Should I Expect My Dog To Be Social All Of The Time?

It was like any other day, not very different from the one before.  I was feeling ok, I just had my coffee, and the sun was shining.  But for some reason, I felt the notion of making conversation right then to be overwhelming.  Seeing any other person at that moment seemed intrusive.  I was enjoying the day on my terms.

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As I looked at my dogs that morning, I thought of our lives the past year and a half on the road.  Camping is a different kind of life, often throwing an introvert like myself into panic.  You walk outside of your door…people.  You take a walk…people.  You are inside your house on wheels…you  hear…people.  And sometimes, it drives me crazy.

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We have all heard that our dogs are so called social, pack animals.  And I agree, most of the time.  But shocker…they don’t want to see other dogs all of the time.  They don’t want to see people all of the time.  I am not sure when we decided that our dogs, even though they are supposed to want to be around other dogs, should want to be around others all of the time on command.  Or demand.

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Some of us may have adopted rescue dogs and are unaware of their fears or past experiences.  We may feel embarrassed when they growl at other dogs or people.  I’ve been there.  I have tried to make excuses.  “They’re older”.  “They are tired”.  And I suppose it is nicer than saying they don’t really want to be around you today.  The truth is, they can’t tell us their past experiences or why they may be having a bad day.  So do we recognize this when it happens?  Do we take into account their individual personalities?  Do we try to make them into something that they are not, or don’t want to be?

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I had a foster dog, one that didn’t particularly care for most people and tolerated some dogs.  I thought by exposing him over and over again to other people and dogs that this would somehow make him want to be social.  And I guess some trainers would recommend this.  But one day, I realized that it was like I was dragging him to a party every day.  As I have said, I am an introvert by nature.  If I was made to go to a party every day, would I learn to like people more?  Yeah…no.  So why was I trying to change my foster dog?  The happiest he was was laying in the sun alone or eating dinner in peace by himself.  Was I trying to change him as an individual?   I will tell you that no matter what I did, his personality did not change.  And it took three more foster families to recognize that he could not be changed.  And yes, he finally found a home that let him be himself.  And happy.

Now, I am not saying that under some circumstances, for our dog’s own safety and well-being, training is necessary.  And I am not a trainer and don’t want to be, so I can’t say when this would help your dog.  But for my dogs, I have realized their bad days are often  a warning.  Dogs have a “fight or flight” instinct.  And I don’t want them to be in that position.  There are days Brickle growls at every passing dog or person at camp, wanting to protect our space.  There are days when he cries to see the same people.  I realize that just like that day I wanted to relish my cup of coffee alone, perhaps he feels that way as well.  So instead of exposing him to an irritating situation, we change our situation.

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Some may say I am giving in to bad behavior.  But my view is that I am respecting their needs while making less problems for myself!  Were dogs made to be around others on our terms all of the time?  Do we not put our dogs in situations that may be unnatural like eating at restaurants or in large crowds?  I try to think about what situation I am putting them in, judge their reaction for that day, and if we need to leave, we do.  There have been days when they met another dog at a dog park that they didn’t like.  There have been days when just the sight of a kid irritates Brickle.  There have been days when Digby jumps on other dogs at random to hump them!  Yes.  It’s real life with our dogs.

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Being a dog parent includes respect.  Respect for our dogs, respect for others.  I am not saying I am the best dog parent.  But truly recognizing their needs as individuals I believe is a great start.  I forget about the rules and the books I have read because my dogs are worth more than that.  I don’t need anyone to tell me the right and wrong way of taking care of them.  They tell me…if I listen.

-Rachael Johnson, Girl Person, Owner, 2 Traveling Dogs

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5 thoughts on “Should I Expect My Dog To Be Social All Of The Time?

  1. If you say, “dogs are people, too” you get laughed at. If you say, “People are animals, too”, you get scowled at. Whichever, dogs aren’t public petting toys and shouldn’t have all their character trained out of them. We pass so many dogs on our walks that aren’t allowed to sniff anything in passing, let alone bark a greeting at another canine. Then when ours is running around, barking, you see the other dogs looking… reminds me of seeing a nun in Rome sitting next to another lady on the bus who was reading Cosmo. The nun was looking over and reading along. With all due respect to the nun, I think everyone gets my point.
    On the other hand, when we were on holiday recently, we explained to the people sitting near us that our doggie didn’t like strangers just coming up to her, and that SHE decides when she gets a pat. Twice came the reply, “Good for you, girl!”

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  2. Margaret

    I’m so glad someone thinks the same way I do! I don’t think dogs need to be socially active with other dogs or people to have a full, happy life – just like humans who are happy without interacting with bunches of people on a daily basis. I myself treasure my alone time, as does our Yorkie teddy. When someone comes to visit if he feels like coming out and saying hello, fine; if not that’s O.K. too. I never force him to be around people or other dogs.
    And I sure know how you feel! I have been invited to a party in January and I’m already dreading it. Just like dogs, I have to be in the mood.

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  3. Lynne M Smith

    We should all recognize our pups limitations!
    My LT, when he’s in a leash, will bark at any dog on a leash. At the dog park, he runs and plays, no problem.
    My dog Ryder is social in any situation.
    Thanks for the great insight Rachel. We need to realize, that our pups are individuals and we need to treat them so.

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  4. 100%. Each dog is their own, their own needs, wants, personality just like people. And yup they are the best teachers in the business, when people are able to set aside their own stuff, expectations and pressures and really listen and observe their dogs good things usually happen in my experience. Great post 🙂

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  5. Jacqueline

    Woo hoo!!! I’m still up for a Saturday’s Girl Person Editorial!!! This is the realest explanation for so-called “Dog’s Behaving Badly” or whatever you want to call it, of all time!! The internet and the world loves dogs, no doubt, but if we have learned anything and everything from them, it’s how intuitive they are!! So, say said “parent/owner” is having a depressed/anxiety/bi-polar, ADHD, or, God forbid, Chemo-CANCER day, the babies are going to feel it, along with all of their OWN mood, anxieties and feelings. And I trust my dog more than most people. ALL of my dogs. I wish I would have listened to them more than some of the people I’ve been around!! And your babies are ALWAYS being exposed to new surroundings, people, sounds, smells and the moods of you and Nate. No doubt, they feel that, especially as close as you four have been on The Adventure! And travel is stressful!! Beautiful, Rachael. As always, and not just because I’m still up. This is a For-Real, I wish people would actually behave like “babies/pets” are FAMILY, with all the same qualities. They are NOT rentals or side-hobbies. xoxoxo

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