Does your dog need to play with other dogs?
In short, no! Dogs do not NEED to play with other dogs. However, with the right match ups, and the right setting, it can be enjoyable for your dog to romp with other canine pals. Nothing beats watching dogs play with each other, rolling, biting, running, jumping. We just can’t play with our dogs the way they play with each other.
When and where should you let your dog play with other dogs?
I’m personally not a fan of dog parks. I’ve seen too many fights, and for some dogs, one fight is all it takes to forever make them reactive or unsure of other dogs. I know realistically for some dog owners, especially city dwellers, the dog park is the best way to exercise Fido. Many dogs go to the dog park every day and never have an issue. The key is being aware, not only of your own dog, but to the other dogs at the park.
It only takes a second for a fight to break out, but if you are being attentive, the dogs will usually give signs that there is a potential mis-match of personalities which could lead to a squabble. The first squabble might be worked out with a growl and a snap and then everything is okay again, the next one might not be so mild. It’s a fine line between letting the dogs work it out on their own, or removing your dog from the group. Many times letting the dogs work it out on their own is the right thing to do, sometimes it’s not, and if you don’t have an experienced eye for reading canine body language I would recommend erring on the side of caution and taking your dog away if there is a continuous issue. If you sense your dog is being pestered, or pestering, do everyone a favor, and take Fido home for the day. Unfortunately, the biggest problem I’ve seen at dog parks, are those people not paying attention to their dogs, and not taking their dog away before a fight breaks out even though there were plenty of signs there to warn them. Some dogs are just not dog park type dogs, and that is okay, it doesn’t make your dog a bad dog. It also does not mean that they can’t have a few dog friends that they play with elsewhere.
An alternative to the dog park is to set up play dates with friends, neighbors, family member’s dogs, if you know the match-up is right. This can be more enjoyable for all, if you know the dogs, and the people you can relax a little more while Fido and Spot play.
When should you NOT let your dog play with other dogs?
Not when you are on a walk, and pass by another dog. Walks should be just that, walks. If you run into a friend and a dog that your dog is acquainted with, and your friend says it’s okay, then sure, let them greet if you must. If you run into a strange dog your dog doesn’t know, and want to talk to the owner, than have your dog sit next to you while you talk, do not let your dog just run up and greet strange dogs. Some dogs are leash reactive and would not appreciate this. If you are walking on a sidewalk and see another dog approaching, the kind thing to do would to put your dog on the opposite side of you, so you are between the dogs as they pass. They don’t need to sniff noses, or butts as you pass by. The same applies for any public place where you encounter another dog, pet and feed stores, outdoor restaurants, hiking trails, parks (not dog parks), etc. You should never let your dog greet or run up to, or initiate play with any dog without first getting permission from the owner of the other dog.
In a perfect world every dog would have 2 or 3 canine friends that they match up well with and get to see and play with once a week in a private area. If your dog is suited for it, and the dog park is the best you can do, just remember to be aware! All in all, while dog-dog interactions can be great fun and exercise, they are NOT necessary, and Fido would be happy just playing with YOU!