An Attack in the Woods Teaches About Bullying Dogs and Owners

Walking the dogs in the woods this morning I had a de ja vu experience. Around a corner came two large golden retrievers and their female owner that I wrote about in “Pack Leader Psychology”. For a fascinating synopsis of “Dominator” behavior, read this recap of today’s incident, with my interpretations of the human behavior in brackets.

When I encountered this group about four years ago the two dogs charged Reilly, rolled her and I ran to her rescue fending off the two large dogs with my legs. I barely touched the dogs, using only my energy, sharp tone of voice and fast action to signal my intention. The owner started yelling at me as if I was the offending party. She was a classic Dominator and bully just as her dogs were.

Well, no surprise, these three bully Dominators behaved in a predictable manner. This time the dogs charged Hope who was right next to me. Reilly was off hunting about 20 yards away.

I grabbed Hope’s collar and put her behind me to block the two dogs. Hope is very subordinate and gave no signs of dominance or attack to these dogs. Yet they pushed past me to get at Hope, a very aggressive move. Most dogs would have broken off the charge if an owner had stepped in the way, but not these two. [Their owner also has no boundaries or respect for others, as you will soon learn.] Hope broke away and the more dominant dog continued the chase and rolled her — into a mud puddle, no less.

From the moment the attack started the woman stood at a distance yelling:  “Don’t worry. My dogs are nice. They won’t hurt your dogs, etc.”  Yet their behavior was showing the complete opposite. [Dominators are very willing to ignore bad behavior and make “reality-altering statements” that they hope will mislead the easily mislead. As if saying her dogs were not attacking mine makes it not so.]

When I collared my dogs without saying a word she got angry and started spewing hostile comments. [Dominators are hypersensitive to criticism and she imagined I was criticizing her even though I wasn’t and had not said a word to her. ]

Then I very calmly said: “I am just trying to keep my dogs safe.” She really flipped out and began very aggressively calling me names. [Dominators often over-react to a situation far beyond what is normal, and that reaction is nearly always a “fight” response. In this case, wouldn’t a good dog owner collar their dogs, no matter what the situation was or whose fault it was? Yet this Dominator’s “reality” was that I was somehow the guilty party. She had made no attempt to call or collar her dogs, just as she failed to do four years ago. ]

Then she said: “My dogs are 10 and 12 and are no threat to anyone. They are very nice.” [Dominators make lots of excuses for bad behavior and refuse to acknowledge the actual facts of the behavior.]

At this point I had said one sentence (calmly) and she had said dozens in a very aggressive tone of voice. Despite my reaction, her next predictable behavior was to switch to attacking me: “You don’t know anything about dogs. You shouldn’t even own dogs.” [Dominators feel trapped in an emotional corner very easily, then lash out at others suddenly and with over-the-top comments, quickly becoming irrational in their statements. How did she know what I know about dogs? It’s a pretty strong statement to say that I shouldn’t own dogs. Especially when the evidence was that she was the one who was the irresponsible dog owner.]

At this point I had to say this: “Well, I do know YOUR dogs, because they did this exact thing four years ago. They rolled my dog and I had to fight them off of her.”

Most interestingly, after she made the comment about me being a bad dog owner, I had the de ja vu experience. I realized that this entire conversation was nearly word for word what it was four years ago. Given that her dogs have behaved exactly the same way twice with me, I’d guess they’ve done this many times to other dogs. She is used to a reaction from the owners and has a ready answer all rehearsed. [Dominators develop thought patterns that serve them and repeat them over and over. Repeated arguments with them will start to sound very familiar, as they dredge up past incidents and insults over and over again. They also have a strong instinct for what will be most hurtful to others. With dog owners, this woman knew that calling them bad owners or ignorant about dogs would be the most hurtful thing she could attack them with. So she did, because her sense of self-worth was so low she had to do anything she could to protect her fragile self-identity, including flinging random, over-the-top insults at a stranger for no reason.]

And just as in the past, she wandered off screaming to herself and to the woods about what a horrible person I was and how I was such a terrible dog owner.

Notice also that not once did this woman apologize for her dogs’ behavior or her lack of control or discipline with her dogs or, of course, her rude behavior. Everything was a predictable lineup of Dominator behavior: excuses about her dogs’ behavior, opinionated comments, aggressive tone of voice, critical attacks on me, entitled view of herself and a lack of accountability. She was so busy attacking me with her well-rehearsed speech, that she never did call her dogs or discipline them. [Dominators are very averse to admitting fault. Lack of accountability is their core character flaw. Heaven forbid she actually admit she has poorly trained dogs and actually discipline them.]

This lack of accountability severely limits a Dominator’s ability to learn, change and grow. Notice that after a dozen years of similar encounters with other dogs and dog owners this woman has not learned a thing. She has not learned how to discipline her dogs, to be accountable for anyone’s bad behavior, to apologize, or to notice a pattern — that ALL the other dog owners and dogs they encounter have the same reaction yet she somehow can convince herself THEY are ALL bad dogs and bad owners. [Dominators are very unlikely to change because of their lack of accountability. Their ability to fool themselves in order to protect their sense of self is very powerful.]

So this woman and other Dominators stumble through life offending others with no conscious clue of the reactions they are causing. Most likely she has few friends because of her offensive behavior.  And her lack of accountability prevents her from making key insights, keeping her trapped in an angry, hostile, bullying behavior pattern.

The good news is that I am not a Dominator and I have learned from my experiences. This incident was not a completely de ja vu experience, because my reaction was slightly different.  Four years ago I remember being quite angry about the incident, especially the woman’s name-calling and accusations. I said a few harsh things about her as we parted, calling her the bad dog owner. This time I was completely calm throughout the incident, did not raise my voice one decibel, said only two sentences and left feeling angry at her but only for a moment. I could recognize the Dominator behavior for what it was and I did not become emotionally upset at her comments. My self-worth is not dependent on the opinions of others, especially the opinions of someone as unstable as that woman. Her harsh comments rolled off my back quickly and easily and I moved on with my day with only a few minutes of emotional reaction.

One last lesson: I am fascinated that her dogs are aggressive bullies, just as she is. Like owner, like dog.

Dogs (and their owners) can teach us so much about human behavior if we know the Pack Leader Psychology elements to look for.

For Dominators, watch for:

  • inability to apologize or be wrong
  • a need to be right and opinionated
  • a sense of entitlement
  • a lack of personal accountability
  • verbal aggression that is over the top for the situation
  • lashing out, attacking and criticizing others (the “fight” response)
  • a lack of personal boundaries
  • an inability to recognize inappropriate behavior
  • low self-worth that underlies and causes all of the above behavior

For a free quiz to find out if you are a Dominator, Submissive, Avoider or Pack Leader, sign up for my e-newsletter on





Relationships: Stand Your Ground Against Dominators


dog-bark1I just came back from walking the dogs and witnessed Reilly’s calm, assertive pack leader style in action, with Pack Leader Psychology lessons for human relationships as well.

Another dog was off leash and for no reason came running down the trail very aggressively, charging directly at Reilly. Reilly stopped walking and stood her ground very calmly. She didn’t become anxious or run away or charge back at the other dog. It was so amusing to watch the other dog literally skid to a halt on her back haunches, wood chips flying, inches from Reilly’s face, as he became aware of Reilly’s Pack Leader authority. The bluff charge stopped instantly when Reilly did not back down, cower or countercharge.

Of course, I also stayed calm and watchful, which may have helped dissuade the other dog. I sped up to be right next to Reilly and was ready to take action against this dog, but I did not over-react in anxiety either.

I was also aware that dog trainers say the most dangerous dog is not usually the one who charges. These dogs are actually scared and insecure, and can be frightened off easily. The dog who is growling and standing its ground is the one to be most cautious of. This dog means business.

More people need to behave as Reilly and I did. Sadly, most human Dominators are like this bully dog. They are used to bluffing and threatening their way through life. They argue and scream and tantrum and criticize, or worse, become physically abusive. Then others around them cower (Submissives), argue back, (Dominators) or avoid the situation (Avoiders).

Just yesterday I was working with a patient whose ex-girlfriend and the mother of his son is an extreme Dominator. Like a dog that charges for no reason at all, she constantly is blaming and shaming him and others in her life. This provokes him to anger and he feels the need to argue back to her, which quickly escalates into loud fights and even physical violence.

I tried to help him see that by countercharging the ex-girlfriend’s Dominating behavior with his own Dominating behavior, it is exactly what she wants to provoke. She enjoys these fights and can have more ammunition against him:  “I told you so… you are aggressive and violent with me. It’s all your fault.”

As difficult as it may be, he needs to stand his ground calmly, respectfully and firmly, but not counterattack. She may eventually learn that her threats and attacks do not work.

It is a Dominator’s low self-worth and emotional insecurity that cause these bluff charges. Dominators want to keep everyone else cowering, because they have learned that this often keeps the criticism at bay that they have such difficulty handling emotionally.

Instead, Pack Leaders have strong self-worth and feel no need to intimidate or threaten others. They can handle criticism without feeling emotionally attacked. They can spot the Dominators as they start to rush down the trail and know that these insecure people are no real threat, that this charge is merely a bluff backed up by no real personal substance or character.

As I discuss in “Pack Leader Psychology,” this is why we need more Pack Leader people and stronger Packs:  So we can teach Dominators how to behave correctly and improve the emotional and behavioral health of everyone who is harmed by these bullies. Until all of us band together to stand up to the Dominators, they will not stop their threats and drama. Every time we allow them to get away with intimidation or aggression, it reaffirms that this bullying works and encourages them to repeat it.

Every day in my psychotherapy practice I deal with the results of the havoc these dysfunctional people sow: disrupted families, unhealthy marriages, depression and anxiety, child abuse, substance abuse, domestic violence, and crime.

Just as Reilly tried to teach that charging dog a lesson, we must all commit to stopping this epidemic of Dominator behavior in humans to help improve the emotional and physical health of current and future generations.

The Dog That Taught Me About Leadership


Reilly, the Muse for “Pack Leader Psychology”

As I say in “Pack Leader Psychology,” a growl instantly moved me from pack member to pack leader with my dog, Reilly. But if I hadn’t had a dog that understood how to be a pack member, I might never have learned this lesson. And I might never have made the connection that being a pack leader to people might also be a good thing for my interpersonal relationships as well.

The story begins when I got Reilly as an eight-month-old dog. She had grown up in an outdoor kennel with her birth pack and several adult dogs. Living for so long with this normal dog pack taught Reilly how to recognize and honor the pack leader or leaders — probably her mother and father.

Continue reading

Welcome to the inaugural Pack Leader Psychology blog post!

I’m very excited to begin this new adventure that has been about six years in the making. I have written a non-fiction self-help book called “Pack Leader Psychology,” and this blog is the first step in introducing the ideas in that book to the public. A full website will follow soon and the book is now available as an e-book on Amazon (Kindle fans!). Print and e-versions on B&N and other sites will be due shortly.

So what is the book about?  Tough to shorten 230 pages down into a few paragraphs, but here goes:

“Pack Leader Psychology” recounts the lessons I learned while becoming a pack leader to my dog, Reilly, that helped transform me from a submissive, abused wife into a calm, confident, independent and assertive human pack leader. Read More