Just like people, dogs have their own personalities and they may react differently when it comes to interactions with other dogs. On one hand you have social butterflies, dogs who love mingling with other dogs, then, on the opposite side of the spectrum, you have dogs who don't want to have anything to do with other dogs and the last thing they want is to meet them. There are then several other types of dogs falling somewhere in between. Of course, these are just generalized profiles as every dog's personality may vary and have different facets, but different personality types and dog-to-dog tolerance levels should be kept into consideration especially when it comes to deciding whether to make dogs interact.
Some Factors to Consider
Most dogs are eager to play and interact with other dogs when they are puppies and youngsters, but several have a change of heart as they become socially mature. Generally, starting at the age of 12 to 18 months, several dogs may start to be less and less interested in interacting with other dogs and their tolerance levels may lower. Just like children grow up and stop going to the playground, certain dogs may no longer enjoy trips at the doggy park perhaps often preferring play dates with a handful of dogs they know.
On top of dogs becoming a bit more aloof as they mature, there are several other factors that may play a role in how dogs react to other dogs and their tolerance levels. Handler influence, an over-protective attitude related to their owner, overall socialization levels, past experiences, and even genetics may play a role as to how dogs may tolerate other dogs. However, no rules are written in stone and dog behavior is prone to changing therefore, social butterflies may decide that they no longer enjoy mingling with other dogs, while dogs who have a hard time tolerating dogs may start enjoying being around dogs with proper guidance.
"Many, starting between ages one and three on average, become more selective about their dog friends, less playful in general and less willing to tolerate crude social behavior from other dogs."Jean Donaldson
The Canine Tarzan
The Tarzans of the doggy world are party goers but tend to lack social skills. Their motto is "let's get together and paaaaarty!" These easy going fellows are very forgiving and don't seem to mind even the rudest doggy manners. A dog rushes up and paws at their face? No biggie, it's all part of the fun. After all, these are the same direct behaviors they engage in whether meeting long-time friends or fresher acquaintances (who might not appreciate their coming-on-too-strong greeting style.)
Many youngsters are this way, but some dogs remain perpetual party dogs for the rest of their lives. These dogs love spending time at the dog park, just as party goers love spending time at the disco or local bar partying and mingling with the crowds. On walks, these fellows may pull in their eagerness to mug other dogs in excitement.
The Social Butterfly
These dogs do fine seeing other dogs on walks and are pretty much social beings, but they have more polite manners. Upon meeting new dogs, they may act indifferent or friendly, allowing the other dog to sniff them without complaint. Rude behaviors are generally tolerated as these dogs are quite tolerant and forgiving.
These dogs enjoy the company of other dogs and thrive on social contact even though they may lack the excessive "let's party" obnoxious behaviors of the Tarzans. The play style of social butterflies are within the norm, and because they don't tend to break many social rules they aren't as much in trouble as Tarzan dogs are.
The Canine Maverick
Just like some people would rather enjoy a cup of coffee in front of a fireplace rather than dancing the night away at the night club, some dogs would rather have a good time in other, less chaotic ways. These dogs are not anti-social, they just have their own preferences of what they like to do best.
When placed in a play group, these dogs may be fine with other dogs, but they would rather engage in certain activities than mingle with the crowds. You'll therefore see them interact a bit with the other dogs, but then they'll just stray away and go on a sniffing adventure or engage in a game with their owners. These dogs may do best at the dog park during off-peaks hours. On walks, Maverick dogs tend to ignore other dogs, going on with their business as usual.
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The Party Pooper
Some dogs are selective of who to befriend and they may have low tolerance for unknown dogs who get in their faces and don't follow certain rules when they interact. These dogs may do fine seeing other dogs on walks, but if a Tarzan pulls to greet them and manages to get in their face or place a paw on they'll shoulder, they'll get all upset about it. Same goes during play. Obnoxious behaviors are not well tolerated by these guys. A growl though often works in setting rude dogs straight. These dogs aren't really trying to be party poopers, they just want other dogs to adhere to proper social etiquette.
After all, how would you feel if a total stranger you have never met, rushes to you and gives you a hug? These dogs feel the same way, but they are often frowned upon at the dog park, when owners of Tarzan dogs blame them for not being nice to their dogs who "just wanna have fun."
Just as some people stick to the walls in parties, some dogs will linger by the edges of the dog park. These shy, timid dogs are not too fond of rowdy dog behaviors and often find them intimidating. Well-meaning owners often try to encourage them to join in, but their tails go down as soon as any dog tries to entice them in a game. These dogs aren't really having fun, and if they happen to be cornered, they may even engage in defensive behaviors. The dog park is not suitable for these dogs as they often end up having traumatic experiences which only make them more fearful.
On walks, these dogs may feel intimidated by other dogs and if forced to meet and greet, they may hide between the owner's legs if the other dog is too rowdy.
"Each dog has a different tolerance for meeting and greeting new dogs. Get to know your dog's comfort level." ~ Nancy Kerns
The Reactive Rover
In a perfect world, everybody gets along with one another, but things aren't always as one would dream. Reactive Rovers may have no doggy friends, but if they do, they're only a few they know very well such as the dogs they live with or perhaps just a dog with which they grew up with. On walks, these dogs may display aggressive behaviors such as barking or lunging at other dogs coming too close (no to be confused with barrier frustation); basically, their way of telling them in doggy language to keep distance (distance-increasing behavior).
These dogs may appear tense when other dogs are present. Reactive Rovers can be helped to accept and better tolerate other dogs under the guidance of a trainer, but they may revert to their defensive behaviors if they are mismanaged or set up for failure.
For further reading: What's Your Dog's Play Style?
- Monroe SPCA, Four Categories for Measuring Dog Tolerance Levels, retrieved from the web on Sept 16th, 2016
- Paws Abilities, Taming the Canine Tarzan, retrieved from the web on Sept 16th, 2016
- Visiting the Dog Park: Having Fun, Staying Safe, By Cheryl S. Smith, Dogwise Publishing; 1st edition (March 16, 2007)
- Fight, by Jean Donaldson, Dogwise Publishing (January 1, 2002)