Do other dogs cower in fear when yours approaches? Do they immediately offer up their dog treats and leave a puddle behind on the ground? Okay, so your dog might not be stealing lunches or allowance money from the other pups at the dog park, but it's still possible that they think your dog is nothing more than a big mean bully.
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Alpha Dog vs. Bully Dog
Oftentimes, when a dog is expressing dominant, pushy behavior we brush it off and say "It's okay. He's just the alpha". But is that really the case?
According to Gina Lyn, a canine behavior expert and trainer, an alpha dog is one that "knows they are the boss. They are not generally noisy, demanding, or pushy." Think of the alpha dog as the one who confidently sits back while the other, more hyperactive dogs compete for attention and get into trouble. The true alpha doesn't feel the need to impress anyone but herself.
And if your dog is the one who's always right in the middle of the commotion and, more often than not, the actual cause of the chaos, chances are — you're dealing with a bully.
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The Atlanta Humane Society defines a bully as a dog who is socially inept and unable to appropriately gauge the body movements and facial gestures necessary to play and communicate effectively with other dogs. Some common characteristics of bully dogs include — barking incessantly, engaging in a very assertive style of play, taking control of the food/bed/toy situation, and the inability to focus.
What does dog bullying look like?
A lot of the times, bullying behavior has more to do with the other dogs response than the "bully" dogs actions. If you've ever seen two assertive dogs play together, then you know that it can sound pretty ferocious.
When dealing with a bully, the other dog will show signs that they clearly aren't comfortable with the interaction. On the other hand, if both dogs seem to be enjoying themselves, it's probably safe to let them continue to play.
Modern Dog Magazine went on to explain that "one dog's pal can actually be another dog's bully." So take it on a case by case basis and try to keep your high-energy pup from harassing the more docile ones. No one likes the dog park bully.
Are certain dogs more likely to become bullies?
If you had to guess which dog breeds people think are most likely to become bullies, you'd be correct in guessing pit bulls and pit mixes. But don't believe any of that. Though they are referred to as a "bully breed," that name has little to do with their temperament and more to do with their origin and history as bull herders.
Being a bully has nothing to do with breed. Certified trainer and author Debby McMullen explains that, "Any breed can be a bully. Puppies who are very exuberant and having difficulty learning impulse control are prime targets to become a bully when unchecked in a multiple dog household."
Also, bully behavior shouldn't be confused with aggression. "One can be a canine bully and be a nice dog otherwise, which is where this act typically differs with human bullies." This is why your pup might be perfectly well behaved when in the comfort of his own home, but acts like a crazy animal when he gets around other dogs.
The source of the bullying problem.
The difference between a human bully and a dog bully lie in the fact that the dog bully isn't interested in making you so scared you take another route home even if it's five miles out of the way. The bully dog simply doesn't know he's supposed to act any other way.
This problem could stem from experiences your dog had (or didn't have) during the first 3-12 weeks of its life. This crucial period is one where the pup learns appropriate doggy behavior from its mother, siblings, and humans. If the pup hasn't been properly socialized from the beginning, there is a higher probability of them becoming a bully since they lack important prior knowledge about how to interact with other dogs.
Another culprit is overstimulation. "Over-stimulation often leads to bossy behavior,"Erin Kramer, professional dog trainer told MNN. What this means is that when that excitement of that rousing game of chase or tug-of-war mounts your dog becomes "too stimulated and starts to ignore signals from other dogs that they are playing too rough or that their interaction is not welcome." If the other dogs could talk, they'd be telling you to get your buddy under control before things get worse.
How to fix a bullying problem.
If your dog is part of a tense interaction at the dog park, you may be tempted to let them "work it out on their own," but not stepping in could actually make your issue more of a problem. The Atlanta Humane Society said it best — Bully dogs that are allowed to practice the bullying behavior will get better at it. Basically, they get a kick out of harassing the shyer dogs and they're oblivious to the fact that they're doing anything wrong since no one does anything to stop it. But that shy dog is going to snap at some point, so it's best to avoid a fight before it ever has a chance to begin.
The website Pet Helpful suggests "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." You'll also want to arrange play dates in a setting where you can easily and safely intervene to correct your dog's behavior. In other words — not at the dog park.
Your dog might not ever be able to run free at the park, playing consentingly with every dog he sees, but through constant work and positive reinforcement, you'll be able to get to a place where everyone is happy.
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