Is your dog social?

How social is your dog 2


Not all dogs like to play.

To some people, that sentence is a complete shock.

What do you mean not all dogs like to play? How is that even possible?

Trust us, it’s definitely possible.

As humans, we often expect all dogs to get along with one another or that they will eventually sort it out. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. Dogs have different play style, some of which are incompatible. Some want to play, some want to co-exist and some do not want dogs around them.

The key is understanding what your dog wants in terms of doggy social time. Or if you’re looking to adopt, really understanding how social (or unsocial) the dog you’re interested in is.

Owner Responsibility:
Preventing problems between dogs is the responsibility of the owners. Dogs need to play by the rules and owners need to teach them the rules by having a good relationships and clearly communicating expectations. Understanding which type of dog you have is key.

Dogs can be:
Social dogs: these dogs enjoy playing and are great with most dogs.
Tolerant dogs: these dogs are laid back and have long fuses.
Dog selective: these dogs have very specific styles of play that is tolerated.
Dog reactive: these dogs have a very short or non-existent fuse for all dogs.

It is important to point out that all breeds of dogs can be social, tolerant, selective or reactive. It is easy for us to judge a big dog for being dog reactive and assume all little dogs are social dogs. Which area of the spectrum depends on a myriad of factors, breed only being a small factor.

Another important point to bring up is to be kind to the people who own dog selective or dog reactive canines. It’s easy to jump to conclusions and assume they are bad dog owners who made their dog this way. Or that they’re not trying hard enough to make their dog ‘like’ other dogs. Maybe they just adopted a dog from a shelter and they’re slowly working through his reactivity. Or maybe their dog was just involved in a dog fight last week and has become dog reactive as a result. Or maybe, they’re a senior dog and their tolerance for other dogs is waning.

No matter the reason, give them some space. Its stressful owning a reactive dog and other peoples judgment doesn’t help.

Dogs Change:
Be realistic about your dog’s tolerance. Tolerance levels can change with age and circumstance. Typically as a dog ages they become more selective with the dogs they chose to interact with. It’s our job as owner to respect that.

Many dogs are great off-leash, but will react to  a dog (thus the term, reactive dog) if they meet on leash.

Watch your dog and learn any triggers that lead to inappropriate behavior. Triggers may include toys, rough play, food, a leash, eye contact or the presence of a small animal. When you see the trigger redirect your dog to an appropriate activity, which may be rest until the trigger can be dealt with.

Fences or barriers:
Dogs should not be allowed to bark, growl, lunge or fence fight with other dogs on the other side of a fence. Behaviors that are well practiced become part of their skills and difficult to change.

Ensure that if your dog is being inappropriate with other dogs that play stops and both of you leave the situation. However, praise  Fido when they have a relaxed body and good manners around other dogs. Set Fido up for success. Owners need to be proactive and realistic so that problems can be avoided.

Appropriate play:
For appropriate play to occur owners need to watch their dog for any gestures that are concerning for a high risk of conflict. We suggest removing toys and resources from the equation if dogs are unfamiliar with each other and taking breaks for a consent check. You can do this by leashing one dog (usually the one you have appropriate play concerns about) or removing them from the situation and seeing if the other willingly returns for more play. Any type of play that is allowed to continue for a prolonged period play can take a bad turn. Supervision is key!

Positive Social Gestures for Play: play bow, lateral movements, relaxed or loose body, exaggerated repetitive movements, low and slow tail wagging, calming signals, balanced play (taking turns initiating play.)

Gestures that are a Concern for Conflict and Miscommunication: chase, pinning a dog with quick releases, body slamming, excessive barking, increase in arousal, soft mouthing without consent, rough play, mounting, stalking, chin and head over shoulders.

Gestures that are a High Risk of Conflict: pinning a dog with no release, high arousal, bullying, play that hurts or scare, stalking that scares, hard mouthing without consent, stiff body and growling, fixating, hard stares.

Understanding what type of doggy social skills your dog has and the type of play they engage in can sometimes be eye-opening for owners. It may mean re-evaluating trips to the off-leash park or play sessions with friend’s dogs. Many owners do not even realize that their dog isn’t interested in being around other dogs.

The important thing is realizing this is not a bad thing. You may just need to modify some things to ensure your dog is not only happy, but also safe. Because no one wants to be the guy at the off-leash park whose dog is running around bullying everyone else.

Have questions about your dog? Call our Behaviour help line at 403-723-6019.