Does your dog need dog friends?

Updated: Feb 18, 2021

What’s more important to your dog … You? Or other dogs?

People get so caught up on the idea that their dog needs lots of ‘dog friends’ in order to be happy and have a fulfilling social life. While this may work out just fine for some dogs, for many others it creates lifelong problems.

There is an obsessive focus on socialising dogs with other dogs. A desperate need for them to LOVE other dogs and be friendly all the time. While less attention is paid towards building our own relationship and strong bond with them. I hear it all the time … ‘I just want him to have doggy friends’, ‘I just want him to like other dogs’, ‘I just think he needs to socialise more’. It’s an attitude which suggests that if he has dog friends then everything else will be okay because he will be happy and friendly.

Of course, we all want a dog who is relaxed about interacting with other dogs and has perfect social skills. But sometimes our best intentions lead to the wrong outcome. It might seem simple to take the puppy to a park full of other dogs or send your nervous dog off to day care, expecting them to make friends and become a social butterfly. Afterall, they’re dogs, they need to play with their own species!

The problem with this attitude is that it totally disregards how the dog may really be feeling or what they’re actually learning. When you focus so much on socialisation with other dogs, it becomes easy to miss the signs when your dog is uncomfortable, worried or learning inappropriate behaviours. Behaviours which may seem insignificant in a young puppy can rapidly develop into more serious issues as the puppy matures into an adolescent. This can take us by surprise and we’re left wondering why our delightful puppy has suddenly turned into a devil dog when he sees another dog.

What is Socialisation?

Socialisation is about teaching your dog to feel comfortable in the presence of other dogs, whilst knowing he has support from you. It’s about teaching him appropriate social skills so he can develop into a polite, well-mannered adult. Socialisation is NOT throwing your dog into a room of other puppies and letting him get on with it, or letting your dog run up to meet and play with every dog in the park.

Socialisation should focus on your puppy’s behaviour and emotions. If he’s being bumped around by over-enthusiastic dogs, he’s probably learning that dogs can be scary, or he will be learning to treat other dogs in this way in the future. Think about what you want him to learn and whether or not your ‘socialisation’ is actually achieving this.

It should be noted that socialisation is not solely about meeting other dogs. In fact, this is only a tiny part of it so read through our previous blogs which cover the broader spectrum of socialisation. 

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The Risks of Inappropriate ‘Socialisation’

If you take the ‘let him get on with it’ approach to socialisation around other dogs, you risk all manner of problem behaviours developing. If you have a nervous puppy, he will only grow more fearful if he’s exposed to the wrong dogs without your support. If you have a friendly puppy, this friendliness could quickly become a challenging obsession without the right guidance from you.

One of the most popular ways to ‘socialise’ a puppy is to encourage them to meet dogs on walks, and while it might seem like a standard method of socialisation, it comes with a high risk. Those unfamiliar dogs may not be particularly tolerant of puppies so your puppy risks receiving a harsh telling off when he oversteps the line, some puppies will bounce back from this but others will be scarred for life. Some dogs may give a fair telling off, while others will have a more extreme reaction and could do some serious physical and psychological damage to your puppy. Not a risk worth taking.

You may find friendly, harmless dogs during walks to introduce your puppy to. While this may ensure he doesn’t receive a damaging warning, it doesn’t mean these dogs are teaching your puppy the right things. Mixing with dogs with poor social skills could teach your puppy some behaviours you would rather avoid. It might all seem fun and games while he’s a small puppy but as he matures, do you really want your fully grown adult dog to be body slamming other dogs or chasing them and pinning them on the floor. Always think about what he’s learning from the other dogs.