As pack animals, dogs are social animals. This means the average canine thrives on having regular play dates with others of his kind. Find out if your four-legged friend might benefit from spending more time with other dogs, and how to go about it.
We all know that regular play is crucial to a dog’s happiness and well-being. Playing with other dogs as well as with humans can be an important part of achieving that well-being. It’s true that some dogs, due to breed, a poor upbringing or lack of socialization early in life, don’t get on well with others of their own kind. But most dogs thrive on regular play dates with canine friends. In fact, not getting enough playtime with other canines can be detrimental to these dogs.
Mixing with other dogs is a happy experience for most canines. Dogs have emotional intelligence, and learn signals from other dogs early on if they’re properly socialized with others of their kind. For example, they learn there are some dogs they can roughhouse with, but that they need to play more gently with puppies.
Dogs are social animals
Nature has set up your dog to be social – canines are pack animals after all. So fill up his calendar – this is especially important if he spends a lot of time alone in the house when you’re out or at work. “The best way to fill your dog’s social needs is to get him out every day to mix with other dogs, or to get another dog,” says renowned dog behaviorist, Dr. Nicholas Dodman. “If you decide to get another dog, choose a compatible breed. At first, your dog may be upset with the newcomer, but after several days they should get along fine.”
“There is no such a thing as too much socialization.”
– Dr. Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, DVA, DACVAA, DACVB
Keep canine playtime safe
Again, depending on your dog’s past (and his breed – see below), he may not get along that well with other dogs. If your dog shows signs of fear or aggression when encountering another dog, never force an interaction. Consult a trainer or canine behaviorist to see if you can get to the root of why your dog is acting this way and how the problem can be resolved.
If your dog is sociable and friendly, however, he would most likely benefit from more playtime with other canines. Here are some things to consider, whether you choose to adopt another dog, or take your dog out to meet others of his kind.
A second dog as a buddy
If you’re considering a second dog, it’s important to do your homework so you pick one that’s the best fit. Here are a couple of basics to keep in mind:
- Choose a gender opposite to that of your existing dog, especially if your dog is a male. Males may battle for pack leader position, which can result in serious injury. That being said, two female dogs are usually compatible, depending on the breed. A friend of mine has two female Labs. Having two has made her life easier because they love to play with one another.
- Pick out a dog that’s compatible with your first dog’s personality. If he’s laid back, it’s best to pick a dog with a similar laid back disposition.
- Select a breed that likes other dogs. My family had a female cattle dog, and we assumed she would love the sweet Lab someone gave us. But our dog’s personality changed overnight. She became extremely protective of us when the Lab ran up to greet us. Sadly, we had to re-home the Lab to protect her from serious injury. After she left, our cattle dog went back to her sweet nature.
Dog park besties
If you don’t have friends or family with dogs of their own, the most obvious place for your canine to make friends is the local dog park. However, because these are public places, it’s important to consider safety by being alert to your surroundings and the other dogs at the park.
1. Keep an open eye for any lax safety issues. Recently, a friend of mine took his Labradoodle to a local dog park, only to find the back gate broken and some fencing down. He immediately left the park since he didn’t feel it was a safe place for his dog to play, even though other people were there with their dogs.
2. You also need to stay aware of your dog’s behavior, and the behavior of other dogs. A dog park is a great place to meet and greet fellow dog lovers, but it’s easy to get distracted. If your dog is disruptive or displaying bad manners, it’s your responsibility to get him under control. Conversely, if you notice another dog acting aggressively towards your own, alert his person right away or remove your dog from the park. “Once in a while, you’ll come across a ‘bad’ dog and this can be a negative experience for your dog,” says Dr. Dodman. Interacting with other dogs should have positive associations for your own canine, so it’s important to abort potentially negative encounters before they happen.
3. Before taking your dog into an environment with other canines, make sure he’s in good health and is protected from infectious diseases with core vaccines and regular titer testing. If you see a dog at the park – or anywhere else – that’s acting sick, removed your own dog immediately.
Does your dog need more canine company?
When friends or family members come over to visit us, they often bring their dogs along to play with my own canine, Sam. He loves playing with his buddies – but in the days after they’ve gone home, he’s droopy and sad. He begs to be let outside as if he’s looking for them, a sure sign that he’s craving more time with his friends.
If your dog is the type who enjoys the company of other canines, watch for signs that he may be not be getting enough playtime with his four-legged buddies.
- Dogs not getting enough playtime can display sadness. As with Sam, your dog can experience real sadness after his buddies leave. Very social dogs really enjoy the company of other dogs, and the end of playtime can feel like the end of a good thing for your canine. It’s similar to a child who has a birthday party, then feels unhappy afterwards because she knows she won’t have another party for a long time.
- Dogs can get bored if they aren’t mixing with other dogs. Humans are often dull compared to dogs. We sit on the sofa. We watch television. We work or do chores around the house. Your dog will probably sleep a lot if he’s bored. You can try to be a dog and play with him all you want – and that’s great, of course — but many dogs are happier playing with other dogs. It’s the way they’re wired.
Studying canine behavior
Recently, Dr. Dodman and a team of professionals set up the Center for Canine Behavior Studies. This organization’s mission is “To maintain the behavioral wellness of dogs and strengthen the human-companion animal bond to ensure that dogs remain in their owners’ home as trusted and valued companions for life.” Needless to say, encouraging canine play — with both humans and other dogs – is an important part to achieving such a mission. To learn more, visit centerforcaninebehaviorstudies.org/about-ccbs.
Dogs are sociable creatures and usually love spending with their buddies. Assess your own dog’s need for canine interaction, and take steps to enrich his life with a second dog or play dates at the local dog park (while keeping his health and safety in mind). You’ll end up with a happier, more contented companion!