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Help! My Little Dog Is A Bully

Small dogs pack big personalities into pint-sized bodies. Their tiny frames give them a life-long cuteness that has propelled them to massive popularity, making them the number one choice of owners from all walks of life. Many small dog breeds, like the adorable Chihuahua or regal Shih-tzu, are specially bred to cuddle in their master’s lap, and there are few people who can resist their many charms. No doubt about it: these dogs are amongst the most loved in the world. And yet, they also have a reputation for displaying some very bad behaviours, such as nipping and biting without restraint. Read on to find out more about what you can do to keep your little dog’s behaviour in check, and help him get along with everyone in the family and the world beyond.

Double standards?

At their worst, small dogs are stereotyped as being yappy, snappy and downright misbehaved. Yet their owners know they are capable of extreme loyalty and devotion. So why the difference in perception? Well, to put it simply, little dogs often get away with behaviours that big dogs cannot. Case in point: when a big Irish Wolfhound or Rottweiler jumps up, everyone sees a problem. When a Miniature Pinscher or Pomeranian does the same, few would bat an eye – in fact many would find this action irresistibly cute. The truth is that this behaviour is a sign of dominance and disrespect in the canine world, no matter what the size of dog. However we humans just don’t see it the same way: the big dog is a threat, capable of knocking us down and hurting us; whilst the little dog, too small to cause serious harm, is just being sweet and looking for attention. This, unfortunately, is a major part of the reason why little dogs frequently wind up as bullies. Because it can be difficult to take the growls and snarls of little dogs seriously, they are often inadvertently encouraged to continue to act out of line. It’s true that an out of control German Shepherd is far more dangerous than even the most riled-up Yorkie, but that doesn’t mean that this behaviour is acceptable in either. In order for your little dog to get along with others and behave acceptably around strangers, he must be treated as if he were a big dog. That means nipping bad behaviour in the bud rather than ignoring or even praising it.

Signs your dog is a bully

“Bullying” is a word used to describe one’s displays of power and intimidation towards those that are weaker. The term “dominant” is more commonly used to refer to dogs showing these tendencies, and includes acts of aggression like those outlined above. Does your pet bark or lunge at other dogs as you walk down the street? Are you embarrassed by his growls and snarls at strangers? These behaviours can be very upsetting for any owner, and it may seem daunting to try to curb them once they’ve become a regular fixture of your walks and interactions with the neighbours. Here are more subtle signs that your dog has a dominant personality:

  • A proud stance, including an arched neck, raised tail, forward-set ears
  • Physically demanding attention
  • Destructive tendencies
  • Urinating or defecating inappropriately, i.e. in the house
  • Humping
  • Aggressively guarding toys and food
  • Ignoring commands

As you can see, there are a whole host of undesirable behaviours associated with dominance. No matter what the size of your dog, you certainly won’t want him soiling in the house or ruining your belongings. More compelling still, dominant pets that are prone to aggression will face increased difficulty and stress at the grooming salon and veterinary surgery. No owner wants to see their beloved pet muzzled or restrained for routine care, but such are the consequences of undue aggression. Once you have identified your little dog’s bullying behaviours, it’s important that you commit to nipping them in the bud. Read on to find out how.

How to stop bullying

In order to stop your dog from behaving inappropriately, you must help him to reposition himself in his perceived social hierarchy. If your dog is over six months of age this may take a lot of work – you’ll need to change his mindset through discipline and by establishing yourself as the alpha dog. To curb aggression towards other people, remember the following:

  • Dogs are most likey to heed an assertive yet calm alpha. Be consistently firm when you tell him a command like “no” or “down”, and if necessary physically remove him from a situation in which he is behaving aggressively towards other people.
  • Though you must be strong, never hit or punish your pet with physical violence. This can cause any aggressive behaviour to escalate as your dog feels increasingly threatened, and you certainly will not be helping him to understand that aggression will not be tolerated.
  • The better your dog understand you’re in control of his resources, the better results you’ll have. Good behaviour towards others starts with good behaviour towards you, so don’t accept his bullying actions even if you previously hadn’t recognised them as such.

When it comes to helping your dog get along with other animals, you’ll need to go back to basics:

  • Get your pet back on track by attending obedience classes, or training him yourself for a few minutes each day. This will help reinforce his understanding that you’re in charge.
  • Take care to avoid giving positive signals when your pet is showing aggressive behaviours towards other dogs, even if you had previously thought them harmless. Only give him praise, positive attention and treats when he behaves correctly.
  • Desensitise your dog to his aggression triggers slowly, by exposing him other dogs but not allowing him to dominate the interaction.

In more severe cases, you may need to enlist the help of a trainer or behaviourist to work with your dog and help you stay in control. It will be money well spent, because a well-behaved dog will lead a happier, more rewarding life.


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