If you've ever seen two dogs racing around chasing each other, mischievously nibbling at each other’s chops or cuddling up together in a basket, it’s obvious that dogs need dogs.
“Having experienced that, you know that no human being can replace a fellow dog as a dog’s buddy,” says Patricia Losche, chairwoman of Germany’s Professional Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants and Trainers (VdTT).
This is also clear as day to Andreas Ohligschlager, a “people-dog coach” and author who says he doesn’t train dogs, but rather sensitises people to their behaviour. His boarding kennel in the German town of Eschweiler accommodates between 35 and 40 dogs daily.
“Of course dogs need other dogs,” he declares. “It’s false to believe that your dog doesn’t need contact with members of its own species just because it has you and gets plenty of loving care from you. Dogs are dogs. They aren’t people.”
Ohligschlager says he often hears people claim that their dog needs no canine company or is too aggressive for it.
“They’re afraid because their dog displays very unsociable behaviour towards other dogs,” he says, so they keep to themselves and, to avoid any hostile encounter, walk the dog only early in the morning or late in the evening.
The dog picks up the feeling of tension.
To break out of this isolation, Losche recommends purposely seeking contact with other people and dogs, adding it’s important to pay attention to little signals during the encounters.
“If you’re not sure how to interpret dogs’ body language, you should first go to a dog obedience school, where there are trainers and the dogs can meet and get acquainted under supervision to begin with,” she says.
Owners who know their pet well can take the usual dog-walking routes, go to a dog park or, better yet, neutral ground. Should the dog encounter one of its own kind, don’t bring the two into potential conflict by throwing an object to fetch or constantly interfering in their interaction. Observe them instead.
“If the hackles on two males immediately stand up when they look at each other, and they strut towards each other on stiff legs, then it’s not a good idea to let them off the leash,” Losche says.
Ohligschlager says: “If you have a confrontational dog that hounds other dogs, you should pull it away and teach it to behave properly.” And while you should make allowances for a timid dog, he adds, you shouldn’t always pack it in bubble wrap, so to speak.
“Dogs can learn a lot from other dogs. Timid and aggressive ones, too.”
How can you tell when dogs are in the mood for new pooch pals?
“When you see that they’re very relaxed and absolutely calm,” says Ohligschlager. And when they approach each other, whimper a little and “play bow”, that is, lean down on their elbows with their bum in the air as a signal to play. This, he says, is how canine communication starts.
Some dog breeds aren’t especially people-oriented and need contact with each other, for example pack dogs such as Beagles or other hunting dog breeds. And there are breeds that by nature get along better with each other.
“Greyhounds have a particular way of playing, with a completely different speed and acceleration. Other breeds can’t keep up with them,” says Losche. This can frustrate other dogs, turning playfulness into aggression.
What should you do if your Fido and another dog go at each other?
Don’t take it too seriously, according to the experts.
“Males, in particular, get rowdy at times and raise a hell of a racket for nothing,” Losche says.
And Ohligschlager advises against dog owners going their separate ways in a huff after a dust-up between their four-legged furries, “maybe commanding your dog to heel as you leave and thinking that the other dog started it or that all dogs are bad”.
It’s better, he suggests, to say to the other dog owner, “That didn’t work out and the two just had a disagreement, but they can still be friendly.”
Then walk together for a little while or wait a moment and chat a bit at a distance from each other. It’s important for both sides, he says, to end the encounter on a positive note. – dpa/Katja Sponholz