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Canine Behavior/unprovoked bullying



A friend of mine has 3 Whippets:

Dog A - F/N bitch has been there since the beginning and is calm, not so  much assertive but will calmly stand her ground if another tries to take food etc or if they sniff her and she doesn't want to be (i.e. she just stiffens or might give a low growl).
Dog B - M/N second in, very gentle (although my friend feels is not submissive) but clearly happy to be bottom of the pack.  
Dog C - M/N comes in last and seems to be far more assertive/confident.  
All are adult rescues and there is no prior history.  

All used to play together initially but of late dog C has started to pick on the quieter dog B totally unprovoked. i.e. dog B might just be lying there and dog C will pounce on him. Not in pure aggression but not playfully, more a bullying move.

All dogs have many beds all over the house which they all use at random, no possessiveness.  All dogs are allowed on the sofa and client's bed.  The only difference between them is that my friend used to favour dog A, the bitch, i.e. feed/treat her first then the second dog and then dog C so I felt perhaps the naturally top ranking dog (c) was being forced into a lower position than he should be in, below the clearly lower dog (B), and this was upsetting the balance of the pack.

When I went to see them to see what was what and who fitted in where, Dog B would forge ahead first when called for treats, the others would run for a toy which was thrown but when he reached it the other two backed off and allowed him to have it and so on.  I therefore suggested she try out feeding dog C first, then the bitch and then dog B and do the same with treats, asking him up on the bed first and so on.  

She has been doing this for a week or so but then these two incidents happened: Dog B was lying asleep under the bed and Dog C comes over, ears go up, tail goes up and he pounces and goes for Dog B. Not in a playful way, not aggressively per se, but sort of bullying.  Another time owner calls them up onto the bed and Dog C suddenly pounces on Dog B in the same manner as before.

What am I missing please? I am thinking dog C is lacking in social skills as a puppy but what can she do to sort this out.  Do you think this will escalate?  My friend steps in and totally puts dog C in his place with a stern voice and sending him to his bed when she has caught him doing this to the weaker dog as it is unprovoked.  She has no problem with him being top dog and asserting himself even but not bullying.  Dog B has now reached a point where he walks into the room and if dog C is there walks back out again.  All 3 dogs clearly respect the humans as pack leaders, there is no challenge there, she is a very strong leader, confident and assertive.

Please can you help?

Thank you!

ANSWER: Thank you for your question. If I could get a bit more information, that would help to create a more detailed picture for me of what's going on.

1. Could you please provide the ages of each dog and at what age they joined the family.

2. Is there any video of one of these incidents between Dog B and C? If there is, you can upload it to YouTube as a private video and then reply to this privately (not as a public question) with the link to the video.

It's a bit difficult to tease out what's going on with just the verbal description, especially when that description is a bit ambivalent - "not aggressively, not playfully." I get what you're saying, I think, but if there happens to be some video, it would allow me to see body language of both dogs.

If there isn't, don't go out of your way to get video. I'll work from the description.

3. When did the behavior change? Last week, last month, last year? How long has this new behavior been happening.

4. What else was going on in the household at the time the behavior change was first noticed: someone move in or out, baby born, change of address, change of work or work schedule, change in human relationships (arguing, trouble), physical or emotional health issues for any humans in the house, construction in the home or neighborhood, weird weather, etc. Anything that was different - even if it was only temporary to the first time the behavior occurred.

I will provide thoughts and suggestions regarding the interactions between humans and dogs with regard to order of treats and affection, etc. when I get your followup to this.

I look forward to your prompt reply (use the followup button, rather than starting a new question).

Los Angeles Behaviorist

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi again Jody,

In answer to your questions:

1.  Ages: Bitch A (Maisie) 10 yrs, gentle Dog B (Miley) 5 yrs, bully Dog C (Zimba) age 3 yrs.

2.  Age Joined household: Maisie 5 yrs old, gentle dog B (Miley) age 7 months, bully Dog C (Zimba) 2 yrs.

3. Behaviour changed when they were on holiday at the end of May 2014 when they were looked after by a dog sitter and friend who they have all known for sometime.  Started with aggression from Zimba to Miley around food. Zimba is quite obsessive around his ball & toys.

In my friend's words:
From observing Zimba, I am very clear that he picks on any dog he perceives is weaker than him, not necessarily a weak energy, just weaker than him.  In other words, a bit of a bully who will have a go if he thinks he can get away with it.  I have seen him do this to several dogs in the park.  Interestingly, I have met a woman in the park who has a lurcher which has collie in it and who has quite a strong energy.  Zimba very quickly realised he couldn't get away with it with this dog and plays well with him.  Miley and this dog get on well.  Miley does not appear to give of a weak energy and has never been attacked or even chased by another dog.  From what I know I would say he has a calm submissive energy which Zimba is taking advantage of.
The incident when Miley was under the bed was in out spare room with the au pair. No-one on bed, Au pair was beside it on her laptop. Don't know the incident you are talking about re bed situation where M&M on bed and Zimba went for him. It is usual Zimba on bed Miley walks into bedroom. Zimba stares, Miley leaves.

Situation this morning where we all walk into the room together and Zimba starts smelling Mileys butt with tail in air, looked rather threatening to me. Undoubtedly a bully, as per other incident from yesterday where Miley lying quietly on bed, not looking at Zimba, Zimba comes in from garden, strides up to him with ears/tail in air.

Zimba runs off with toys rather than guards them or us. He's not aggressive as he always gets there first & loves running around the garden with Miley when they have toys, that's when they get on well.

Judy the above is my friend's own observation. I have not been able to observe this behaviour in action which is why I'm having a bit of trouble identifying the problem.  Being as you have so very much more experience and knowledge than I, I am hoping  you can pick something out which I perhaps am missing...  is it just that the one incident over food has made him feel he can now "dominate" the other 2? (even though now as behaviourists we are supposed to be coming away from the dominant/submissive behaviour labelling.

Thank you so much for your help.  My friend is just about ready to rehome Zimba as he has really disrupted her previously happy pack.


ANSWER: Thank you for the followup.  It sounds like there might be a couple things going on. I get the sense there is resource guarding happening - with the food, with toys, with spaces. Zimba first started displaying these behaviors towards Miley over food - a high-value item that is often at the center of resource guarding. It's a normal survival skill that has held over from their early evolution days. That doesn't mean it's acceptable, of course, but understanding the foundation of resource guarding can help us better treat the issue. And it's important to know that dogs can resource guard ANYTHING - from food to sleeping spots, doorways, people, toys, water bowls, even entire yards (typically referred to as territorial aggression, though the foundation for the behavior is the same).

The key to this is that it's actually a fear based behavior, which means that Zimba is lacking some confidence. Miley is being very good and respecting Zimba's grumbles when he chooses to just leave the room rather than engage. Miley is heeding Zimba's warnings and actually reassuring Zimba that he's not a threat. The escalation may have to do with the human response to his behavior. It is a rather counter intuitive treatment plan.

Speaking from my personal experience with a 60-lb Akita/Chow mix who was bullying my (at the time) 4-lb puppy... The issue went on for months. I was super new to behavior and training and didn't quite understand what was happening and so made it all worse in my efforts to try to punish/scold my big girl for being a bully. With the help of a veterinary behaviorist, I was able to step back and see what was really happening. The bullying behavior stems from a fear of being usurped. It's jealousy/resource guarding of her place in the family.

So here's where I went wrong: my girl, Cashew, would growl, snarl, lunge and snap at my puppy, Chewie. She never caused him damage. She had excellent bite inhibition, but she scared the puppy to the point that he would go outside and just stay there, waiting for me to come get him. Or Chewie would want to come into the room where we were and he'd come to the doorway and sit down, look at the ceiling or the floor or over his shoulder for 2-5 minutes, then get up and move a single step (maybe two) and sit again for another 2-5 minutes. It would take him 30 minutes or longer to get across the room to be near me. It was heart breaking. And when Cashew would launch from across the room just to tell him off, I would scold her. I'd put her in a Down/Stay and tell her how rude she was being, then check Chewie to make sure he wasn't injured and reassure him that he was safe. So... what was I doing wrong?

Cashew's behavior was motivated by a fear that Chewie was going to take something of value to Cashew - namely, my attention/affection. Then, in response to her behavior, I'd punish her and lavish affection and attention on Chewie - right in front of her. So, Cashew was saying, "Get away from my person! You're going to get me in trouble and I'll lose her love!" and then I'd tell Cashew she was exactly right by punishing her and laving attention on the other dog. Because my behavior (my knee-jerk reaction to tell her that she was behaving in an inappropriate manner) was confirming her fear, her behavior escalated. What had been small moments of bullying a few times per week turned into across-the-room launches of bullying several times per day!

So, how did I fix it? With some insight from a veterinary behaviorist, I completely changed my response. Instead of scolding her when she bullied, I called her to me in my sweetest voice possible. If necessary, I shook a container holding treats or used the magic phrase, "Ya wanna treat?!?!?!" When she came trotting to me, I told her how great she was for disengaging from Chewie and gave her treats and pets and love and attention/affection.

I kept little zip-lock bags or tupper ware containers with treats in several strategic locations that were readily accessible to me, but out of reach of the dogs. Every time Cashew started to bully Chewie, I called her to me in the super, syrupy sweet voice and gave her treats and love/affection for being willing to come to me. She doesn't need to do any other behavior to "earn" the treat because she earned it when she disengaged from the bullying and chose to come over to me when I called. Within a month, I could call her from another room (out of sight) and interrupt a bullying event before it even got started. And more importantly, by 6 months along, we had dropped from 2-3 bullying incidents per day down to perhaps 1 per month, and it continued to reduce so that those moments only happened perhaps once every few months.

And after the first 2 months, I was able to stop using treats. I just called her as sweetly as always, "Cashew.... come see!!!!" and when she got to me, I gave her kisses and love and affection. I'd ask for a couple easy tricks such as Shake or I'd play with a toy with her for a moment. Just a moment of letting her know that she was not being usurped just because this other dog was in our home.

In your friends situation, I'd encourage trying what I did to disrupt the behavior at the start. The key is to avoid scolding/punishing him for acting out, but rather reassuring him that he's still loved and nothing has changed.

Some management should be installed as well to minimize opportuity to trigger bullying. To that end, I'd feed the dogs in separate spaces, whether that is each in their own crate or on opposite sides of a closed door or at least opposite sides of a room, with an adult standing in the space to supervise and gently direct each dog back to their own food if they should wander before all food is eaten. Bowls should be picked up between meals.

I'm a huge fan of leveling the playing field when it comes to feeding/treat order. When giving treats, I ask for a Sit or Down (all dogs have to know the same commands, so use one they all know). Whoever sits first, gets the treat first. Make sure that Zimba isn't goig to attack/launch for the treat as it's being given to another dog. If necessary, you can offer treats simultaneously to him and one other dog by offering the treats at arm's lenght in opposite directions so one dog is well to the left of the person and one well to the right of the person. But, if you do have to start out with simultaneous presentation, try to build up to the "first one to do the requested behavior gets the treat first, no matter who that might be." As they get skilled with this new rule, they can have just 1 or 2 treats so that only the first dog to do the behavior gets the food, or only the first 2. Then reset and ask again to give the other dogs a chance to earn a treat. The thoguht behind this is that if they all get the treats in the end, then they've no motivation to be first. But if only the first dog gets the treat, then they'll be racing to see who can get the treat. Make sure there are set-ups so that each dog is closest to the person or even alone with the person in order that they all get 'wins' at some point.

As for meal time, it will take a bit of practice, but I have all dogs Sit, then I tell them WAIT as I set the bowl down in front of them. If they start to pop up, I pick the bowl back up off the floor. Repeat until they'll sit still until the bowl is on the floor (or stand if that's where they eat) and a release command is given, freeing the dog to dig in. In my home, I tell both boys to Sit and Stay while I put the food in the bowls. Then I tell them "Wait" while I put their bolws down. Then I ask for a "Focus" (eyes on me) and wait for them to be calm and still. I don't want the dogs to be vibrating with excitement before I release them to eat. Once they're calm, I tell them, "Eat!" and they tuck into their meal.

Now, if one dog can't hold his Sit/Stay or is vibrating with excitement, I'll use my hand signal to tell that dog to Stay (palm facing the dog's face about 10 inches away from him as I tell him "Stay), and with the other hand, I'll call the other dog by name and tell him to Eat as I point at his bowl. Then a moment later, I'll release to first dog to eat as well. This way, again, we're determining order of access to food by calm behavior and not by anyone's supposed rank within the family.

This may not be possible initially and it may be that your friend will need to feed the dogs in separate rooms while teaching them this Sit, Stay until the bowl is down, Focus on person and wait for release. Once the dogs can do this individually, then bring Maisey and Miley together for a few meals to do the skills simultaneously (with at least 5 feet between them). Then bring Maisey and Zimba together to practice - again with at least 5 feet between the dogs, and with their bowls set so bums are facing each other. Then, they can try all 3 dogs in the same space, with at least 5 feet betwwen each dog and with bums facing each other.

I encourage you to read the book, Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding by Jean Donaldson. It provides a great explanation of the How's and Why's of resource guarding and walks through some protocols for dealing with the issue. The book is dealing with guarding directed toward humans, but with some adjustments, the basics can be modified to deal with dog-dog guarding issues.

Please let me know if any of this needs clarification or tweaks to the protocol. Good luck! Remember, that Zimba is communicating  in his behavior. He's saying that something's not right. It's our job to help him feel that all is right with the world again.

Los Angeles Behaviorist

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

Sorry for the delay on giving you feedback on your above help from my friend but she has been away on business quite a bit of late and the last time she sent it to me I didn't get the email so she has had to resend it.  Below is her reply and, as you can see, your own personal experience with this type of bullying proved invaluable in helping her own situation.

May I thank you once again for your help with her situation and also with the JRT X Chihuahua I have been dealing with who you have helped me with.  I appreciate your experience, knowledge and generosity in helping me.

"Hi Melanie,
Regarding feedback for the behaviourist you contacted, I'd firstly like to say it was really good to hear from some-one who had experienced a similar situation.  I found the information in terms of the resource guarding being an insecurity for Zimba helpful and have been using the advice on distracting him from the behaviour and providing treats at these times.  It has come to light that there was more resource guarding going on then I previously realised so I'm much more aware for it and responding to it.   This seems to be helping.

I am also now feeding in the kitchen (which you suggested) and making them wait on their beds while I am making up feeds.  I then get them to wait and give Zimba his first followed by Maisie then Miley) I was feeding them separately (Zimba on own & Maisie and Miley on the other side of the door as M&M are fine together)  but am now doing it in same room, bums facing and me in-between.   This is working well.

Overall the situation is better with no aggression outbursts.  My only regret is that Miley does seem to have lost confidence and now usually prefers to be on his own rather than join us which I miss.  I will however continue to try and encourage him with this and remain open minded.

Thanks again for your help."

Thank you for the update. I'm glad to hear there is progress.

Tell your friend to make sure she has private time with Miley every day. It can be 10 minutes in the bedroom with the door closed to love/cuddle or play, it can be a walk by himself rather than with the others, it can be outside time with her, while the others are inside.

As the new routine gets established over the next 2-4 months, and Zimba relaxes about it all, Miley's confidence will likely increase again and he'll find places within the space where he can be that also feels safe from both his perspective and Zimba's.

Keep up the good work!

Los Angeles Behaviorist

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Jody Epstein, MS, CPDT-KA


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 8 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members and many other issues. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been a professional obedience trainer for 9 years, and specializing in behavior modification for 8 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I own my own dog training and behavior modification business called Nutz About Mutz.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a masters degree (MS) in Animals and Public Policy, with a minor in Animal Behavior, from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I also have 3 years of graduate education in Animal Behavior and Learning from UM-Missoula and UL-Lafayette. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences, workshops and seminars. Beginning in March, 2017, I will be the Behavior & Training Manager at Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff, AZ.

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