It is very “human” of us to want to see our own dog happily romping around with other dogs while we stand by and think..”how cute”! We want to chat with other dog owners while they do the same…aren’t they cute”! But is this realistic? Is it realistic for all dogs to play with all other dogs? Of course the answer is “no”.
We are primates, dogs are canines. These two species have very different social rules and protocols. Humans are one of the only species on earth that will interact socially with strangers (think of thousands of people sitting together in the stands of a football stadium, or mingling at a farmer’s market). Dogs do not do this. They have strong feelings about other dogs. This goes back to their wild ancestors who would often kill another wild canine that tried to join their social pack.
Dog parks were created to allow people to exercise their dogs in urban areas where dogs cannot be off-leash in public. Good idea? Maybe, for some dogs, but many dogs do not do well in a multi-dog social environment and fights will occur, sometimes very serious fights. The more dogs there are, the more chances of aggression.
Dogs are very particular about other dogs. Dogs communicate with one another by subtle body signals and scent. This is a language that is invisible to the average dog owner. A dog owner may fail to see the signs that their dog is in trouble, or may soon be instigating trouble.
If you go to a dog park with your dog, try to limit the play to dogs you know well and that your dog knows well. Watch your dog 100% of the time. Do not make this a social event with other humans. Watch your dog.
Healthy play between TWO dogs is pretty easy to recognize. Are the dogs exchanging roles? One chases and now the other. If one takes a break, does the other respect that and take a break too? Is the mouthing loose and open? If one dog is dominating or continually pinning the other, this is not healthy play. Often two dogs play well but when you add a third dog…you get a dog fight (sound familiar, humans do the same thing).
If your dog has a couple dog friends that he/she plays well with, leave it at that. They do not need to greet or play with lots of other dogs. In fact, I strongly discourage my clients from ever letting two “leashed” dogs interact. A leash is a “barrier” situation in which dogs have limited options. They react to other dogs very differently on a leash than if they were loose and could interact in a natural way with the new dog.
Dogs today live in a world of restriction and barrier situations. Unfortunately this leads to dog fights when we get owner proximity, leashes, territory and frustration involved. Walking a dog in a neighborhood is no longer safe for your dog. I encourage my clients to carry “Spray Shield” with them every time they are in public with their dogs. If you have not been charged by an off-leash dog yet…you will be. Be prepared. Be safe.