Discussing dog breeds, dog-adoption, and the human-canine connection.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pet Friends: Encouraging Socilization Amongst Animals

For many of us, our pets are also our friends. Our pets however, also need other animal friends. Dogs in particular are genetically predisposed to need the company of other dogs -- it's a pack animal thing.
While it is not necessary to own more than one dog (although I do believe many dogs appreciate not being only members of a family-pack) it is important to allow our canine friends the opportunity to have other canine friends.



Beagle buddies




Jenny and her friends Ruby and Gus for example, can meet up on a trail, run and have fun. Public areas where dog friendly dogs and humans hang out is a good source of animal interaction. This is also a place where dogs can meet and make friends; people can then meet and arrange to walk their pups at the same time on certain days.



Jenny, Gus, and Ruby




Or a more informal arrangement is possible; if you walk in the same pet friendly area at around the same time of day during a week, you will find yourself running into fellow repeat users of the space. In Vancouver for example, on a nice weekend my sister and I used to make a point of heading over to the North Shore and a very pet friendly beach. Our friend would tag along with her very socially oriented Springer Spaniel while Bonny the Schnauzer would also accompany us. Bonny would ignore everyone, unless she saw a male dog peeing - then she would run over to pee over top of his marking. (She really was an interesting if somewhat dominant personality.) The Springer had the option of happily greeting everyone, dog and person. Fortunately, you tend to run into other dog loving people in dog parks.

We would see some of the same weekend park people each visit; my sister was particularly taken with the "Boxer guys" and I think this is why we ultimately ended up with our Boxer, Keeper. But that's another story. The North Shore was busy enough that we didn't make friends - we went there with friends and the casual atmosphere led to lots of hellos and learning more dog names than people names.


Katie, sweet sister but terrible roomate

Some dogs actually do better playing with each other when they are not living in the same territory. That's how it was for Gracie and her sister Katie. They got along swell playing on neutral territory but things got a little intense once they were sharing a house. It turns out that same age Bull Terriers often have a problem living together, even more so when they are same gender. This is another advantage of doggy play areas. Dogs can socialize and have dog friends, even if they live as only pets at home.

Gracie has another outlet for meeting and making friends. She is a regular visitor at Pet Sitters Plus in Negaunee, MI. The folks there not only treat her like a member of their family, they make sure Gracie gets lots of supervised play with doggie appropriate friends.


English Bulldog



One of Gracie's very best friends is an English Bulldog - Tank. Tank is a little unusual for a Bulldog, in that he has as much energy as a Bull Terrier. He and Gracie have a blast tearing around the outdoor play area of the kennel, chasing and wrestling with each other. They are a similar size (Tank is on the smaller side for a Bulldog) and energy level and neither is easily offended by poor doggy manners. They both lack a well defined sense of personal body space and boundaries and are happy to find another dog who shares their energy level and sense of fun.

They are also supervised while playing, and kept contained, so that their youthful energy and lack of common sense keeps them from getting into trouble, banging into more sensitive animals, and out of potential danger areas like roads and bike paths. This is the kind of super happy senseless play that needs to be contained, not allowed to happen in a busy area. Doggy day care is a great way for either single dogs or dogs like Gracie with rather unique play sensibilities, to socialize and exercise.

Of course, one can keep several dogs at once. This does not mean, however, that all dogs put together will make a happy pack. And just because you live with more than one dog doesn't mean that each dog's individual play and socialization needs are being met.

Jenny for example can get her social needs met in lots of ways. She is a welcome visitor at several family homes and by welcome, I mean the dog that lives in each of these homes is happy to see and play with her.  She can visit the feed stores with me and meet and greet animals there. She can use parks and doggy walking areas. At home though, Jenny can find Gracie, her adopted sister, a little overwhelming. Gracie and Jenny don't always meet each others social and play needs. Jenny tends to be the bossy older sister who wants to squash activity and is a bit of a tattle-tale. She is also more sensitive and has a much more defined sense of personal space than Gracie. She has been known, in fact, to jump up and bark at Gracie for rolling on the floor too close to her - even without touching.

One of the many reasons I chose to add a young Labrador to our family pack was to meet some of the social and play needs of Gracie while not further offending Jenny's sense of well being. People think I'm only joking when I say, "Lil is Gracie's puppy." 

A well bred Labrador should be an easy going dog with an even temperament. This perfectly describes Lil. She is gentle, playful, forgiving, and young. She and Gracie can wrestle and play until both are worn out and collapse and sleep. Lil is also more flexible in her play style and will play in a much slower, gentler fashion with Jenny. She was the right addition to our family-pack because her personality matched the personality of both the older dogs already living there. Plus, she was trainable and intelligent enough to work with the person in the room, who was not interested in adding any new behavior challenges to the mix.

These are a sample of ways to keep one's dog socialized: doggy parks and play areas; doggy day cares; home visits; getting out and about in dog friendly areas; and owning compatible dogs who are also all trained to be good canine citizens. I must note here that dogs learn quickly from each other and will learn bad habits and behaviors as readily as good ones from older doggy mentors. Jenny can be a good role model for teaching a younger dog to come to their name, however, on her naughty days she can also teach, "I'm deaf to all human voices." Adding a new dog to a home where the established dog(s) are not trained will only increase the tension and difficulties in the home.

I welcome your stories of doggy friends, play places, and my favorite - who are your dog's best friends?
Jenny's best buddy is not either of her sisters - it is my parent's very solid, handsome, same age Boxer - Bogart. He and Jenny will happily spend hours just laying in the yard together, sharing sun beams.


Three Boxers

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