You and your tail-wagging bestie arrive at the local dog park, ready to enjoy some quality time together. You can’t wait to let your dog off the leash so she can be free to mingle, frolic and burn off energy. But then, you see something that makes you stop dead in your tracks: the dog park bully is also present, and your heart sinks as you anticipate impending doggie drama.
It’s not that this particular dog is a “bad dog”; there’s just a lack of social skills that shows that the bully cannot read and respect the social cues displayed by other dog park patrons.
Dogs handle rough play at varying levels. Some enjoy heavy duty wrestling, jumping, nipping and chasing. Others might be more shy, preferring light play. That means that an exuberant dog may be a fun pal for one dog, but considered a bully to another.
You can tell a bully apart from the other canines, because this ruff-n-tumble pup will go from dog to dog, relentlessly picking on them until the victim escapes or an owner needs to step in.
Another distinct trait of bullying is the size factor. Smaller dogs at the park already have to watch that they don’t get trampled or overpowered by their larger companions. Well-socialized larger dogs are experienced enough to know to take it easy around the little guys. But bullies will continue to “hound” a small dog like a toy, not taking size into consideration.
First, it’s important to assess the level of aggression. Is this dog just rough playing and not trained enough to recognize social cues? Or, is this dog displaying signs of aggression?
If the dog snarls with teeth bared, stalks or stiffens up before snapping at your dog, these are signs of aggression- not play. You need to be careful (for your safety and others) when approaching. If the bully’s owner hasn’t already jumped in, clap your hands, yell or make a loud noise- whatever it takes to get the dog away from yours. Leash your dog, leave the area and report what happened to park staff.
If the bully dog is not showing signs of aggression and is just socially inexperienced, then approach carefully, “shoo” the bully away and take your pup to another area of the park.
If you have a small dog, inquire about park space reserved for smaller dogs to play in without fear of getting injured. Usually dog parks have different areas for different sized dogs.
If you feel like your dog isn’t socializing well with others, look into obedience training and start as soon as possible. Remember, bullies aren’t “bad” dogs, they just don’t have enough socialization and training exposure to know how to react properly with other canines. By getting them into training, your dog will learn how to follow commands and behave at the dog park.