We had quite the fancy post written on this topic, explaining the different categories of dog/dog sociability and what each of them means. We were going to sort various dogs we know and love into those categories and tell you how and why they happened to find themselves at that particular spot on the sociability spectrum.
We had graphics and cute dog photos and all kinds of impressive sounding jargon going on. And then we realized something…
We were doing the exact thing we strive not to do when it comes to dog/dog sociability and the answer to this million dollar question. We were simultaneously oversimplifying and overcomplicating how dogs engage with other dogs.
So, instead of that post we’re going to try to cut straight to the chase. Here’s the deal in the absolute simplest of nutshells we can put it:
How a dog engages with other dogs depends on a variety of factors including not just that dog’s personality but the personality of the dog(s) with whom he/she is interacting, the environment in which they are interacting, the behavior of the humans present, and any number of variables down to how that dog happens to be feeling that day or at that moment and if maybe there is a squirrel in that tree or someone left a burrito wrapper on the ground.
In short, there is no such thing as a simple yes or no answer to that oh so often posed question that accurately captures what people want to know when they ask it. Certainly there are dogs who are more dog social than others, ranging from those who typically get along with most dogs in most situations to those who only get along with particular dogs in particular situations.
We started out with those labels (check ’em out here) because they are a good jumping off point and they help illustrate that dog/dog sociability exists on a spectrum (much like, !!, human sociability).
We also enjoy that particular linked article because it touches on how sociability changes with age. Age dynamics in dog/dog play bring to mind an analogy of the ball pit at Chuck-E-Cheese. It’s typical to see small human children having a blast in the ball pit and while there are social faux pas and disagreements, they’re rarely serious in nature to the adults in the room (3 year old angst is super serious to a 3 year old) and often serve as good learning opportunities.
Now imagine that ball pit filled with adolescents. You’d likely even see some big differences if you observed 7th graders vs high school juniors. And what about adults? There are definitely plenty of us out there who’d still love to jump in the ball pit with wild abandon (and those who’d eventually rethink our choice). There are also plenty of us who think the ball pit would be awesome if we had it to ourselves or were there with just a few close friends (Dinner party & Netflix in the ball pit? Um, yes.). But what if it was filled with glow stick wielding tweens and the sounds of the latest Katy Perry club remix? Or for some of us, even birthday cake faced toddlers?
Now humor us and take this little analogy a step further… What kind of social interactions might you see if all of those different age groups were tossed in together? Play around with various age mixes and personality types. Tweak the environmental circumstances. The possible social dynamics are fairly endless.
Have you heard that phrase, “All dogs are individuals?” There are incredible depths of truth in those four little words.
Let us break it down in another way… Just because a dog was/wasn’t great in shelter play group doesn’t mean they will/won’t be great at the dog park doesn’t mean they can/can’t live with your resident pets doesn’t mean they will/won’t love doggie daycare doesn’t mean they love/hate meeting dogs on walks doesn’t mean they will/won’t be okay sniffing hello at the vet’s office doesn’t mean they do/don’t want to be friends with your neighbor’s/sister’s/cousin’s/boyfriend’s dog.
You can take that crazy run on sentence of a thought experiment even further as you unpack each situation, considering maybe it wasn’t all doggie daycares but the particular one you tried that day or one or more of the dogs they encountered at play time, and that not every incarnation of a place or situation is created equal.
So how the heck do you know if a certain social situation or play buddy is a good one for your dog? Simple. You get to know your dog and learn to understand how dogs communicate. Then, you put that knowledge into action and help your dog be happy and social in a way that works for him/her, and you notice if at some point that seems to change and adjust accordingly.
You also accept that normal sociability looks a little bit different for every single dog and honor that your dog’s preferences are okay. If you are concerned that he/she is being held back by fear issues or poor social skills, you work on it and enlist the help of a trainer if you need one.
What if you’re adopting a dog that needs to get along with your resident pets? Here is the truth that’s not stated plainly nearly often enough… There are no absolutes on that.
It’s not that the shelter or rescue doesn’t want to be forthcoming with you about the dog’s ability to live with your resident pets. It’s that the best we can give you is an educated guess about how successful we think they’ll be and what a successful integration plan might look like for that particular dog.
We often say not to do it because of all the variables at play but there are totally dogs out there who actually will be okay with the just toss ’em together approach. There are also many, many, many dogs (and cats, especially cats) who are not. That goes for the new addition and for the resident pets; both sides of the equation are equally important. What a good shelter or rescue can do is tell you what they know to be true about that particular dog’s personality and experiences and help provide a framework to set you up for success.
People successfully and happily add new animals to their existing companion crews all the time and they use different frameworks for integration based on the animals’ and households’ individual needs. The magic ingredients are patience, love, respect, getting to know the animals involved, and being able to help them communicate successfully, both with you and each other.
It may not sound as awesome and magical as just tossing glitter on everyone and watching it create a sparkly love fest of zen canines & felines but it’s what works. And isn’t the beauty found in a harmonious relationship really where the magic comes from anyway?
As this is such an often discussed topic, we wanted to pull together some of our favorite already existing pieces for your further perusal.
Tails from the Lab: Learning to Speak Dog: A Great Jumping Off Point for Your Journey into Canine Communication
–-> Why we love it: Successfully and accurately understanding and communicating with your dog is the foundation for everything you will do together.
He Just Wants to Say Hi! by Suzanne Clothier : Musings on Canine (and Human) Rudeness
–> Why we love it: Because normal and appropriate dog behavior often gets incorrectly categorized as problem behavior in our wacky human world.
What Makes a Good Puppy Class? by Dr. Ian Dunbar: Early Socialization Done Right
–> Why we love it: Because much like human children, puppies need appropriate and abundant opportunities to learn rather than micromanagement and the earlier we set dogs up for success, the less work we’ll have to do down the road.
Are Domestic Dogs Losing the Ability to Get Along with Each Other? by Laura Brody: Normal Dog Behavior in a Human-Centric World
–> Why we love it: Because, while the reality is that stray dogs around the world are absolutely not living some utopian existence, there is important food for thought here regarding how the constraints put in place by and the choices of humans are impacting dog behavior.
Are Dogs Pack Animals? by Jean Donaldson: We’ll Give You a Hint…The Answer is No
–>Why we love it: Because so much of what we get wrong about dog/dog and dog/human interaction stems from misconceptions about pack theory.
My Dog Got Kicked Out of Daycare Today by Robin Bennett: Not Every Dog is a Party Dog and That’s Okay
–> Why we love it: Because honoring your dog’s social and emotional needs is so important, as is understanding that not wanting to hang at doggie daycare is completely normal and acceptable behavior.
It’s Only Funny Until Your Dog Runs Out of Spoons by E. Foley: But He Usually Loves to Play/Meet Other Dogs!
–> Why we love it: Remember that thing about what the dog loved or at least tolerated yesterday, he might not love or accept today? Here’s why.
Multi-Dog Household Aggression by Pat Miller: What Might Be Causing the Tension and How You Can Diffuse It
–> Why we love it: It touches on very meaningful and often overlooked variables that may be causing tension and/or aggression in your household and gives practical advice on what you can do to improve the situation.
There’s so much more information out there and if you’d like to continue discovering and learning along with your dog, you can find many of our favorite books, articles, and websites in our behavior resource library.
And to whoever you are, reading this and searching a little deeper for the answer to the question asked in the title, thank you for loving and respecting dogs for who they are. Seeking to understand is one of the greatest expressions of love that exist.