An Intervention is in Order: Canine Bullies in a Multiple Dog Household

It used to be called being dominance, and in some circles it still is, sadly. But this behavior is actually simple bullying. As in humans, bullying is inappropriate. It can arise for several reasons, among them insecurity, anxiety, juvenile behavior in young adults and puppies and just plain old bad manners.

Being a bully has nothing to do with the breed of the dog who is the bully. 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. Possessing a good temperament otherwise will not prevent a puppy from becoming a bully. One can be a canine bully and be a nice dog otherwise, which is where this act typically differs with human bullies.

Posturing Dogs

Those who have children and who are raising them with limits and guidelines that are parentally enforced will understand this advice immediately. Dogs are not furry children (see separate blog on this subject) but they are equally in need of structure and knowing what is appropriate or not. It is very important to set limits and provide said structure.

We as humans are not meant to be “pack leaders”; dogs know that we are a different species; I can assure you of this! What we are meant to be, however, is the human who provides for all their needs. This includes the need for clearly communicated rules, guidelines, information and reward incentives as well as non-scary consequences for infractions of said rules.

Rules should include, but are not limited to, disallowing these inappropriate activities:
• “nagging” any other dog for any reason.
• sniffing body parts of another dog for lengthy periods of time (especially when the receiver is obviously uncomfortable)
• insistence on play when the other party is not interested
• ”pacing” another dog (physically matching their walking pace outside of the realm of interactive play)
• “walk bys” of another dog (seemingly benign walking by another dog with the intent of intimidation)
• body slamming another dog in greeting
• being “in your face” intrusive without invitation to do so
• any posturing meant to intimidate.

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The list is longer than the above but it’s nearly impossible to include every scenario. Multiple dog households really owe it to themselves and their charges to educate themselves on dog body language and appropriate play. There are several ways to do this. There are a few well done books available that have great information on body language as well as the go-to DVD on this subject by Sarah Kalnajs. Another option is to attend organized playgroups that are supervised by behavior professionals familiar with both positive reinforcement training and dog body language. Watching the interaction through their eyes can help with viewing your own crew more clearly. You get to see what needs interrupted and what doesn’t.

Positive never means permissive when inappropriate behavior is being demonstrated. It is completely possible to intervene appropriately without causing fear or using force. Human to dog body language is useful to learn for this practice. When your crew respects your ability to set boundaries in a clear and concise manner without using an iron fist, they feel safe and secure responding to your cues to cease and desist.

Often the simple act of clearing one’s throat and throwing a pointed look at the offender will be enough to interrupt bad behavior in an otherwise well structured household. Quietly placing your body between the two or more dogs involved can cause an immediate deflection. This is called splitting and dogs use it too. Using what I call “the mom stance”, hands on hips with a disappointed look on your face, can stop an incident if implemented soon enough. Well marked and timed Time Outs are worth the effort to learn to implement correctly.

Those who follow my blog, know that I have a puppy in my household at present. Puppies are rude until taught otherwise. Sometimes I intervene, sometimes another dogs intervenes appropriately for me. This can be permitted if you know what is appropriate in a canine correction and what isn’t. For example, my Kenzo, the puppy stole Trent’s bone and Trent did not stop him. So I retrieved it for him. It took three retrievals and a “mom” look to eliminate this behavior on this particular day. A fourth attempt on Kenzo’s part would have resulted in a time out. I give three tries on benign behavior.

But later the same evening, Kenzo tried on his big boy pants and made a posturing move towards Trent. I did not have time to intervene nor did Trent have time to object because Siri intervened for both of us, immediately and quite correctly. She split between them with her body immediately and roared at Kenzo quite appropriately without hurting him. She did, however, make enough of an impression (based on the size of his eyes!) that I am certain that he won’t try that again soon. So while you cannot simply allow the dogs to work it out among themselves, you can rely on dogs that have appropriate mediating skills periodically.

So it is possible to have a multiple dog household with several strong personalities without having strong conflict of you learn how to intervene when appropriate. One of the easiest ways to help non-professionals understand how early on it can be necessary to step in is to equate what is happening to toddlers doing an equivalent behavior. If your two year old was shoving your three year old or vice versa, are you going to wait for them to ‘work it out on their own”? I certainly hope not! Don’t allow those kinds of decisions to be made in your canine household either and all will flow much more smoothly!

Leave a Comment (15) ↓


  1. Amy November 29, 2012

    Great blog!! I really need to step up and stop Clem from bullying Georgie. He doesn’t do it to Grace because she corrected him early on, but he’s so obnoxious with sweet Georgie!

  2. Rebecca Herron November 29, 2012

    Ahh, this is so appropriate for my household. I have a minpin who is constantly bullying everyone smaller than her. I think I need to look into the video and playgroup, and probably an intervention. Thanks, Debby! Great topic!!

  3. Sam November 30, 2012

    Great post and very helpful. We have a bully in our household, a lovely natured dog that we can take anywhere and he gets along well with other dogs but he does have a tendency to put his ‘cranky pants’ on and bully our older dog. We have found that they both appreciate time out from each other and without knowing, I have been implementing the ‘splitting’ manouevre and it is effective. Thank you, will be exploring your blog more thoroughly now I have discovered it thanks to Stephanie from :-)

  4. Emily Vecere January 18, 2016

    Hi Debby, I’m finally reading this after seeing your comments to a post on Diane’s FB group. I’m so glad I read your comments, because previous to doing so, I used to let The bully of my 4 dogs whom cohabitate peacefully, take things from other dogs, such as toys as sleeping spaces. There was never so much as a growl involved, so I let it go on. Not anymore! If she takes something, and it happens before I see, I tell her, “Drop it, I’ll give you something better, ” which works, but if I catch her creeping up on a dog, I’m not afraid to tell her “no.” I was so happy to read that you get between your dogs with a “mommy stance.” It seems soo many R+ trainers are way too afraid to just not allow certain things. I think unless the dog is fearful or anxious, a simple “no” is ok sometimes. Hope I’m right! Thanks for sharing your wisdom. Hope you And your crew are well.😊

  5. Tess September 20, 2016

    I have 3 dogs, 8 year old cockapoo Rambo, 7 year old Shitzupoo Lola and then there’s 1 year old boxer Bella, who we’ve had since she was 12 weeks old. Well, from day 1 the 2 older ones didn’t like her being here and Bella is a bully, thinks she walked in and became the queen. There is constant stress in this house and more than once I have remembered how nice it was before Bella came along. She is smart but stubborn. Rambo wants nothing to do with her but Lola would like to be her friend and even plays with her, will Bella on leash. If she’s not on leash Lola is afraid because well Bella is a bully and too rough.
    I love all my puppers as much as I love my children. My hubby and I are in our 60’s and Bella is a real challenge, yes we are over our heads…..
    Such is my life….

  6. Tammy February 8, 2017

    I have a horrible problem. I have 10 dogs. 5 are very old and only really go out to use the bathroom. In the last year and 1/2 we gained 2 feist breeds that were puppies and not being taken care of. We also gained 2 1 wk old pups and bottle fed them. The mother had gone missing, presumed dead. Never reappeared. These grew up to be huge, but so sweet. All of the sudden with the first heat one of the big dogs started jumping on the female feist. This has not stopped when heat was over. I have to keep the feist in the house with me to prevent her from being hurt. The big dog goes straight for her throat. Other than that she is a sweet and wonderful member of our family. What do I do? Please email me with your suggestions before someone maybe one of my smaller ones get hurt. Thanks.

  7. Tahlia June 15, 2017

    I have two Labradors Maisy(girl) and Cahrlie(boy) and Charlie is much taller than Maisy. Charlie thinks he’s the boss. Every time I let the dogs out for a play Charlie always ends up running and bashing into Maisy who cowers because she knows it’s coming.
    Maisy tries to defend herself and they get into a fight. Charlie just thinks that it’s fun and that they’re just playing. but most of the time Maisy cries because Charlie hurts her.
    Everything used to be fine when Maisy was much bigger than Charlie but now he has grown up and thinks he’s in charge.

    How do I stop this?

  8. Debby McMullen September 12, 2017

    I think that you need a professional quality modern methodology dog behavior consultant on hand so that they can assess the situation in person so that future issues can be avoided. If you want to provide a zip or postal code, I can find you one.

  9. Benjamin Harper October 16, 2017

    Great article if I was wanted to know what canine bullying is but you offer no advice or tips on how to prevent or teach the dogs to get along. Can you post some advice?

  10. Debby McMullen October 20, 2017

    It is impossible to effectively answer that kind of question in a blog post or blog post comment. It would be unethical as each situation is different and needs viewed hands on by a professional. In multiple posts on this subject, my advise is to hire a quality dog behavior professional in your area. If you would like to supply a zip code, I would be happy to refer you to one.

  11. Katie November 6, 2017

    We just got a new puppy that is 3 1/2 months old and she is bullying my 4yr old dog. Won’t let him eat, she will body slam him if he tries to eat. She steals his toys out of his mouth, or if we give him a treat she tries to take that. She doesn’t like him getting more attention then him. They have argued many times now in just the week we have had her. He is a very sweet and submissive boy, and doesn’t like to be around her. So sad. Ugh. We would like a list of professionals, my zip code is 93065. Thanks!

  12. Laura November 8, 2017

    We have 2 male Golden Retrievers, one is 8 mos and the other is 8 weeks. The 8 mo old will stand over the other puppy as if to say, “look how much bigger I am than you so you had better not mess with me”. When the puppy tries to get out from under him, he will either follow him and do it again, or he will push the puppy over with his nose, put a paw on him to keep him from moving or start growling and biting the puppy. I am having difficulty deciphering what is playing and what is bullying. The puppy usually ends up crying out in pain and trying to get away from the older dog.

  13. Debby McMullen November 8, 2017

    Hi Katie, This woman is a good internet friend of mine who I have known for more than a decade. She is experienced and can help you with this situation. Her name is Laura.

  14. Laura Bourhenne November 8, 2017

    Hi Debby & Katie, Thank you, Debby, for the referral, I would love to assist Katie with her issues. Katie, the #1 thing to remember is to not be a witness. Don’t just sit there & let it happen, or when you know it is likely to happen, do something to prevent it from happening. Your poor older dog is being bullied right now, but at some point he may decide he’s had enough and really injure her. Did you ever see the video of that kid that was always being bullied by a smaller kid in school? Nobody ever did anything to help the bigger kid. One day the smaller kid was going after him, and of course rather than do anything to help all the other kids just recorded it. Anyway, the bigger kid finally just snapped because he’d had enough. He grabbed the smaller kid & flipped him, slamming him onto the pavement and the smaller kid was really injured. Don’t let this become the relationship between your dogs. They have to live in the same house for a very long time and in situations like this they rarely just “work it out”.

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