In our private behavior practice, we often get calls for adolescent dogs who no longer get along with other dogs as well as they did as puppies. This usually takes their owners by surprise, and is often very upsetting. “He was always great at the dog park, I don’t understand why he’s suddenly being so bad!” The answer is oftentimes, “he’s completely normal.”
Wait, shouldn’t all dogs want to play with one another? Well, not necessarily.
Our society believes that every dog should want to play with every other dog they meet, but frankly, this isn’t realistic or normal. Consider this: we would consider it normal behavior for a 4-year-old child to want to go the park and play in the sandbox with the other children. What would you think if a 40-year-old man was doing the same thing?
Adult dogs are adults, not babies, and as adults their interactions with other dogs will change. Puppies and adolescent dogs should be quite social. They enjoy playing and meeting new friends. This is normal for their stage of development. Many adolescent dogs really enjoy going to the dog park and doggy daycare. Adult dogs are different. While some adults may continue to enjoy these activities their entire life, others may be horrified at the prospect of wading into a pack of obnoxious adolescent pups and being asked to play.
So, what IS normal? First and foremost, dogs are individuals. A dog’s sociability with other dogs will change based on their age, breed, sexual status, genetic tendencies, early socialization, and recent experiences. Let’s go through what a normal dog’s sociability will look like as he matures, provided his owner sets him up for success by only introducing him to other well-socialized dogs and giving him frequent opportunities to interact with them off-leash.
As a puppy, the dog will probably be quite social with almost all other dogs and enjoy playing. Other dogs will put up with pretty rude behavior on the puppy’s part, because they’ll understand that he’s just a baby. Once he reaches adolescence at about 5-6 months, that will change. Other dogs will begin correcting him for rude behavior and he will start to learn about polite doggy society, including personal space and boundaries. He will still be quite playful, and may especially enjoy rowdy play with other adolescents. His social skills won’t be very “polished” yet.
As he continues to mature, he will become more polite around other dogs and may become less boisterously playful with dogs he doesn’t know well. He’ll likely have a group of doggy friends he really enjoys, but may not instantly play with every new dog he meets. He’s more likely to want to just “hang out” with his doggy friends, sniffing stuff together and meandering around as a group, without as much excited play. He may ignore unfamiliar dogs or greet them politely with a sniff.
In future posts, we’ll explore the normal classifications of dog-dog sociability, as well as good and bad ways to socialize your dog to others, the best way to introduce two unfamiliar dogs, and what to do if your dog doesn’t like other dogs.
In the meantime, what does your dog think of other dogs? Does he enjoy playing with unfamiliar dogs, or does it take him awhile to make new canine friends? Has his sociability level changed with maturity or due to positive or negative experiences? What do you do to set him up for success? Please comment below, I look forward to hearing about your experiences!