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The bully

Published: 
Sunday, September 9, 2018
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Kristel-Marie Ramnath

This series of articles will cover inter-dog aggression. Readers must understand that these articles are for guidance only. Aggression between dogs is a complex psychological condition requiring a professional dog behaviourist to evaluate and treat each case individually. In this fifth article of the series, we will continue to look at how owners contribute to inter-dog aggression.

Inter-dog aggression is fighting between dogs living in the same household. In the fourth article in this series, we discussed why fighting happens when an owner favours an older, ill dog or the underdog. The rules that dictate dog society are completely different from the rules that dictate human society. This is where we go back to debunking the “alpha” myth that we alluded to in articles two and three.

There is little scientific data to support the outdated “alpha” theory of a pack leader in canine society. The most dominant dog does not beat up all the other dogs to keep them submissive to himself. As we discussed previously, dominance is not absolute. The dog who most likely gains control of a resource is the dog who wants it most—and not all dogs will want the same resource or type of resource.

It is often said in the human society that bullies are not born, they are created. The same can be said of dogs. It is not normal for a dog to be born bullying the others. While dogs will naturally challenge other dogs, this is all a normal part of growing up and learning how to communicate with and interact with other dogs. Two dogs challenging each other for the same resource will normally sort out their differences on their own without having to attack each other. The dogs are sensible and capable of “sizing up” a situation and the dog who looks more likely to lose out is the one who tends to defer. End of story and the situation is resolved without a fight. It is when humans interfere because we feel sorry for the losing dog, that we start creating a bully.

A dog who bullies other dogs is one who is insecure about his position in the pack. He knows (and the other dogs know) that he is the fittest dog and should be given preferential treatment over the other dogs. The owner, however, is not quite as smart. The owner gets upset with him and punishes him when he is assertive towards the other dogs and this causes him to try harder to be assertive, hence he starts to bully the other dogs. Avoid creating a bully. If you have already created one, then (as unfair as it seems to you) you must make this dog feel secure in his position and offer him preferential treatment over the others. It is important that you have verbal and physical control over this dog because while you should not encourage his bullying, you must not escalate his perceived need to bully. It is a fine line, and that is why professional help is necessary.

Copyright © Kristel-Marie Ramnath 2018

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