Understanding your dog’s sociability

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Understanding your dog’s sociability
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By Gina Hardter

Alexandria is a community of animal lovers, and throughout the city you can see signs of this dedication: amazing pet supply stores and training facilities, water and treat bowls lining the streets of Old Town and plenty of dog parks for outdoor play. For these reasons and more, Alexandria has been named by Expedia as one of the top 10 most dog-friendly cities to visit for several years running.

While so many of us love our pups, not all dogs prefer the company of other dogs, and sometimes those decisions are based solely on the circumstances: certain dogs, certain locations, certain situations.

You may hear a variety of terms: dog-social, leash-reactive, dog-selective, barrier averse. But what do these words mean in real life?

Every dog, just like every person, is an individual, and they react to the world around them in their own individual way. We give dogs at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria the chance to interact with other dogs in “dog playgroups” to see how they respond: Do they play? Do they hesitate? Do they seem to prefer their own company?

There are the playgroup “rock stars” who love every dog they meet. Chances are likely that these dogs will continue that pattern in their lives, though, of course, there may be the occasional dog who for one reason or another, they just don’t get along.

Some dogs seem a bit wary when they see another dog through a fence or can’t quite get to them when both are on leash. But when those dogs have the opportunity for supervised play, they might become best buds. Maybe what was causing that initial hesitation was in fact the distance between them, and once they have the chance to meet the other pup up close and personal, they show their true feelings.

Then, there are dogs who, from the outset, tell us, “I’d prefer to avoid other dogs.” They can do it by walking away from the situation. Some may growl or even bark, while others just ignore. These aren’t signs of being “mean” – it’s just a dog using his or her own method to tell us how they are feeling, and, in doing so, showing us their good judgment even in the face of a stressful situation.

Some of these behaviors might change over time. Once a pet gets comfortable in your home, they may interact with other animals differently. Dogs who undergo scary or painful situations with other dogs may also change their behavior. Sometimes age affects how a dog might want to make friends, canine or otherwise.

It’s our responsibility to listen to our pet and to make sure they don’t feel forced into uncomfortable situations, when they might not be able to exhibit their best judgment.

So, the next time you’re taking your dog for a walk and you come across another pup on a leash, take an extra moment to look and understand whether they are trying to tell you something. Just because your dog is a champion with other canines doesn’t mean this new dog is ready to say “hello.”

It doesn’t mean that dog is “friendly” or “not friendly;” much like any human, they have their own personal preferences that we need to respect. When we do, we’re not only being a good best friend, but we’re also continuing to keep Alexandria a safe and comfortable place for our canine companions, as well as the community who supports them.

The writer is the director of marketing and communications for the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supporting Alexandria and beyond. More information is available at AlexandriaAnimals.org.

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