Dogs are generally considered to be social animals, and will often greet each other effusively and play energetically with other dogs that they have only just met. This process normally needs little prompting from humans, and in fact, human interference in the process can cause problems of its own. It is important to socialise dogs properly, and from an early age, in order to ensure that they are safe around other dogs and do not respond to play with inappropriate aggression, and in order to identify and iron out any problems while your dog is at his most receptive to learning.
Understandably, if your dog is particularly small and may be hurt by vigorous play, if they have a health condition that affects their ability to stand up to the rigours of the dog park, or if you know that your dog does not mix well with others, you should keep your dog away from group social situations where possible. But what if your dog doesn’t have any specific issues that might prevent them from playing and socialising with other dogs, and yet somehow they always seem to be the odd one out in group situations, not getting involved in the play and other interactions that other dogs enjoy, or being ostracised by other dogs? What can you do if your dog is the “odd one out?” Read on to learn more about the possible reasons behind the situation, and how to address them.
One of the most common reasons for a dog being reluctant to play with others or other dogs being less keen to play with them is the simple factor of human interference. Dog owners often try to “manage” their dog’s play to a greater extent than they should, and will sometimes be quick to jump in and recall or separate dogs that are just getting to know each other rather than actually fighting or behaving aggressively.
Dogs need to be given free rein to work out their relationships with each other (providing it is safe to do so) and this will include sniffing, and possibly barking and wrestling too. To dogs, having humans constantly intervening or interfering while they are trying to do this is a bit like being constantly interrupted in the middle of a conversation; in the end they will become frustrated that they are not able to communicate with the other party, and will abandon their endeavours to find a less frustrating friend to play with.
If your dog is shy or nervous around others, they may be keen to avoid energetic play or jumping right into the centre of an existing game with others. It can be hard for a shy dog that wishes to play with others to bridge the gap between their desire to play and their natural caution, and the best way to tackle this is gradually. Try walking your dog in popular places during the times that they are quieter and there are fewer dogs around, and possibly trying to see if you can synchronise your visits with the times that certain other dogs that are quieter and less boisterous are there to meet.
Some dogs are generally fine with others, but seem to have a particular fear or dislike of a certain breed or type of dog. This can come about as the result of a previous bad experience with a dog of this type, leading your dog to associate the look of that type of dog with trouble, or vice versa if it is your dog that happens to have the “look” of another dog’s past foes. You might find that you are limited as to what you can do about this, although gradual managed exposure to and interaction with a dog of the apparent problem “type” may help in the long term.
Most dogs get involved in play and socialisation with others from an early age, in a process that seems to happen naturally in its own time. But it is important to know that play and how to interact with other dogs is a learned behaviour, and take into account the fact that some dogs may reach adulthood without having been given the opportunity to learn. Older dogs can still pick up these important social skills, but be prepared to let them do this in their own time.
A group of rowdy retrievers or other energetic dog such as collies that enjoy a lot of running around and have quite the turn of speed may appear to be ostracising other dogs who trail along hoping to be included in the game. This is not usually caused by such dogs deliberately neglecting to include your dog, but more the case that your dog is too small or slow to be able to fully get involved in the game. Your dog may still enjoy trying to keep up, however, or you may wish to keep a lookout for a more slow-paced game or group of dogs to introduce him to!
Just like people, not all dogs are going to get on all of the time. You are probably familiar with the concept of meeting someone and taking an instant dislike to them for no apparent reason, and the same can happen with your dog as well. If your dog and any other given dog simply can’t seem to get on or don’t want to play with each other, put this down to a simple difference of opinions and don’t get hung up on it.
Finally, the simple truth is that some dogs are just less social and interested in other dogs than most. If your dog is one of them, or prefers the company of people to other dogs, he is probably giving out very clear “keep away” or “not interested in playing” signals to the other dogs around, which you are likely to be completely unaware of. In this instance, the other dogs around him are likely responding to your dog’s cues and respecting his wishes, rather than deliberately excluding him.