Is your dog a social butterfly and gets along with dogs of all sizes and temperaments off leash and on leash too? Good on you! Does your dog prefer to play fetch with you instead of wrestling with the other dogs? Great! Is your dog scared in the dog park and avoids other dogs? That’s okay too!
Despite being highly social animals, it is important to realise that not every dog has to love each other. Dogs can be very diverse in their approach to other dogs depending on their early socialisation, previous learning experiences and there is also a great variety among individuals too (even from the same litter). Not to mention that simply by being leashed, dogs can feel more vulnerable as they can’t simply flee the conflicting situation.
Would you rush up to random people and hug them out of the blue? How do you think they would respond to your overly friendly approach? They might hug back, run away from you before you can reach them, they might tolerate your closeness with a stiff body or actually punch you in the face for invading their personal space. Some people prefer a polite short small talk with strangers and move on. Some might not want to talk to anyone and some days the biggest social butterfly can feel a bit withdrawn.
Dogs are similar to us in that way – some prefer to play with doggy friends they know and are wary of unfamiliar dogs. Some will prefer smaller dogs, some will love to bounce around big dogs and some will only have eyes on the frisbee.
And then there are the bullies, the pushy dogs who do not understand other dogs’ body signals. Owners often say “Don’t worry, he is friendly! He just wants to play!”. But if your dog is not in the mood to play with him, problems can arise.
Your dog might be telling the approaching dog – and you too – with very subtle signals that she is not comfortable with the situation by looking away, turning her head away or moving away. If this is left unnoticed by the other dog and the owners, she might lower her head, body and tail or even roll over to expose her belly – not a sign of a happy dog in this situation. This reaction is often seen in young puppies when approached by older or bigger dogs.
Some dogs, however, take a more defensive approach when unfamiliar dogs approach them. They can also show similar avoidance behaviours as mentioned above, but if their body language is not being recognised, they might growl, lift their lip or even snap at the other dog. This is a contactless bite, the other dog is not hurt, but your dog is so upset at this stage that she might bite the other dog and everything seems to happen in milliseconds. Please don’t wait until this happens because it’s not pleasant for anyone involved. Move away from the approaching dog the moment you see your dog is not keen on the interaction.
On the other hand, if you have a pushy dog, please watch your dog’s body language and do the right thing if he is a bit too much for the others. If he is off the leash, put him on a leash and allow him to calm down for a few minutes and if he still continues bullying the others, please take him out from the dog park to avoid conflicts.
Written by Bea Labady
Posters courtesy of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC)
If your dog has some issues with other canine friends and would like to address these problems: