Hit the dog park on any given day, especially if the weather is nice and there are lots of dogs out playing, you’ll find other dogs:
- Hiding behind their owners.
- Standing in corners with their heads down and a single paw lifted.
- Being chased relentlessly by other dogs.
- All the way up to full on fights.
To Thine Ownself Be True
The thing is, not every dog is meant to have a ton of dog buddies, and they’re fine with that. Just like some of us, some dogs prefer a few close friends. Some dogs prefer one on one play time with others. Some prefer no doggy companions at all.
Lots of people try to shoehorn every dog into the persona of “He loves everyone! He loves other dogs!” Basically, they project the personalities of the dogs they grew up seeing on shows or read about in books, or saw in their previous dog onto all dogs.
However, just like humans, dogs can have variations in their personalities. Part of the fun of having a dog (or any other pet for that matter) is learning about their unique selves. Do they like to chew? Chase? Tug? Fetch? Swim? Are they couch potatoes? Bouncing off the walls? Quiet? Happy? Serious? Cuddly?
One of the ways we can appreciate and support our dogs is by learning their preferences when it comes to other dog friends (or not).
Dog Park Dogs
Dogs that do well in dog parks are social, friendly dogs. The best ones are easy-going and/or respond well to other dog’s play signals. They’re likely to have grown up in a home with other dogs or have been going to the dog park and/or visiting other dog buddies since they were old enough to visit.
Some dogs may find the number of other dogs at a park overwhelming, but still enjoy the company of other dogs in moderation. If your dog seems uncomfortable at a dog park, they may enjoy a more intimate playdate instead.
You can set up playdates with friends in your yard or theirs.
Some dogs prefer to be the only dog around, or they may just not be interested in playing with other dogs.
If your dog doesn’t mind others, but isn’t interested in playing, you may want to try to arrange to take walks or hikes with other dogs. Often dogs on walks/hikes are too interested in investigating the environment to really “play” with one another, and these walks can be done on leash to help make sure everyone has the space they need if necessary.
Medical & Behavioral Conditions
If your dog prefers to be the only dog around, that’s fine. Sometimes, that’s just the way things happen. However, you may wish to rule out medical conditions to make sure your dog isn’t just avoiding others to prevent themselves from getting hurt or making a hurt worse. My own dog, Izzy, was like this for some time after originally injuring her CCL, and would growl at others (including humans!) that came too close or bumped her knee.
After you rule out a medical condition, if your dog has strong reactions to other dogs such as barking, lunging, growling, etc without provocation from the other dog (say, just when you see them out on a walk), you should speak with a behavior consultant or certified behaviorist about dog reactivity.
How Play Styles Change Things
Dogs can have different types of play styles, and these differences can actually change the category above that your dog can fit into!
For example, a dog that prefers chasing and body slamming will love the dog park (where they’re likely to find quite a few dogs with matching interests), but a dog that prefers wrestling will feel out of place in a field full of chasers and slammers.
Observe how your dog plays with you and other dogs if they have other dog buddies, and make a note of the things they do most often. If you know your dog’s preferences, you may be able to spot days at the park when there are more dogs that match. You may also be able to find a few buddies with similar interests to invite for play dates instead!
Make sure you dog is vaccinated before visiting a dog park. At a minimum, your dog should have a rabies vaccination and a parvo vaccination. Bordatella, aka, Kennel Cough vaccinations are also recommended for dogs who will be around others.
Healthy dog play will include lots of stopping and starting. Invitations to continue play. Full on breaks.
It is important to note that sometimes, things can get out of hand, especially with younger or inexperienced dogs. They may incorrectly read their playmate’s signals, and this can cause a fight if they continue to push. If you notice your dog pushing another to play when that dog has said “no more, thanks,” try to call your dog to you for a break. This is one of the top reasons a good recall before you go to the park is so important!
Play Their Way
Don’t worry if your dog isn’t a dog park dog, or even a playdate dog. Just love them for who they are and try to give them the best life you can.
If your dog does like the park, do them a favor and teach them the cues from you that make life simpler, and learn as much as you can about dog behavior so that you can keep them safe while playing (more on that soon!).