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?
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.
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?