When dog meets dogs

Oct 28 2014 : Mirror (Bangalore)

The words we use to describe dog behaviour are often loaded with assumptions. One such term is “social“. Dogs are indeed hyper social animals. They like the company of their own species and ours and we love them for it. However, we need to understand how dogs interact with their own species and with us; and what socialisation, play and fight mean to dogs.

One of the best places to observe healthy dog-dog interaction is in villages that are not as crowded and fast paced as cities. Heading off to the hills with our dogs has taught a lot.
When dogs greet each other, it’s not about full frontal hugs and air kisses; that’s a human thing. Dogs are quite averse to it, though many dogs learn to tolerate it from humans over time. Dogs themselves view head-on encounters as confrontational. When dogs meet, often a lot of nonconfrontational signs exchanged between them. They are very subtle and easy to miss. Some are hard for us to understand. Dogs seem most interested in each other’s rear ends.Some dogs flop down and go on their backs. Some dogs just decide that this is not a potential friendship for them and walk away. This is something we need to accept as natural meeting rituals of dogs.
The critical mistake we make at this stage is not to give dogs the calm environment and space they need. Often, in our eagerness to be social with other humans, we pollute the environment with a lot of talk, laughter and artificial camaraderie. We also tend to expect party behaviour in dogs, where a dog enters an environment with several other dogs and greet all cordially, just as we do at parties. But in the canine world, all that is noise and stress. It’s too much for dogs and it can all fall apart at meet-and-greet itself.One-on-one meetings between dogs are better; in fact, completely avoid talking to the dogs when two dogs are meeting. Ideally, dogs should meet on leash, but it’s important to keep the leash slack, so as not to interfere with their communication.
Dog-dog play is not always rambunctious as we see in movies. While it’s fun to watch dogs burst into play, they immensely enjoy just spending time with their doggy friends and doing doggy activities together. Village doggy-friends often go exploring interesting smells or take walks together.Intense play happens in very short bursts, lasting just a few seconds. Play can easily turn into fight if there are too many dogs in too small a space or if dogs are tired. At the first sign of fatigue, break up the play session and allow your dog to rest, even if it seems like the play session was too short.
If the dogs do break into a fight, it’s important not to yell and add to the commotion. Instead, react fast and walk away from the situation, calling your dog in a friendly tone. Your dog is most likely to walk behind you. But breaking up fights in dogs can be very dangerous to people. It’s best to be vigilant when there are multiple dogs around and at the first sign of dogs tensing up or tiring out, separate them and let them rest. The tell-tale signs are stiffening of the muscles, intense staring, excessive yawning, growling or baring teeth.
While dog-socialisation is catching, a common error is crowding. Arrange play sessions between just two dogs and allow them to sniff around and explore a lot or take a walk together, instead of being in each other’s faces. It’s safer and more pleasant for dogs. The best of play sessions are short, sweet and safe.
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