Dogs need friends

By Scott Hunt

The Dog Grumbler

 

DOGS are social creatures like us – they need the company of their own kind to be happy.

Of course, dogs left to their own devices don’t thrive in a human world, so ideally a balance must be struck between family life and dog society.

Both take time to learn, but dogs have this capacity.

There’s lots of advice available on showing a dog how to fit into a family and into human society generally, but not much about that other part of the dogs’ world, so here are some thoughts on the subject.

I am convinced that dogs learn best from other dogs. After all, they understand each other better than we understand them.

Dogs exposed to well-behaved dogs learn manners – the manners they need for human society and another set for dog interaction.

They need to exchange smells, enact rituals, share experiences and play dog games with other dogs to be happy and complete.

We know we need to socialise a pup to prepare it for all the things it might face in day-to-day life as it grows up, but simple exposure to other dogs and occasional visits doesn’t constitute a full social life.

I am lucky enough to live close to several off-lead areas where dogs can enjoy each other’s company, make new friends and touch base with old ones.

It’s a wonderful thing to watch.

Like most of the things dogs learn, social skills come slowly — you take baby steps, make short visits, meet some folks, go home and sleep on it, come back the same time tomorrow or next week and eventually a dog has a bunch of dog friends it sees down at the park.

You only have to watch dogs together to see how important interaction with their own kind is to them.

This is not to diminish the importance of the relationship each dog needs with a human or human family, but a happy dog needs both.

Travelling in a group is ritual behaviour to a dog. Riding in a car together or walking around a park bonds them as they share new smells.

In my experience, dogs that travel together — be it walking or driving — inevitably become friends, as long as there is good human guidance.

One thing that stands in the way of dogs making friends this way is the tendency for humans to misinterpret dog interaction.

Too often, polite dog conversation is seen as aggression and dogs are denied a chance of establishing natural, healthy relationships.

Relax a little. Let them wrangle over a bone or a preferred car seat. As I always say, if there’s no blood, then it’s just dog talk.

It may not make sense to us, but it’s a big part of being a dog — so give your best friend a good life by a dog’s standards and allow for a social life.

Given half a chance, it’s good to be a dog.