My Dog is a Bully
Expert advice on dog bullying behaviour
Q: I have three Chihuahuas. They all spend the nights together in their own bedroom (my bathroom) where they have the same beds, pee mats, water bowls, and toys. But lately, the two older dogs have taken to picking on the youngest dog. Mitzy is eight, Mimzy is six, and Merlin is two; they’ve been together their entire lives and I don’t understand why the two older ones bully him now. It’s gotten to the point where I have to take Merlin out of the room because they are making him screech. What’s up with my three stooges?—Fawn Frazer
A: Fawn, I love the alliterative fabulousness of your dogs’ names!
You’ve got two small dogs who, at six and eight, are middle-aged. Then there’s Merlin, who is just coming into adulthood. I can only answer based on what you’re observing, but what you’re seeing might not be the whole story. It’s possible that Merlin is behaving differently than he was as a puppy, thereby triggering the incidents. Young pups naturally defer to adults. In adolescence, puppies gain confidence and push boundaries. A somewhat insecure or fearful puppy might well submit to an adult who is laying down the law, but an adolescent might not go along so easily, forcing the adult, used to being the law of the land, to make her point in a stronger way.
Place a camcorder in the bathroom to film the interaction. (Or set up a webcam and monitor from another room.) Pay careful attention to the dogs’ body language. While you might see Mitzy or Mimzy lunge or air snap at Merlin, you could also find that he actually did something to incite the behaviour. It might be as subtle as a brief, hard stare, a curled lip, or encroaching on their space. You’ll also discover whether Merlin’s screeching is the result of actual contact or is his response to a threat display. I can’t say for sure that the dynamic I’ve described is what’s happening, but monitoring/filming is a good place to start and will offer more information for a trainer, should you need to employ one.
Nicole Wilde, CPDT-KA, is a canine behavior specialist and the author of 10 books, including her latest, Hit by a Flying Wolf: True Tales of Rescue, Rehabilitation and Real Life with Dogs and Wolves. You can find Nicole’s books, seminar DVDs, and blog at nicolewilde.com, as well as find her on Facebook (@NicoleWilde,Author) and Twitter (@Nicole Wilde).