This 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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