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We have 3 dogs - ”A” is a 10 year old Bassett Hound, ”B” is a 9 year old Bassett Hound and ”C” is a 5 month old French Bulldog puppy. ”B” is the alpha in the pack and always has been.

The puppy is very playful and quite full on but the other dogs have been generally accepting, particularly ”A”. ”B” has always been a bit more stand-offish.

For the past couple of weeks, the puppy has been trying to gain the affections of ”B” by gently licking her face, repeatedly showing her bottom and showing her tummy. “B” reacts very badly to this by repeatedly snapping and snarling aggressively, sometimes even preventing the puppy from leaving the room. This aggression seems to be becoming more frequent but unfortunately the puppy doesn't seem to get the hint and keeps going back for more.

Other than this, ”B” is an extremely placid and easygoing dog who has never exhibited any aggression before, including with dog ”A”.

Any advice or guidance would be much appreciated. Thanks

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From your description, this seems to be very natural dominant behavior on B's part and simple childish naivity on the puppie's part.

Puppies are still clumsy in their social interactions and unknowingly disregard the dominant position of an adult. Compare this to a child disregarding the honorific of a doctor or officer and calling out "hey uncle!" instead.

Secondly, puppies are clumsy in their body and their play usually hurts more than that of an adult. Additionally, they never know when to stop (as any child, really). Each dog has their own personality, just like humans, and some simply don't like to play with puppies.

Let's have a closer look at Puppy's behavior:

  • Licking the face of an adult is either a show of submission or begging for food (it triggers the gag reflex that causes wild wolves and dogs to throw up some food for the puppies to eat).
  • Lying on her back and presenting her belly is a clear show of submission. All puppies to a certain age instinctly behave submissive towards any adult. As they age, this instinct fades and they have to find their own place in the ranking of the pack.

Now let's analyze B's behavior:

  • Not letting a dog leave the room seems kind of cruel to us, but this is very natural, aggression-free, dominant behavior. She's excerting her control over Puppy by deciding where she's allowed to go and where not.
  • Snarling and snapping are indeed signs of aggression, but in this particular situation they're not unusual. I witnessed quite a lot adult dogs snarling in a very aggressive way while a puppy tried playing with them and it never escalated into violence. I think you could compare this to an adult yelling at a child to stop being so noisy instead of slapping them in the face. It's not an ideal situation, but it's still better than violence.

What you should do:

  1. Don't undermine the dominant position of B.
    • Many people feed the puppy before the adults because the adults may steal some food from the puppy, but in the wild the pack leader always eats first. By making B wait for her food, you create tension in your pack.
    • If you do obedience training with your dogs or give them treats, always start with B. She should always be the first to get a treat, with or without training.
    • If you walk with all your dogs, let B go through the door first (after you but before Puppy). The order in which dogs pass through doors represents the ranking of their pack.
  2. Don't reprimand B for her show of dominance. It's in her instincts and she doesn't see it as something negative. If you stop her from keeping Puppy in one room, you force her to find different means to assert her dominance. These might be more aggressive than her current behavior.
  3. Keep it civilized. If B starts becomming more aggressive like biting the hind legs of Puppy, you should stop her. She's allowed to assert her dominance, but she's not allowed to bully pack members.
  4. Give B the same amount of love and affection as she got before Puppy joined you. She might perceive Puppy's presence as negative because of the way your interactions with her changed. Show her that you still love her just as much, even if Puppy demands your attention at every opportunity.
    • If Puppy comes to you begging for attention while you want to spend time with B, gently push her away in the opposite direction. You'll probably have to repeat the gesture a few times until Puppy accepts that she's not wanted right now.
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