TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Dear Carla,
We have a 3-year-old mixed breed female dog named Buffy who weighs 30 pounds. She’s been with us for about two years, and we adopted her from a shelter. She’s a really sweet, friendly dog and likes to play with most other dogs, but she seems to get bullied by “mean” dogs. It’s almost like they target her. Why do you think they choose her to pick on and what should we do when it happens?
Buffy’s Loving Family
There are dog bullies just like there are human bullies. If you think about human bullies, they usually lack confidence and seek out people who appear weaker because they are easy targets. I don’t think it’s much different in the dog world! Most dog bullies I meet are not overly confident dogs, they just want the world to think they are tough. Sweet dogs like Buffy often seem to have a target painted on their side for the bullies of the dog world.
Start by carefully selecting her playmates. Each time she is attacked, she is more likely to develop problematic fear based behaviors like aggression toward strange dogs. She needs to have lots of good, productive play sessions to offset any negative encounters.
If you are walking and a dog you don’t know approaches, carefully watch the dog’s body language. Freezing, shifting weight forward and stalking are easy to spot signs that this dog may not plan to play. On the other hand, many dogs crouch down and creep forward as a play signal. If Buffy seems nervous, trust her instincts.
To help her, place your body between her and the approaching dog. Dogs will often do this if they sense tension between two other dogs. It’s called “splitting” and can break the tension. You could teach Buffy a cue that means “get behind me,” so you have more control. If you both know what to do, you are both more likely to remain calm. Depending on my sense of the approaching dog, I might also hold my hand out and say “go back” in a confident voice. At this point, I hope the other owner will step in and help me by calling his dog back.
Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.