My Puppy Is A Bully: How To Spot and Break the Habit

two dogs are fighting on the street. Agressive dogs. Dog attack.

Key Points

  • Nipping, jumping, barking aggressively, and pinning down other dogs are signs of bullying behavior.

  • Dogs that act as bullies always target one specific dog that is shyer and weaker than they are.

  • Every dog can potentially become a dog park bully due to overstimulation.

  • Early public negative experiences may manifest as aggressive and bullying behavior.

Puppies are adorable and playful creatures who love to explore the world around them. However, as they grow older, some puppies develop a habit of playing too rough and becoming bullies.

Although smaller breeds appear cute pulling the little tough guy act, larger-sized dogs may become dangerous if their aggressive behavior continues. In either case, the problematic behavior prevents a puppy from becoming the best version of themselves.

The good news is that bullying habits are breakable. This comprehensive guide explains the difference between regular playtime and bullying behavior, how to recognize the signs of a bully in your puppy, the causes of bullying, and tips on how to break bad habits.

Alpha, Aggressive Dogs & Bullies

Before concluding that your puppy is a bully, grasping the contrast between an alpha and a tyrant is essential. In a group of dogs, there's usually one who naturally becomes the alpha — also known as the pack leader.

These dogs are confident in their leadership role and don't need to use intimidation or force with other dogs since the others recognize the alpha in the hierarchy. If your puppy happens to be the leader of their litter, they may exhibit assertiveness through rougher play behavior. After all, they are still testing the water and figuring out their strength.

Aggressive Dogs

Just like humans, each dog has their own personality. Some happy-go-lucky ones are peace lovers and don't mind if others overtake them in a game of roughhousing. Then there are the aggressive pups who need to dominate in every situation. They love testing limits and pushing boundaries, challenging others in the litter or humans in the family.


Then there are the bullies. Unlike aggressive dogs, these pups are always insecure about themselves. They use several tactics to assert their dominance, such as pushing other dogs away from the food bowls or toys, hogging all the attention, and pinning down or constantly nipping other dogs during playtime. Unlike aggressive dogs, bullies target specific dogs they perceive as weaker than them.

Distinguishing Fun Play From Bully Behavior

When dogs play together, they do goofy things to each other that humans may find hard to understand. However, some pups may take things too far, making you wonder if they're bullying other dogs. Whether you're a seasoned or first-time dog owner, understanding the difference between playful behavior and bullying may be tricky. Healthy play behavior should generally include fair role reversal play, reacting appropriately to social cues, and group involvement.

Dog on harness barks aggressively

Role Reversal Play

Dogs behave like children when they play with each other. They take turns engaging in relatively equal amounts of giving and receiving. If a puppy seems to always dominate in the play sessions, pushing or chasing their companions away from toys, food, or other objects, you may have a problem.

Appropriate Social Cues

As social beings, dogs learn to understand boundaries when playing with each other. When a puppy bites their siblings too hard, the sibling may cry out in pain and proceed to ignore them. Through some trial and error experiments, the puppy learns appropriate social cues and stops their inappropriate behavior.

If your puppy seems to ignore the cries of other dogs and continues with their overbearing behavior, it indicates that they are engaging in bullying and not playing.

Group Involvement During Play Time

In a group setting, dogs involve each other in play. When they become bored, they swap partners and run away to join other groups. If your puppy goes after one particular dog relentlessly and ignores the calls of others, it may be a sign of bullying.

Is Your Puppy a Bully?

If you are unsure whether your furry friend may be a bully, ask yourself these questions:

  • During play sessions, does your dog constantly chase, pin, or nip at others?

  • Does your dog react to their playmate crying in pain, expressing frustration, or using their body language to reject your dog?

  • Does your dog always single out one or two dogs from the group?

  • Does your dog ignore warning cues from the targeted dog?

If you answer yes to all these questions, it's time to address your dog's behavioral problem before it escalates.

Causes of Bullying

Understanding the reasons behind your puppy's behavioral problems is crucial for addressing them effectively. You may think that bullying is simply a "bad habit." However, in most cases, it is often a result of genetic and environmental issues combined.

Genetic Predisposition

Some breeds have a predisposition to showing bullying behavior. While it's rare, some inherit such traits from their parents. Dogs from a long line of territorial breeds have a higher risk of becoming bullies. Research indicates that Akitas and Jack Russell terriers are most likely to exhibit intense aggression towards dogs they don't know. In addition, breeds, such as pit bull terriers, developed for dog fighting, may also have a greater tendency toward this behavior.

Leaving Mom and Littermates Too Young

In most cases, bully behavior occurs when puppies leave their moms and litter mates too early. Usually, during the first few months of life, puppies learn to interact with other dogs by interacting with their family members. If they behave like bullies, their litter mates usually train them to behave better. When the litter mates fail to convey the message, the mom steps in and corrects their behavior in several ways. The mom may use vocal warning and physical restraint by pinning them down or refusing to nurse them until their behavior improves.

Lack of Early Socialization Training

Socialization during a puppy's early life determines their personality and behavior. Without proper socialization, dogs may not know how to interact with other animals, leading to aggression and dominance displays.

Encouraging Behavior From the Owner

Some dog owners unintentionally encourage their dogs to become bullies. It's particularly true for smaller breeds, who often develop "little dog syndrome." When owners allow their small dogs to exhibit aggressive behavior while praising, laughing, or even showing appreciation, they interpret these cues as permission to act that specific way.

Unclear Boundaries and Leadership at Home

It's also possible that your pup's behavior is due to a lack of boundaries and structure at home. In homes with many people and children, it's easy for dogs to misunderstand acceptable behavior.

Although you may set clear rules and expectations, other household members may unwittingly send the pup different messages. Everyone in your home must be on the same page when welcoming a new puppy.

Monkey-See-Monkey-Do at Dog Park

Dogs are social animals who often learn from observing their peers. As much as dog parks are excellent places for your pooch to make friends, they are also notorious places where they pick up destructive behaviors. If other dogs at the park are displaying bullying behavior towards one another, it encourages your pup to do the same.

Dog on pinch collar barks aggressively at other dog

Previous Negative Public Experiences

Every experience shapes your puppy's current behavior. Studies suggest that extremely early public exposure does more harm than good. If your pooch endured negative public experiences during their first eight weeks of public exposure, they are likelier to exhibit aggression towards other dogs.

Trauma From Abuse

Sometimes, a dog's bullying behavior is the result of abuse. The trauma can bring about constant fear and insecurity, causing these dogs to seek a position in the pack hierarchy. When combined with an unfamiliar setting, the stress and the negative feelings transpire into targeting "weaker" dogs or dogs that receive more attention from humans.

Every Dog May Become a Dog Park Bully

When people mention dog park bullies, you may envision big aggressive dogs. In reality, some of them are not bad pups. They're just dogs who don't know how to behave in an off-leash environment. The sudden newfound freedom and the abundance of canine friends nearby make them extremely excited and overwhelmed.

As a result, their bullying behavior comes off as more attention-seeking and pushy. They are willing to jump, bark, chase, and nip nonstop to get the attention of one dog.

The Danger of Dog Park Bullies

Once dogs play together in a pack, they behave like a group of individuals high on adrenaline and goofiness. Once one dog fights with another from a different group, the situation escalates quickly into aggressive bullying behavior from both sides.

When a smaller dog bullies a larger dog, they risk serious injury if the other party has had enough and decides to snap back.

When and How To Intervene in Bullying Behavior

When you see any signs or body language indicating bullying, it's time to remove your dog from the situation. If you see that the other dog appears to be nervous or fearful in any way during the interaction, it's another sign that your pup is missing social cues. You want to redirect your pup's attention elsewhere before the situation escalates.

However, be careful how you deal with the situation. You don't want to come off as encouraging your dog to behave this particular way. Maintain calm and quiet energy while redirecting their focus. If you have difficulty distracting your pup, ask the other owners to call for their dog so you have a better chance of intervening in the confrontation.

In these moments, never use physical punishment. It is counterintuitive and ineffective. It only reinforces the aggression and fearfulness of your pup. Your dog is intelligent and knows your body language. They'll understand that this behavior is unacceptable if you remain calm but firm.

Remember that bullying stems from anxiety and insecurity. The large crowd of dogs may be the reason behind these negative feelings. Or perhaps it is the amount of noise and commotion. Instead of causing more trauma to your pup, try to distract them with a toy, a treat, or simply stroking them.

If none of these options work, remove them from the situation. Like humans, some dogs do not do well in a considerable crowd setting. Try a smaller group playtime or a one-on-one playdate. If your pup still displays negative behaviors, it's intervention time.

Small white dog on harness barks at other dog

Signs of a Dog Fight

When large-sized dogs play, they may look like wrestlers body-slamming into each other. Other times, they bark and growl like they're going to attack. There are the play bites that look like they hurt. How do you know if a dog fight is about to happen? American Kennel Club points out that "dog fights are efficient with fast movements, not the exaggerated gestures of play."

As long as you see that the dogs' facial features are loose, their mouths are hanging open, they play bow gestures with the rear ends sticking high up in the air, and they have lots of big bouncing movements, everything is fine.

On the other hand, once you see the expressions turn into tense snarls and the bodies are rigid, that's when things are about to get intense. If you see this happening, the best thing to do is remove your puppy from the situation and give them a time-out with water or treats. That's why when you're at a dog park, pay close attention to your pup so that you may immediately respond to situations that make your puppy anxious and act out with inappropriate behavior.

Tips for Safe Intervention in Bully Situations

Sometimes, a situation quickly escalates into a dogfight. Protecting both parties from harm is vital whether your dog is the aggressor or the defendant.

Here are some tips on how to safely break up a dogfight:

  • Remain calm and use body language to communicate with your pup.

  • Never touch or stand in between the dogs during the confrontation.

  • Never put your hands or face close to any dogs' mouths.

  • Don't grab your dog by their collar, as they may become more aggressive.

  • Calmly command your dog to sit or come to you.

  • If your dog won't interact with you, create loud noises, such as beating on metal garbage bins or playing high-pitched, loud sounds from your phone, to get their attention.

  • Throw jackets or blankets to cover both dogs' faces to prevent dogs from biting each other.

  • Spraying water at the dogs' faces also helps to disrupt a fight or a tense moment.

  • Use the wheelbarrow technique as a last resort to break up a dog fight.

How To Break the Bully Behavior

As a dog parent, it is tough to witness your pooch being a bully to other dogs. While it's true that some dogs are more aggressive than others, no dog should exhibit this inappropriate behavior.

At this point, you may feel like you're losing the battle against a bully puppy but know that just because they exhibit these behaviors doesn't mean they're hopelessly mean. It shows they need better social skills and more structure to keep them safe and secure.

Look for Patterns

When a puppy displays bullying behavior, it's difficult to determine the root cause of their actions. But instead of returning to the same situation, take your puppy on walks and see how they react towards other humans and animals.

If you notice they tense up around other dogs or living creatures, it may mean they're anxious about unfamiliar dogs or experiences. Expose your dog to different scenarios and see if there is a pattern to your pooch acting up. The more you know about specific environments or situations that trigger their bullying, the easier it is for you to help them break their habit.

Mature dog snarls at other animals at dog park

Reinforce Command and Obedience Training

Police dogs may act aggressively toward a target but always snap out of whatever they're doing when their handler gives a command. This is because they receive ongoing training on following different commands and learning how to control their aggression levels.

In the same way, you need to reinforce firm obedience training with your puppy. Notice that firm training doesn't mean yelling or physical punishment. It means you're consistent in your expectations, rules, and boundaries.

When you first begin obedience training, rework basic commands "sit," "stay," "down," and "come." You may think these commands are easy, and there's no need to practice them. However, your ultimate goal is to perfect them until your puppy performs these commands immediately, no matter what's happening around them. When dogs get rowdy at the dog park, these commands may save you and your pooch from dangerous confrontations.

Once your puppy warms up to the training routine, it's time to introduce "stop" and "leave it." These two commands are essential for teaching your pup not to bully other dogs. Be patient, as these are hard habits to break.

Use every opportunity as a training session, whether during feeding or playtime. If they stop and leave their food on command, reward them with verbal praise and one of their favorite treats. If they stop and leave their toy during playtime, bring a unique toy as the ultimate reward for being a good puppy.

Reward Good Behaviors

Everyone loves praise whenever they perform a task well, and the same goes for puppies. Every time your dog does something good, use treats and verbal praises as rewards. When you applaud them for their behavior, always look them in the eyes and use an enthusiastic voice. You may even want to exaggerate your tone and facial expression to teach your puppy to read your voice and body language.

Discourage Naughty Behaviors

You don't need to yell or shame your puppy when discouraging naughty behaviors. Instead, try saying "no" and then ignore them. This routine lets your dog understand that whenever they behave the wrong way, you no longer want to engage in any activities with them.

These time-out sessions may last between 5-15 minutes. If they still don't understand, leave the room and close the door. These time-out sessions may last up to 10 minutes.

Teaching Your Puppy Proper Social Skills

Even if you miss the mark on introducing your puppy to proper social skills, it's never too late to start. Always remember to be patient and start slow. The first lesson you need to introduce to your dog is social distancing. Instead of charging ahead and getting into the face of another living creature, allow space and time for both parties to adjust. Over time, your pup learns to observe and understand the body language of others before engaging with them.

Reduce Their Dominance Over Other Animals and People

Bully puppies often try to dominate others in their environment. To prevent this from happening, introduce your dog to unfamiliar environments, people, and other animals in a controlled manner. Keeping them on a leash or in a carrier is a good start when introducing them to playmates.

Only when they demonstrate good behavior are they permitted to come out of the carrier or play without the leash. Whenever you see your dog attempting to dominate their playmate, immediately intervene and take control by firmly telling them, "No," and redirecting their attention elsewhere.

Two dogs behave aggressively towards one another at dog park

Enroll In Puppy Socialization Classes

Enrolling your puppy in socialization classes provides an alternative controlled environment where they learn proper play etiquette under professional trainers' guidance. This experience also exposes them to different types of dogs, helping them become more comfortable around diverse breeds and sizes.

Selective Playdates

Instead of giving your pooch a chance to bully a more timid dog, try setting up playdates with dogs close to their size and energy levels. This provides a more favorable scenario for healthy and appropriate reciprocal play behavior and helps your puppy learn what may happen when they step out of line with another dog who can fight them back or even take the upper hand.

Does Desexing Minimize Bullying Behavior?

Many believe that neutering and spaying their puppies is a solution to diminishing bullying and aggressive behavior. While this may be true in some cases, the reality is that there are too many variables to consider when it comes to bullying.

According to research, desexing has different results for male and female dogs. In general, neutering a male dog reduces their tendency to exhibit aggression towards other males and less tendency to hump other dogs.

For females, the procedure has little influence in reducing aggression. Even worse, when the spaying procedure occurs too early and the female puppy has minimal exposure to their natural gonadal hormones, they show heightened aggression, anxiety, fear, and neurotic behavior towards human strangers and unfamiliar male dogs.

Managing Stress in Your Puppy

Just as stressed-out humans are more likely to act out aggressively, dogs are the same. As puppies, they're still learning to navigate the world and don't have the mental capacity and social skills to cope with various stimuli effectively. Here are several ways to help your pup manage their stress level and feel more at ease in their surroundings.

Exercises and Mental Stimulations

A tired pup is a well-behaved pup. A great way to reduce your pooch's stress and anxiety levels is by providing them with plenty of physical and mental activities, such as going for walks and engaging in interactive play. While playtime dispels their excess energy, it also helps your puppy build confidence, become more comfortable in different environments, and learn that you are there to guide and protect them.

Dog on leash barks aggressively towards other dogs

Plenty of Physical Contacts

For your puppy to blossom into a well-adjusted adult, they need lots of physical contact, like petting and cuddling. A lack of physical interaction with you and your family members gives your pup a sense of insecurity that may later manifest as bullying. If you have young children, monitor closely to ensure they interact correctly with the puppy. Instead of roughhousing, encourage your kids to treat the pup with gentle care.

Avoid Overstimulation

It's not every day you welcome a puppy into your home, so many people are bound to be excited about the new addition. Remember that too much excitement may overwhelm the pooch, leading them into aggressive bullying behavior later on.

If you have many people in your household, remember to ask everyone to remain calm and quiet when interacting with the puppy. Limit visitor interaction until they settle comfortably in your home.

When To Seek Professional Help

If your puppy's bullying behavior persists despite all your efforts, it may be time to get professional help. Instead of exacerbating the situation, please consult a dog trainer or behavioral specialist as soon as possible because they know how to address the issue adequately.

When meeting with a professional, explain the situation in detail so that they understand your dog's behavioral problems and develop a tailored plan to help them unlearn their bullying ways and adapt proper social skills.

Time To Bark Up the Right Tree

Having a puppy that acts like a bully may be frustrating and embarrassing, but it doesn't have to be a lost cause. Your puppy is still young and has all the potential to become an outstanding, well-behaved companion.

As long as you recognize the signs of their bullying behavior and take steps to break the habit, you and your pup are taking steps in the right direction. Feel free to seek professional help, especially if you're a first-time dog parent. Don't give up on your cute puppy.

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