How Many Dogs Friends are Needed to Keep a Dog Social?

Question:

My 3-year-old 65 lb. female dog Wanda feels uncomfortable meeting new dogs while on walks due to her excitement of seeing another dog mixed with the frustration of being unable to appropriately interact because of the restraining leash. So at all costs I avoid having her meet new dogs when we’re out on walks.

She does go to a dog run, but I will only bring her in with a few dogs at any given time, as she can be dog selective. She does have two close friends who she occasionally meets for some playtime, which she enjoys. My questions are 1.) How many dog friends does a dog need to keep social, and 2.) What are my best options in having her meet new friendly dogs to play and interact with? 

Thank you,

Peggy

 

Answer:

Greetings Peggy!

Great question and yes, I get how your situation appears to be a conundrum. It is not always easy to properly socialize our dogs. I think what you are doing with Wanda is appropriate based on your description of her behaviors when off leash.

As a norm female dogs will lose interest (to all interest) in playing with other dogs when they become adults. They might still enjoy the company of other dogs, but play is short-lived and not so looked-after reaching maturity.

All dogs as they become adults, but especially female dogs, can also become more “choosy” of who their “friends” are and thus more scrappy or less tolerant of interactions with “non-friends”. In addition, when there are fights between dogs, two females tend to be more injurious… don’t’ ask me why… but maybe there is some similarities to human relations? LOL.

It is then possible that since Wanda is already mature this is in part what you are seeing and experiencing with her.

In an ideal world our dogs meet on a regular basis many (10?, 20?, more?) friendly dogs that they can hang out with.

However, the reality is that people underestimate their dog’s interest in playing with dogs in general or playing with a particular dog. Dogs, just like us, choose their “friends”. To put it differently: you and your best friend both have “social” dogs and you would think it will be natural and practical to have your dogs turn into BFF. However, your dog or your friend’s dog might have other ideas as to whom they want to hang out with. So there goes that opportunity.

Now back to Wanda… I suggest you continue doing what you are doing of going to the park when there are only a few dogs. By doing this you are giving Wanda a fair chance of interacting with dogs as well as keeping potential fights at bay.

While you are at the park observer her closely and constantly – this we should all do!

Pay close attention to what she is doing. Is she really playing with the other dogs? If so, with whom? Female/male? Small/large? What breed? All this is crucial information to develop a “profile” of the dogs she enjoys interacting with.

Or is Wanda just sniffing and more interested say in playing ball with you even when at the dog park? Perhaps she does all the above. Gathering observable data will give you some information as to what she finds reinforcing in the dog/dog subject. Of course, this could vary from day to day, but there are some correlation.

In addition to this, if you find a good match for her, arrange with the owner to do one-on-one regular play groups at that location or another location. This is my favorite way of socializing my own dogs. Every dog you add to the mix comes with not only more management, but also a greater potential for scraps.

Going for leash walks with a pal also is a nice way to have our dogs hang with others without the pressure of having to fully interact in play. However, I do not recommend (or at least I will follow a particular protocol) introducing a new “possible friend” to a dog on leash. On leash meet & greet are for the most part problematic ways to introduce most dogs. Besides, most dogs do not respond well to close proximity of other dogs while being kept confined in any way – the leash being one of them.

Be as active as possible in recruiting new playmates (using Craig’s list or a similar bulletin board in your area) might provide good leads for a “good” playmate for Wanda.

Consider leash walks with friends that she already has- not a new dog that she does not know well.

Now, more specific to your question as to “how many dogs friends a dog needs to continue to be social” The answer is two-fold: The more friendly interactions a dog (notice the importance of friendly here) has the higher the chances the dog will have in navigating the doggy-social world.

Consider this too: If a dog has LOTS of POSITIVE experiences with all sorts of dogs, if and when they get into a scrap the emotional toll will be less of an issue because it is measured against many more positive interactions.

Now, the second aspect of my answer to your question, how many canine friends a dog needs will also depend on the particular needs and prior-socialization history of the dog in question.

This leads us to another important point. Can under-socialized improve so that they can enjoy more social friendly interactions? This is one where “it depends” fits to a “T”. Yes, theoretically speaking there are lots of ways we can help our less-polite dogs to become more polite canine citizens, but for the most part the process is a lengthy one filled with too many nuances for the “average” pet parent to handle on his or her own.

I hope my answer sheds some light onto your situation.

Do stay tuned for near future entries on dog parks and doggie daycare as viable options to socialize our dogs.

Best of luck with Wanda!