Submitted by North Shore Animal League America
Dogs are social animals. Many enjoy meeting other dogs and it can be a great experience for the dog as well as their guardians. It is a great way to exercise your pet with another dog or playgroups of dogs.
Many people and their dogs also enjoy going to dog parks. Before going to a dog park make sure your dog is well socialized. Most dogs are friendly but remember, not all personalities get along—even in dogs. When first going to a dog park it is a good idea to go when it is not crowded so your dog will be more comfortable. However, your puppy or dog should not be exposed to other dogs or areas used by other dogs until they are fully vaccinated.
There are many things to consider when having your dog meet a dog. Dogs should initially meet on neutral territory. Dogs can be territorial and may feel a new dog is intruding on their territory. They may be more confident and there is more of a chance for an aggressive reaction.
When introducing your dog to another dog, make sure you initially have them both on leash. Be careful not to get the leashes tangled, which can cause the dogs to feel trapped. This may lead to a fight. When dealing with puppies there obviously is not as much risk for aggression. However, always ask the owner when introducing your dog or puppy if the other dog has been around other dogs and is friendly with them. Especially when you are initially socializing your puppy or dog, positive experiences are very important.
If your dog has a bad experience they may react fearfully the next time they meet a dog, or they may even be aggressive towards dogs. Make sure the dogs are getting along well before letting go of the leashes, which should only be done in a safe, enclosed area. Even if the dogs were getting along well in the beginning there is still a chance for aggression and you’ll want to watch for signs of it.
At times it can be difficult to know if dogs are playing rough or being aggressive. When dogs first meet, they generally sniff and circle each other if they have been around other dogs. Some dogs are used to playing roughly, for example, may not always take the time to do this and may jump right away on the other dog.
If your dog is not used to playing with other dogs this type of dog may make your dog feel threatened because of the fast abrupt motion. Always try and initially socialize your puppy or dog with an older well-socialized, friendly dog to have positive experiences. Some dogs may try and mount each other soon after meeting. This can lead to aggression if the other dog does not accept it or if both are trying to mount each other and neither wants to give in. Watch for raised hackles, stiffening, growling or snapping. Some may sound obvious but other signs may be subtler such as stiffening of your dog’s body.
The dogs may exhibit all of the signs at some point but, if you are not experienced with your dog’s reactions, or other dogs, make sure you act on all of them. A dog’s hackles raised may just mean he is alarmed but this can also mean he is trying to look bigger and can be a sign that he will act out aggressively if he feels threatened. Do not dismiss a growl, which is a warning. Especially watch if the dog’s body stiffens. This may mean he will snap.
Sometimes these signs are normal interactions between a dog and a puppy. For instance, they may be correcting them in a way that dogs understand. The growl may not be enough of a warning and this may progress to a snap or a nip. This, in most cases is a harmless and neutral interaction between dogs that are learning how to act around a particular dog. However, unless you are well versed in dog body language and interactions, you may not know which is normal and what can turn into serious aggression, where one, or both dogs, can be injured.
When in doubt, do not take unnecessary risks and do not have your dog interact with that particular dog. A dog fight may also injure people who get involved trying to separate them. If your dog has aggression issues with other dogs please call a professional for help.
Dogs meeting and playing with other dogs can be a great experience. If you carefully socialize your dog as well as continue to watch as they play, soon your dog will look forward to regular outings. Most behavior issues and concerns can be modified and/or controlled with proper guidance. If you find you are having difficulty socializing your dog, or with a particular behavior issue, consider enrolling in some pet behavior classes. A well trained dog is a happy dog.
To learn more about keeping your pet safe and healthy at all times, visit animalleague.org.