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Why Are Some Dogs Bullied More than Others?

Updated: Jan 24, 2021

graphic of dog covering eyes

Years ago, when I worked at a doggy daycare center, I noticed that some dogs were picked on much more so than others. The normal protocol whenever a new dog entered the facility was for those already inside to rush over to the gate and check out the new arrival. They’d sniff and maybe jump on the new dog or invite him to play—it could be overwhelming, for the newcomer, but the group soon dispersed. But when certain dogs would enter, it was different; the meet and greet would be more tense, and would sometimes result in the dog being bullied or even attacked. There seemed to be no consistency regarding which dogs this happened to as far as breed, size, color, or other easily discernable characteristics. The one constant was that these dogs were relentlessly bullied by the others, as though they were wearing a “Kick me” sign.

You might be thinking, Well, of course there was a reason—it was the body language the targeted dogs were displaying. That makes perfect sense, and in some cases the incoming dog’s body language did seem to elicit the bullying behavior. But with some dogs, even to someone accustomed to noticing the minutiae of canine communication and body language, it was impossible to discern anything specific they were doing. They didn’t appear insecure or submissive; they didn’t avoid the other dogs; it really was an interesting phenomenon, and of course, the staff always felt a bit sorry for them.

The scenario makes me think of kids who are constantly bullied at school. Often those kids start out in homes where they don’t receive much parental support, and so they grow up feeling insecure and unsure of themselves. Even if they don’t do anything specific to broadcast that fact, other kids pick up on it and treat the child differently. I believe it’s the same with dogs. If you believe that dogs can pick up “bad vibes” from dogs who are truly dangerous—and I certainly do—then why not feelings of insecurity? There are certain dogs I see other dogs give a wide berth at the park, even though that dog has never done a single thing as far as I can tell to make them wary. It’s not hard to believe that certain dogs seem to invite bullying by their “insecure vibes.” So perhaps either there are signals so minute that humans don’t normally pick up on them with the naked eye (perhaps we would if reviewing video footage), or they just broadcast a certain type of vibe to other dogs. Your thoughts?


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