. I’m sure he was overwhelmed by this new dog who, unlike his other well-behaved fluffball, seemed to want to attack every dog he encountered. I’m sure he had no idea how to handle it, as evidenced by the fact that in addition to having seen him hang the dog, I’ve seen him at other times pull the dog back and yell at it repeatedly, and pick it up and all but shake it while loudly reprimanding it. Those things, along with today’s hanging, were what had finally led me to say something. Maybe the man really can’t afford training, and I understand that. But he must either believe that the techniques he’s using will teach the dog not to react, or, like so many, believe that the behavior will somehow improve by itself over time. I hope he’s right about the latter, but am not hopeful. Considering that he’s teaching the dog that bad things happen when he sees other dogs, chances are it will make the reactivity worse, not better.

The unfortunate truth is that many people believe that if they simply expose a dog to a trigger over and over, the dog will eventually stop reacting to it. Sometimes, it does actually work. But most of the time, it makes the behavior worse and can also cause problems for other dogs and owners in places like dog parks and on hiking trails. It makes me sad to think of that little dog, and I’ll certainly be steering clear of him for his own sake. I hope that somehow, although the man became defensive when we spoke, that a seed was planted and he might consider training in the future.
You can find my books, seminar DVDs and blog at Don’t want to miss a blog post? Subscribe above and be notified by email of new posts. You can also sign up for my Training Tips Tuesdays by going to and clicking on Join Nicole’s Inside Scoop List. You’ll get free tips on training and behavior weekly! You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter.


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