Angel and Frankie: peaceful coexisters if not friends

This week’s question was: Does your dog need to play with other dogs to have a completely fulfilled life?

Many people who responded in the comments section of the post that posed this question or on Twitter didn’t necessarily advocate dog parks as a venue for play, but suggested alternatives because, the consensus was, dogs need to be “with their own kind” to some degree.

All dogs? Really?

Historical evidence

The history of the domestication of dogs is a history of dogs working to endear themselves to humans, not to each other. All the jobs that dogs came to excel at — from hunting to guarding and herding — were oriented towards people, who bred them to be even better at those jobs (at least before modern times, when many are bred to conform to very peculiar and dangerous physical standards, but that’s another topic entirely).  Among the employment opportunities for dogs were being love sponges. Spaniels, for example, get their names from Spain, which was believed to be the land of great lovers. They were specifically bred, as  author and psychologist Stanley Coren puts it, to be sucky-faced.

General anecdotal evidence

No question: Dogs mourn other dogs that they live with when they die. They also help each other.

It’s also true that dogs don’t write history books.  If examples of extreme long-term doggie devotion to other dogs exist, I don’t know about them.

Hachiko, the poster dog for devotion

We do, however, know about Hachiko, the Akita who waited for his master every day at the train station after he died; Lassie and Timmy; Rin Tin Tin and whoever his family was… The list goes on.

Personal anecdotal evidence

Frankie was five or six years old when I first got him more than five years ago and probably had never been socialized to other dogs. At the time, I didn’t know what socialization meant; I thought all dogs liked to hang out together. I took him to a dog park, one that had an area set aside for small dogs.  I also didn’t know I was supposed to introduce him to the experience gradually, to come when only a few other dogs were there. I’m not sure if it would have made a difference, though. He so clearly hated the whole experience that I never brought him back.

Next, I took him to a small dog training class. Another bust, even under the supervision of a professional. He was too stressed to accept treats or even to stay far away from me. Play with the other small dogs? No, thank you.

That doesn’t mean Frankie doesn’t interact at all with other dogs. We walk on a trail every morning, and every morning we encounter people with polite dogs who try to say hello to him. Frankie is generally not upset by them; he doesn’t growl unless they literally get in his face. He’s simply not interested. Sometimes he tolerates their sniffs, sometimes he uses me as a human shield, but he’s never initiated play.

And he’s also fine walking with other dogs. Every Tuesday and Thursday we walk with Angel, a miniature poodle, and her person, Jackie. Angel is as shy as Frankie is. They don’t greet each other when we meet, but they co-exist peacefully. He’s walked with other dogs before (and even played with one, the famous Archie, but that was then…). No problem.


Perhaps the notion of personal fulfillment for dogs has been taken a bit too far. If a dog doesn’t present a risk or even an annoyance to other dogs or to people and a human gives him plenty of attention and love, who’s to judge that the dog isn’t being all the dog that he can be?

19 thoughts on “Friday Focus: Do real dogs need other dogs?”

  1. Love your opening line! “The history of the domestication of dogs is a history of dogs working to endear themselves to humans, not to each other.”

    We think of Ty as being like a cat. He doesn’t like being touched or petted or being around other dogs. He’s really quite aloof, even choosing when and where to bestow his affection on us. If Ty could talk I imagine he might say he is fulfilled enough without being around other dogs. Now if he only do something about that damned interloper, Buster!

    1. Thanks, Rod. Yeah, I’ve occasionally thought about getting another dog when I see one that needs to be rescued, but the thought of Frankie’s annoyance has always deterred me.

  2. ” If a dog doesn’t present a risk or even an annoyance to other dogs or to people and a human gives him plenty of attention and love, who’s to judge that the dog isn’t being all the dog that he can be?”

    Beautifully stated.

  3. Generally, we all know our dogs well and while we may attempt to add adventures trying to give them new fun experiences and a more developed sense of their own doggyness, those choices and need to provide them are on us, not them. Our POV is not theirs. It’s a wonderful thing when a dog is capable, interested and excited by meeting doggy pals in controlled circumstances, and the dog’s person wants to participate in that.

    1. Yes, it’s easy to get caught up in theories about what we *should* do for our dogs as opposed to what they actually need. It’s always nice when common sense and the path of least resistance intersect!

  4. Archie and I concur. He made it clear, when I briefly babysat or fostered other dogs, that it’s all about the person (as distinct from people in general), and I respect that.

    1. Archie is very wise! Too bad Frankie didn’t continue to consider him a mentor… but I respect that too.

  5. I am a very sociable dog and have many friends.

    I live with another dog, Mr Thumper, who’s quite sniffy about people cuddling him and who didn’t really like meeting other dogs until he was quite old.

    I like what you said about Angel and Frankie: peaceful coexisters if not friends.

    That’s exactly how it is between Mr Thumper and me. He’s not my friend. He’s mostly just my housemate.

    1. I’m glad to hear you’re not giving Mr. Thumper a hard time and insisting that he play with you; it sounds like you’ve got plenty of other pals.

  6. I just know what MY dogs tell me 😉 They do love company and play with other dogs. Doesn’t mean that all do. But to our guys it does seem to be important.

  7. It is a lot about the picture we all have in our head of the perfect dog and how they should behave in the company of other humans and dogs. All our training and education seem to strive towards that goal. And in our ambition we take it too far: ending up doing it for ourselves, not the dogs.

    Viva is a fearfull dog like Frankie, and while I was in the beginning very eager to do something about her fears towards other dogs, I take it much more relaxed now. Why would I stress her trying to meet other dogs daily (on whatever distance). Now we take a walk trying to prevent meeting other dogs. For Viva, those walks are much more fullfilling. And when we meet another dog, well nothing else we can do then to take it as a “training moment”.

    But it all depends on the dog. Kenzo loves the interaction with his peers and for him it is great when we meet other dogs. Like you write in your article, I don’t think he has a need whatsoever for it. He is a happy dog also on days we have not meet any other dogs. But I like to think it enriches his life, so thats why I try to let him have it.

    1. You’ve hit the nail on the head: We have this notion of the ideal dog that’s tough to dislodge. It sounds like you’ve done that with Viva, though. Kudos.

  8. The whole “do dogs need other dogs” theme can be extrapolated to include making the decision to get a 2nd dog. A lot of times, people will pick up a 2nd addition to the family because they feel their first doggy is “lonely” or would benefit from some much needed companionship during the day.

    I’ve heard a lot of horror stories where once the 2nd dog is introduced into the family unit the 2 dogs just don’t get along and sometimes even dislike each other whether it’s because of age differences or just personality differences / “sibling” rivalry etc.

    It’s like if someone said to you, “Hey I’ve seen you’ve been kind of not going out as much so I went and found you a permanent roommate. Oh don’t worry about the fact that he’s younger than you and really hyper, is always taking your stuff and putting his spit all over it, will jump and body slam you when you don’t expect it, AND will cocasionally bite your ears just for fun…at least now you won’t be lonely anymore…!” Bleh…!

    I think in some cases…”one” isn’t the loneliest number. 😀

    1. The unwanted roommate is a great analogy, Jon. I agree. If *you* want another dog, that’s one thing. If you’re getting one just as a companion for a solo dog, you’d likely be better off getting a dog walker, taking the dog to doggie daycare a few times a week… it’s bound to be less expensive than full time care of a second dog, and it can be tailored towards the one you’re trying to please.

  9. Dogs are individuals. Jas is happy with a human and a squeaky ball. Bryn turns into a screaming whirling dervish at the end of the lead if not allowed to say hello to every dog she sees. If a dog snubs her all hell breaks loose. Jas would like her better if her idea of fun wasn’t to grab his leg.

  10. I have one dog, Cupid, who really prefers people. Or I guess I should say, his person (me). He will occasionally play with his doggy sibling or a couple of doggy pals. But he he rarely initiates play with other dogs.

    My other dog, Clayton, loves people and other dogs. I am always on the lookout for new doggy pals for him, because he absolutely loves playing. I fostered a dog once, and he loved it. Cupid, not so much.

    I consider them the yin/yang pair. 🙂 They are individuals, neither one more or less of a dog than the other.

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