Balanced dogs get plenty of time to play, interact and socialize with other dogs. Dog parks can be a great place for this when dogs understand and display proper play protocol. The following are body language cues dogs will often display when happy and playing with other dogs appropriately:
- The tail is wagging in wide sweeps or fast circles.
- Play bows.
- Reciprocal behaviour: each dog taking turns doing the chasing, pinning, etc.
- A bark that is more playful and slightly higher than his “alert” bark.
Even if your dog is having fun the dynamics of play can change when new dogs are added to the mix. Dogs can go from having fun to be being bullied to becoming the bully. It very much depends on the context. The reality is regardless of breed, size, age or sex many dogs capable of displaying bullying traits.
A “bully” is considered to be socially inept and is probably unaware what proper social play etiquette is. This might be a result of poor or minimal socialization as a youngster or a genetic tendency to ignore the social rules. For some dogs it’s a learned behaviour and “perfected” over time by practice and lack of owner intervention to discourage it. Dogs who bully tend to get easily excited (this is not sexually related) and have difficulty in calming down.
These are signs that bullying is taking place:
- One way traffic - one dog repeatedly pins another down and/or chases another with no reciprocation.
- A dog does not back off when the other dog gives a high-pitched yelp.
- A dog continues to pursue another who is trying to end the play session by, for example, hiding behind your legs or jumping on a bench.
- A dog that is almost always happy around other people and dogs, but nervous and scared around the “bully” dogs.
- One that is continually mounted.
- One that always gets his toys, water, or certain spots taken away from him.
- One that is repeatedly being menaced.
- In worst cases, physical injury will occur.
Finding the right playmate for your dog is important. Look for dogs that have a similar play style and are energetically equal. Even if a dog understands proper play protocol, like humans, not all dogs are going to get along. If the playmate or group is inappropriate move on and find one that is. Always pay attention to your dog’s body language. If she displays a combination of these cues she is feeling uncomfortable and it’s time to intervene.
- A tail that is low or tucked under.
- Avoiding eye contact and turning his head away when another dog approaches
- Lip licking.
- Barking while backing away from another dog.
“On-leash” bully behavior (lunging, growling, rushing up to other dogs), is also a common unwanted behaviour that should be addressed. It can often be attributed to the leash itself, which creates an unnatural “barrier” to communication. Once the dog is off leash the aggression will frequently subside.
At Hong Kong Canine we offer a specialized behaviour modification programme for dogs that are bullies and for dogs who have been bullied and become fearful. We work with all breeds, ages and sizes.