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Canine Behavior/Maltese being a bully


I have a 1 yr old female Maltese(Miss Wiggles) that bullies my 2 yr old male toy poodle, (Rambo) She will take any toys he is playing with away from him. She constantly starts play fights but ends up biting him on the hind leg till he yelps. If he comes to me for petting she pushes in between us. I break up the fights and give her time outs. She has to sit alone for 4 or 5 min on the couch.( Wiggles acts like a very cute toddler that is as mean as a snake!) She stops fighting him for a few min. but then is right back at it. Miss Wiggles is extreamly hyper and I have tried everything to calm her but nothing seems to work. Rambo has lately started acting scared to pass her because she jumps and bites him. We tell her No Bite when we play with her and she will only mouth our hands but we tell her No Bite when she plays with Rambo and it doesn't help. Also she barks at anything and everything, how can we stop the unnessary barking?
I am at wits end.  Please help.

Thank you for your questions. It sounds like you have a couple different issues happening and they will require different focuses to modify.

First - Miss Wiggles' interactions surrounding Rambo:
This could be jealousy ("I want to be the center of attention") or it could be resource guarding (protecting items that she considers valuable which can include toys, resting spots, food/water, rooms, people) or it can be downright bullying.

It's impossible for me to know, without observation, which of the above issues is motivating her behavior. And it's possible that all of these motivations come into play in different circumstances.

You didn't offer any details for how you have tried to calm her down when her energy is too much for you or Rambo, so I can't comment on that directly. But I would suggest making sure she is getting plenty of exercise including off property walks at least daily. Ideally an off-property walk that lasts about 15-30 minutes, twice per day will go a long way toward helping reduce her overall energy. It's better to do two separate walks, even if they're only 10 minutes each, rather than one longer walk. Dogs, by nature, tend to have energy in fits and spurts, followed by napping for long periods. So while a longer walk is always better for tiring out the dog in the moment, that will not do as much to mitigate her energy 5 hours later. So having two walks per day (or more if you have time/energy) will better tend to her natural energy cycles of a burst of energy, followed by relaxation.

NOTE: Walks are not just about physical activity. It's very much a mental exercise process as well. So you can do walks that focus on force-free/fear-free obedience where you stop every few houses and and practice behavior skills you're working on with her. Or it can be a sniff-walk where you stroll and take your time and let her dictate where to go (within reason) so that she can smell all the smells that interest her. It's better for her overall energy to walk a half-mile in 20 minutes that engages her brain in a big way (training, sniffing, combination) than to walk 2 miles in 20 minutes without engaging her brain at all.

Getting that mental exercise along with physical exercise may help even out her overall energy, which may help improve the interactions. Half of those walks should be separate from Rambo so that she is getting private bonding time with her people.

NOTE: Rambo needs the walks and mental/physical exercise as well. So make sure that if Wiggles is getting private walks, Rambo gets them too.

You can also play games in the house that include fetch and tug. I would avoid rough-and-tumble games if she is unable to play nicely.

As for direct interactions with Rambo - if he is acting afraid of her then it's time to bring in a professional to observe the situation and help you create a plan to get them back on the right track. I can't do that in this forum without observing both dogs to see what kinds of body language they're giving to each other.

Until you can bring in a force-free/fear-free trainer or behaviorist, I encourage you to use management to prevent Wiggles from bullying Rambo. This will feel just a little counter intuitive, but it works. If you see Wiggles beginning to bother Rambo, call her to you in your sweetest voice. Interrupt her behavior by engaging her in something pleasant.

Call her to you with a sweet and inviting voice. Offer her something she likes (verbally) such as "you want a treat?" or "Let's go for walkies". Once you have her attention, tell her how much you love her and what a good girl she is. Mean it. Your tone of voice is everything here. She doesn't understand the individual words, but she will understand your tone so if you're irritated or sarcastic, she'll get that. If you're truly loving her and supporting her, she'll get that too. We need to be loving and supportive to help her change her behavior.

Now that she's paying full attention to you, ask for some basic obedience skills and give her some love and attention, play with her with a toy or actually take her for a quick walk if you offered that.

You will love on Rambo after you're done with Wiggles. But our aim here is to teach Wiggles that there are better options for her than bullying her brother.

If she is bullying him out of dislike for him, or fear that he's getting more attention than her, or he's getting access to things she likes, then the last thing we want to do is punish her by scolding her or putting her in time-outs. Why? Because if she's afraid he's gonna get the attention she believes should be hers and then you scold her and put her in time-out and then check on Rambo to make sure he's OK, you've just demonstrated to her that she was absolutely right! Rambo is going to get the attention and she's getting shunned.

On the flip side, if we interrupt her fear-behavior (bullying him due to concern he'll get her stuff) and reassure her how much she is loved and that all her things will remain hers and there's plenty for everyone... then we teach her she has nothing to fear from Rambo's presence and she becomes less and less worried that he'll take her stuff. If she's not worried, she will not be bullying.

Now, what I've just described is true if her behavior is motivated by resource guarding - fear that he'll take her stuff. If there is some other reason for her behavior, this might not be the best approach, or at least it may not be the complete approach. This is why it's necessary to work with a local professional who understands learning theory, counter conditioning, desensitization and is skilled at reading canine body language for signs of fear, stress and frustration.

I encourage you to speak with your vet for a referral to a force-free/fear-free trainer/behaviorist in our area. You can also check the websites below. Do your research. Call people you think you might want to work with. Ask them questions about their approach and who they look up to in the industry.

Things you WANT to hear: Learning theory, counter conditioning, desensitization, force-free, fear-free, positive reinforcement
Equipment you WANT the trainer to use: body harness, face collar, clicker

Things you DO NOT want to hear: balanced training, alpha, dominance, pack-leader, punishment
Equipmtent/Techniques you DO NOT want the trainer to use: choke chain (aka check chain), prong/pinch collar, electronic collar of any kind, physical contacts such as pokes, kicks, hits, stringing the dog up by the collar, alpha rolls, hissing at the dog.

In essence, you want the professional to be setting the dog up for success so that you are telling Wiggles, "Yes. I like that. Please do that some more". You want to avoid working with anyone who will set her up for failure so that you you are forced to tell her "No. Don't do that ever again!"

Certified Professional Dog Trainer (search)

Pet Professionals Guild

Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist

Veterinary Behaviorist (veterinarian who specializes in behavior - the psychiatrist of the animal medical field)

If there are no vet behaviorists in your area and you feel this is the best option for you, you and your regular vet can consult with the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts Cummings Veterinary School through their VetFax service. This does require your regular vet to be involved as the consultation is technically with your vet and not with you.

BARKING - dogs bark for a variety of reasons. Before you can modify the barking behavior, you first must understand why Wiggles is barking. As with other behaviors, it may be motivated by different things in different circumstances and so addressing barking at cars driving past the front window will be very different than addressing something like demand-barking if she's barking to get your attention for play/affection. So, without much more detail about the circumstances, it's just too broad an issue to address briefly in this forum.

I do encourage you to read two books by Turid Rugaas, On Talking Terms with Dogs - Calming Signals . This book will help you read the body language of both your dogs much better, allowing you to intervene far earlier in the process and thus helping to reduce the conflict between them - and possibly also helping to reduce some of the barking issues if you can see the behaviors leading up to the barking.

Also, Barking: The Sound of a Language . This book will help you better understand the various motivations for barking. If you can determine why Wiggles is barking, that is the first step to changing the behavior. Remember, the WHY may be vastly different in different circumstances.

I hope that some of this proves helpful. Please feel free to follow up if I can be of any further assistance.

Worcester, MA Behavior Specialist
Masters candidate Animals and Public Policy
Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

Canine Behavior

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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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