It’s safe to say that dog communication is very different from human communication (and thank goodness! We can do without their sniffing rituals when meeting someone new.) But that doesn’t mean it’s not important to realize how dogs send and receive messages to one another, especially if those messages are unwanted by your pet.
Let’s be clear: a dog park bully is not indicative of a bad or even aggressive dog. Just like people, individual dogs socialize differently and some simply aren’t good at it. In fact, a bullying dog usually won’t display blatant aggression, but rather acts in a pushy manner: unnecessarily jumping, nipping, chasing, or barking (which, in their head, is prompting play) without reciprocated social cues from other dogs. Differing energy levels also play a part – if a young, spry dog tries to evoke play with a senior, his energy will be completely overbearing to the older pet (but he could be another dog’s best play pal.) In most cases, the lack of a tail wag or play bow from the potential playmate will cause them to move on; what makes a dog a bully is not taking the social cues given and continuing with the unnecessary behaviors.
So, what do you do?
The best advice is to be proactive. If you can see your dog is visibly scared or bordering on lashing out, get your dog’s attention to come to you and away from the bully. Also be aware that your dog could be culprit and be willing to correct them accordingly. Another great suggestion is bringing a dog or two along for the play date; having a pack of ‘friends’ won’t just give your dog additional confidence, it will usually deter a bully from singling them out. A quick Internet search can provide a more in-depth rundown of dog body language and communication, as being aware is the best way to handle these overbearing park playmates.