DEAR DIDI: I want my rescue dog to get along with other dogs and have friends. I would love to take him to the dog park to play with others but he barks insanely any time we go anywhere near the park! -Worried Mommy
DEAR WORRIED MOMMY: People say this to me … a LOT! My response is almost always, “Why?”
It is so easy to over anthropomorphize when it comes to our precious dogs. This means applying human traits, desires, and actions to a non-human animal. The internet uses the example of the Easter Bunny beginning an anthropomorphized rabbit. While it can be beneficial to use human comparisons while trying to understand our dogs’ behaviors it can be equally very detrimental when over used.
While raising a child, we all recognize that it is our responsibility to make sure we instill certain skills that our kid will need as an adult to succeed in life and be happy. Besides self-control, managing finances, morality and organizational skills, they must learn how to “play nice with others”. There will be a never ending parade of co-workers, bosses, employees, politicians, and neighbors that they must work well with in life. This is quite a task and takes the better part of 18 years for most to get the hang of it. Okay, some never do! Hence my argument.
Humans can’t even manage to get along with all other humans! Our four legged children are dear to us but they are NOT human. Nature does not intend for all dogs to be friends, or at the very least, be polite to one another. It doesn’t even benefit them directly to do so. In their minds they might lose valuable resources by sharing space with another dog. Valuable resources to a dog would be food, water, toys, prize sleeping places, and the human’s affection.
Some dogs are awesome and do manage to be very social with other dogs. However, in a behaviorist’s eyes, we watch 20 dogs “playing” in a park and see many of the same issues young kids exhibit on a playground. There are playground bullies, shy kids, grumpy kids, independent kids, focused kids, and silly kids. Many people at dog parks don’t know which personality trait their dogs are exhibiting and aren’t intervening appropriately in many situations. Even though a dog leaves the dog park physically unharmed, there may be psychological repercussions to having been bullied or having enjoyed being the bully.
Your dog should have YOU as his best friend. Certainly, he needs to be polite when walking on a leash around other dogs in order to go to a veterinarian’s office, a groomer, or a hotel when you go on vacation, but it might be asking too much to expect him to “like” all other dogs.
You mention that your dog is a rescue, so we also can’t ignore that he may have experiences with other dogs that weren’t exactly fun for him. Sometimes barking insanely is just a sign of excitement and wanting to play.
If you want to have him evaluated safely to see how developed his dog to dog social skills are, please contact us for an assessment.
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. To ask your dog behavior question, email www.CaliforniaCanineUnleashed.com.