Your dog is having fun at the dog park when suddenly another dog slams into him, sending him reeling. Fido gets up, tries to walk away and BAM! Another body slam sends him back to the ground. Fido tries again to escape but is met with a hard bite to the back leg. You rush over to your dog to see if he’s OK, and the offender’s dad responds: “That’s just the way my dog plays — he’s an Alpha.”
Alpha schmalpha — that dog is a bully. Bully behavior can be defined as roughness toward, and harassment of, non-consenting dogs. Bully dogs (not to be confused with ‘Bully breeds’) play at others’ expense and often do not acknowledge cut off cues. Like human bullies at the playground, dog bullies take the fun out of the game and can cause physical and/or psychological damage to their victims. Bully dogs tend to go full speed and usually direct their bullying at timid or non-assertive dogs.
How to tell if your dog is being bullied (or is bullying others):
• One dog spends all the time on top. Nice play allows every dog time to be “top dog.” If the play is mutual, one dog will even invite the other dog to “attack” by dropping to the ground.
• One dog gives appeasement or distress signals (lip licking, lowered body posture, rolling over on back) but the other dog doesn’t ease up on his intensity. Appeasement signals are meant to cut off another dog’s overly assertive behavior but with bullies it can fuel bully behavior.
• One dog looks for escape routes or attempts to get away but the other dog stays in pursuit and doesn’t back off. During appropriate play dogs will take breaks in the action, as an opportunity to de-escalate. These breaks might be quick, even just a few seconds, but are an important signal that the dogs are enjoying each other.
• One dog doesn’t look like he’s having fun. You know your dog best. Allowing your dog to be bullied can lead to fear or even aggression towards other dogs.
Different play partners can trigger different play behavior so even if a dog plays nice with some dogs, he may not play nice with all dogs. Supervision is crucial to avoid bullying behavior going unnoticed. Not sure if your dog is a bully or just a rough player? Watch the body language and behavior of his playmates. If the dogs choose to continue engaging each other in play that is usually a good sign that everyone is having fun. If one dog looks like they’ve had enough, it’s your job as a parent to step in and keep everyone safe.
Sam Kabbel and Stefanie Strackbein are co-owners of Edu-Care for Dogs, an innovative new program that combines fun and effective training, guided socialization and safe, educational group play. Reach them at (480) 200-2011 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/educarefordogs.