What To Do With a Bully Dog

How to prevent your bossy bully dog from taking over.

Q. Our 9-year-old female German Shepherd Dog was extremely controlling with her last dog companion. She wouldn’t allow her to play and would control her from across the room. If we tossed a Frisbee or ball to the other dog, she’d charge her. That dog died of cancer in December, at 8 years of age, and we’ve recently adopted a submissive, sweet 5-month-old male German Shepherd Dog.

The 9-year-old is now exhibiting the same behavior toward the puppy. She doesn’t let him play when they’re together and if she’s sitting near us and the puppy walks up, there’s immediate tension.

The puppy is not aggressive, nor does he “bother” the adult dog. Is there any way to let the puppy to enjoy himself while she is around?

A. Most dogs who share a home with another dog work out an order where one is usually the leader. That’s fine, but if one dog starts bullying another you need to control that situation.

Your female German Shepherd was accustomed to bullying your other dog and now she’s doing the same with the puppy. She decides whether he can or cannot play and whether he can or cannot receive attention from you. But she’s not only controlling him, she’s controlling you. From her point of view this is perfectly OK, because that’s what she’s always done. She may even think you approve because you’ve allowed it to go on, even though you don’t like it.

It won’t be easy for her to change her attitude and behavior, because she’s been acting this way for years. To help her change, you need to apply both management and training. Start by preventing situations likely to trigger those reactions. This means you need to physically prevent her from bullying the puppy.

Confine her periodically throughout the day for 15 to 30 minutes in another room, her crate, or out in the yard, so you can give the puppy one-on-one attention without her interrupting. Also give your adult some special time alone with you each day, so she can bask in your attention without having to share with the puppy. Play her favorite games and spend some time every day practicing her obedience skills, such as sit, lie down, and come when called.

The puppy needs to get his education on the right track and learn to behave calmly around other people and dogs and your adult dog could obviously use a brush-up on listening to you and doing as you say. Enroll both dogs in an obedience class. It will be good for the adult to get attention at class for obeying you and ignoring the puppy, and it’ll be good for the puppy to experience being with other dogs but not getting bossed by them.

Practice class homework with both dogs, sometimes apart and sometimes together. When training the two together, always say the dog’s name before you give the cue and before you give the treat reward. This way each dog knows when you’re talking to them and this will decrease the adult’s tendency to try grabbing the pup’s rewards. 

When the dogs are together at home, keep them both on leash for a while, especially the adult. With her leashed you can control her movement and her staring behavior. With the pup leashed, he’ll feel more protected and connected to you and less intimidated by the proximity of the other dog.

Carry treats with you all the time or keep them in containers around the house, to reward calm behaviors in the adult and to give to both dogs when they practice obedience homework.

If you goof up and allow a situation where the female starts to bully the puppy, calmly tell her “no,” leash her, and gently take her to her confinement place. Leave her there for a 5-minute time-out. Then return, leash her, and have her practice a few of her obedience skills for you, praising her calmly each time she responds correctly. Then take her, on leash, to rejoin the family. Praise her and reward with treats when she’s calm around the puppy.

Expect the process to take several months, as habits like this take time to change. You’ll probably see ups and downs in your female’s progress, but you’ll see improvement if you’re consistent with both management and training. If you try these suggestions for a month and don’t see a noticeable change in your adult dog’s behavior, ask your obedience class instructor and your veterinarian for referrals to a dog behaviorist or behavior specialist who’s had success working with dog bullying and jealousy.

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Behavior and Training