Like human children, some dogs can be bullies to other dogs. Pinning down is a way for canines to show off their dominance and torment a lesser pup.
As a pet owner, you have a responsibility to address this behavior and put an end to it!
Wild canids pin to display dominance. Domestic dogs pin to bully other dogs, express jealousy, lack of socialization, and lack of proper training. An underlying medical issue can also cause pinning behavior due to frustration or discomfort. Address pinning by stopping the behavior immediately, training, socializing, and avoiding other aggressive dogs.
In this article, I will explore where this dominant behavior originated from and how you can work with your pup to stop it.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
Dogs are part of the Canidae family, alongside canids such as wolves, coyotes, and jackals. Like their wild counterparts, dogs also communicate heavily through body language (more so than being vocal).
Canids live in packs with a set hierarchy within the group. Some of the pack members are weaker than others. Pinning, or pressing, one dog to the ground is a universal sign of dominant behavior in adult canids. The stronger dog pins the weaker one down to assert their position in the pack hierarchy. Occasionally dogs challenge one another to alter their rank within the pack, leading to fights that end in one dog being pinned by the other.
In today’s world, dogs don’t live in the same kinds of packs that the wild canids do. Although the pinning and dominance instinct remains, the reason for this behavior isn’t necessarily the same as it once was in the wild.
By logic, the assumption would be that wanting to be dominant is a personality trait. This doesn’t prove to be true, however! There are several reasons why a dog could exhibit dominating pinning behavior towards other dogs. The primary one would be the owner not correcting the behavior and nipping it in the bud.
By failing to correct their animals when they initially exhibit domineering behavior toward other animals, pet owners sometimes unintentionally contribute to the tendency. If you don’t correct them, their conduct will progressively get worse.
Lacking proper socialization with other dogs, lack of basic training, and lack of being taught “good puppy behaviors” are also reasons why dogs would pin other dogs. Pinning can be a result of jealousy as well.
Finally, a medical reason could also be to blame if pinning behavior does not cease no matter what the dog’s owner does to try to correct it. Hormone imbalance or impaired senses (such as hearing or vision) can actually all be linked to aggressive behaviors (such as pinning). Due to the discomfort and frustration these illnesses might bring, a dog may exhibit dominating behavior and act out.
First thing is first, go visit the vet! If you can rule out a medical issue causing discomfort in your dog, then you can move on to the behavioral aspect. If a medical issue is indeed causing the outbursts, resolving that should subsequently stop the pinning behavior.
If a medical problem is not responsible, you need to start addressing the behavior from the beginning:
The best way to stop pinning behavior for good is to understand the difference between playing and fighting.
In puppies (and adult dogs), play is a give-and-take scenario - one dog wins the game, the other one wins the game, and all is good! Blood isn’t drawn, dogs aren’t attacking each other, and everyone is wagging and having a good time.
Aggressive behavior begins when one of the dogs looks stressed, anxious, and upset (common signs include tucked body, head down, ears back). The dog may be trying to get away from your dog or hide. As the other dog is displaying this type of sad behavior, your dog continues to come at them and try to push them down. This is bullying behavior.
Puppies as young as four weeks old can exhibit this type of behavior. Puppies test boundaries and learn through play, so getting your dog from a good breeder that monitors puppy interactions is a good call. However, if you’ve adopted a dog (either as an older puppy or as an adult), you’ll have to teach your dog what is acceptable and what is not.
Now, the moment you see the other dog trying to stop the playtime and get away from your dog, your cue is to step in and contain your dog. Marking this behavior with a command such as “timeout” can be a good way to give your dog an indicator. Contain your dog and end the playtime. The best consequence for a dog is to be stopped from continuing the behavior they wish to engage in.
To continue to rehabilitate the poor behavior, set up play times or play dates with polite, well-trained dogs.
Whenever your dog interacts with another dog positively, reward this behavior with treats and praise. If your dog begins to display bullying behavior, you end the play session immediately. Rinse and repeat this over time will teach your dog what is acceptable and what is not.
Enrolling your dog in a training class can also help stop this behavior. Many group classes address aggression in dogs, and working with a trainer can help navigate these waters much more easily. This is also a great idea if you don’t have connections with other dog owners to set up playdates.
If your dog is having trouble understanding acceptable behavior, or you are considering that your pup may be suffering from dog aggression - a decision needs to be made. The most responsible one would be to set your dog up for success by avoiding situations for failure. As such, it would be a wise idea to keep your dog away from other dogs and not allow them to interact with one another. Even on walks, training your dog to ignore other dogs rather than trying to encourage dogs to interact is another way to prevent a bad situation from arising.