What I have learned at the dog park also holds true on the playground: Bullies prey on the weak

My observations of the nature of dominance and bullying at the dog park and how it applies to the playground.
By Tom Rooney

While on my morning walk with my border collie, Sadie, we encountered another dog walker. And when doing so, I usually take the opportunity to say hello and give the dogs an chance to greet one another as dog do. You never know exactly how this will turn out because every dog reacts to one another a little differently but I think it is important for the socialization process.

Anyway, as the dogs come nose to nose. They greeted each other with tail wags and I assumed that this encounter like most of them will turn out amicably and we, as dog owners, would walk away with that warm fuzzy feeling knowing that our dogs are pretty darn cool. But it didn’t really turn out that way, the moment Sadie turned her back, the other dog began to lunge at her aggressively, growling and bearing her teeth. The process repeated itself 3 or 4 times.

The other dog owner, obviously a bit embarrassed by his dog’s behavior, suddenly asks me, “Is your dog an Alpha?” “No,” I replied, “Just the opposite in fact.” “You haven’t bred her or anything?” he retorted. “No Never.” “Wow,” he asserted, “my dog usually doesn’t react that way unless the other dog is an alpha.” At which point we wished each other a good day and continued on our walks.

I began to think about his comment and realized that he really misunderstood the nature of dominance and bullying. And let’s face it, his dog was just a bully. The one thing I do know about bullies it they typically don’t go after the their equals or those that appear stronger than them; they prey on the weak. They look for individuals in which they feel that they can assert dominance over and do so through various forms of aggression.

Now I am not saying that bullies never face one another, because on occasion they do. And this usually results, both at the dog park and on the playground, in a brawl of some sort. and when this happens, teachers or pet owners often rush in to break it up. The kids are sent to the principle’s office while the dogs are usually reprimanded, leashed up and lead out of the park. In case of the bullies, and sometimes in the case of the dog, there is a clear winner and they will stay away for one another at that point.

However, the process of bullying is much different. In the case of a dog, it may entail the dominant individual roaming around the park mounting the less dominant individuals. Dog owners nervously laugh, make jokes and do their best to break the routine and say, “Dogs will be dogs.” But on the play ground or in the classroom it will manifest itself in the form of wedgies, name calling and vicious rumors etc. but essentially the behavior is the same. These kinds of things rarely happen to the kids that are confident, wear trendy clothing or appear to have a strong social network. It’s usually that kids that are smaller, less confident, less social that are the focus of this kind of aggressive behavior. And despite the increasing awareness of bullying, I still find that some parents approach bullying the same way dog owners do. They nervously laugh about it; tell stories of what they when through as children and say, “Well you know, kids will be kids.”