Do dogs need canine companionship for a happy life? The Dog Trainer has the key to your dog's social life
A listener wrote to me because her dog had hurt another dog during off-leash hours at the local park – and not for the first time. My listener was worried for the safety of other dogs, but she was also sad to think that her dog might not be able to mingle and play with other canines. Wouldn’t that diminish her dog’s quality of life?
The short answer is no. Although some dogs revel in dog park play at any age, most dogs grow less interested in playing with unfamiliar dogs as they grow up. They may greet special dog friends enthusiastically and play with those friends, but greet most new dogs casually and then more or less ignore them. Some dogs grow up to be completely indifferent to most other dogs. And some, like my listener’s dog, respond to certain (or all) dogs with aggression.
Our dogs do need physical activity, mental activity, and social relationships. But they don’t necessarily need to get those things from other dogs. In one study, dogs separated from familiar kennelmates may have been less stressed than dogs separated from familiar human caretakers. It’s just one study, and it’s small, but it hints at what strong bonds dogs form with humans. Studies of shelter dogs also suggest that human companionship improves their welfare.
Most dogs who can’t safely mingle with random unfamiliar dogs can still have a few carefully chosen dog friends. But even if your dog can’t socialize safely with other dogs at all, you can give her a rich and happy life, with plenty of play, affection, and mental exercise. I promise, she won’t feel she’s missing one darn thing.