I was at the local dog park today with my family and our two dogs when another dog owner, we will call Betty, came into the dog park.
Our dogs are considered large at 100lbs and 120lbs. I have a female newfie and pyranees mix, and a pure bred German Rottie male.
On the other hand, this woman’s dog is considered a giant at only 9 months old and already 200lbs; a beautiful mastiff, we will call Spot.
As they entered, my dogs greeted them at the gate and everything was cool. They all said “HI” to each other the way dogs do.
We greeted Betty like we always had, with warmth and friendliness. We stood for about 5 minutes talking when I noticed my Rottie getting dominant with Spot. He was getting between Spot and my female, and using his weight to push Spot away from her. I saw it and I stopped my boy. I made him sit next to me while I watched Spot for a moment.
The only reason my Rottie acts that way, is when another dog is displaying unstable energy and dominant behavior. I pulled my boy out of it to observe why he was acting that way. Then I noticed Spot stalking my female, slobbering all over back and aggressively trying to dominate her by mounting.
I am always watching my dogs for unwanted behavior that may start a fight. My female is not in heat and she did not like him trying to bite the back of her neck and mount her. My poor female was trying to get away from him the entire time. She outran him for several moments, but then he would catch up to her, slobber all over her and aggressively try to mount her. Betty was oblivious.
So we pointed out Spot’s unwanted behaviors and asked her to take control of him and stop him before he starts a fight. She said that he was just playing. I rebutted and told her he is not playing, he never acted like he was playing. He acted with focused intent, stalking my female, slobbering, biting and trying to mount her. It was dominant behavior and not play. I told her that if her mastiff was just playing, my Rottie would play too. I also told her that if I let my Rottie free, and Spot is not playing, my Rottie will take Spot by the neck and pin him down, because that is what the elders do to the young ones who are misbehaving. She did not believe me, so I let my Rottie go.
The first thing he did, was get in between Spot and my female to say “Hey, that is not okay dude!” Spot ignored the elder, went around him and tried mounting my female again. While Spot was trying to mount my female, my Rottie spun around, bounded up on his own hind legs and grabbed Spot by the back of the neck. My Rottie pulled him off my female and was attempting to pin Spot to the ground. It was the funniest thing to see my dog trying to pin this bigger dog to the ground. I gave my Rottie the command to leave Spot alone. My Rottie let go, came to me and sat looking at me like “What? He is being rude. I was doing what elders do in a pack.”
My Rottie was not aggressive or violent. He simply put the younger dog in a choke hold. He did not break the skin and Spot seemed unaffected by it. As soon as he got up, he was right back after my female. By this time, Betty was like, Whoa. She grabbed Spot and put his leash on him.
That did not stop him. He was pulling to the capacity of his loose collar, still trying to go after my female. We could see that Betty, who is 130lbs max, was struggling, using everything she had to keep 200lb Spot from moving forward. She was flushed and speechless. We could tell she was upset that we asked her stop her dog’s bad behavior. I think she was even more upset that we pointed out it was not playful behavior, but dominant behavior. There is a difference between dominant mounting and play mounting. He was not playing.
We decided to leave, as we were headed out anyway, when she pulled up. We had only stayed to let Spot play with our dogs. However, all Spot did was try to mount my female until he was put on a leash. As I said before, my female is not in heat, nor is she close to being in heat.
Awareness is a Powerful Thing
This made me realize that there are a lot of dog owners out there that innocently mistake playful behavior with dominant behavior. Dominant behavior in a dog can end badly for both dog and owner. So I thought I would put something out there for dog owners to educate them on the differences. My goal is to get dog owners like Betty, to see the difference and control it before it starts a fight.
Unwanted mounting is not the only bad behavior that starts dog fights. Take for instance Bill and his dog Rifle.
A few months ago, Rifle nearly caused a huge fight between a pack of dogs. Had I not stopped this dog’s behavior, and asked Bill to leash Rifle, I am sure there would have been an ER visit. All because he thought his dog’s behavior was ‘playful’ instead of what it really was, dominant aggressive.
Rifle was also trying to establish his authority by herding the other dogs. He would run up to them and aggressively bark in their faces, and not let them move. When they ignored him, walked away or tired to get away from him, he would aggressively attack them from behind. I had been warning Bill for at least 6 months to train his dog, and stop that behavior or it would end badly. That day, I saw three dogs ready to tear him apart, had I not stepped in and stopped it, I am sure they would have.
Unfortunately, Bill did nothing about Rifle’s behavior. I am sad to say that Bill ended up in the vet’s ER with Rifle after a visit with another dog led to an all out brawl. The story told to me was Bill and Rifle met up with a friend and their dog at the dog park. As soon as Rifle encountered the other dog, he started aggressively barking. The other dog tried to ignore him and walk away, but Rifle was not going to allow that, and attacked from behind.
Now, this other dog had been putting up with Rifle’s behavior, every time they met, for about 6 months. On this day, Bill did nothing to separate Rifle or control him, as usual. AND on this day, that other dog did not stand down as he had all the times before. Rifle was chewed up pretty bad when the other dog defended himself. I hope Bill and Rifle learned a lesson.
‘Playful’ vs. ‘Dominant’
Playful is bouncing around and instigating play with light bumping and happy, playful barking. A playful dog will throw their rear in the air, lower their front and instigate play with light touch and playful barking. This is a social standard for dogs. It is almost always seen right before play begins.
Dominance is focused intent with aggressive behaviors that cause other dogs to be scared, defend themselves or run away. Examples of dominant behaviors are all over the internet. Mounting and aggressive barking are only two of them.
This ASPCA site explains the difference between play and other behaviors that dogs display.
It also has many pages on dominance behaviors and the many reasons for mounting; dominance being one of them.
This is a small excerpt from the ASPCA site.
“It’s fairly easy to detect when your dog’s feeling playful. His body movements are jerky and bouncy. He might bounce around in exaggerated twists, turns and leaps. He might dodge around you, paw at you and then take off running to invite a chase. Or he might just jump on you and start mouthing. Dogs enjoy a variety of play styles, including chase games (in which the dog is either the chaser or the chase), rough-and-tumble (wrestling or tackle) games, and games of “keep-away” with an object, like a toy or stick. Almost all play is interspersed with the characteristic “play bow” that’s common across all dogs. When your dog play bows, he bounces into position with his forelegs on the ground and his hind legs extended so that his rear sticks up.
This signal is extremely important because so much of dog play consists of aggressive behaviors and dominant postures. The play bow tells a dog’s playmate, “Anything that comes after this is play, so please don’t take it seriously.” Some dogs also show a “play face,” a happy facial expression characterized by a partially open mouth that almost looks as though the dog is smiling. A playful dog might also growl or make high-pitched barks.”
“Many pet parents attribute their dogs’ behavior problems to “being dominant.” Some believe that common canine habits like rushing out doors, pulling on leash, begging for food, mounting other dogs, urine marking and even licking people on the face are dominant behaviors.”
I have seen this true in too many situations. Dog owners believe their dog is ‘playing’ when it is actually being dominant. Dominance comes in many forms with dogs, but placing the teeth anywhere on the body in a hard manner is not play. Dominant acting dogs will focus on the backs of those they are wishing to dominate and bite thier necks with force. This type of dog will also attempt to mount once they have a strong grip on the other dog. Some working breeds will also show dominance by aggressively barking in the face of other dogs as well as stalking them, herding them and ‘guarding’ them, or standing over them.
Many trainers will argue that dogs do not ‘dominate’ by mounting. However, scientific observation of dogs has proven otherwise. I came across many sites that indicated mounting was a form of stress relief, arousal and play. However, all trainers agree, mounting is not acceptable behavior, even in play. Even trainers agree, it is a behavior that needs to be stopped the moment it starts, simply because the behavior is embarrassing.
I say stop the behavior before you get a VET bill and end up in court, explaining how your dog started the fight.
With all the information I read on this behavior, and talking to dog psychologists, I am convinced that mounting is used by adult dogs to establish authority over another dog. I have rarely seen it used in play except by very young puppies. Even then, it is believed that the pup is learning a dominant behavior.
To me it does not matter if your dog mounts for stress relief, arousal or dominance. The behavior is unwanted and shows poor manners in a dog. It is also a reflection of the owner who allows those bad manners to happen. Ultimately, if the behavior will start a fight, stop it immediately and train the dog to never do it again.
My best wishes to you and your loved ones.
Love and light to you!
~ Gypsy Gal