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Is your dog an introvert? Many people think all dogs should be social butterflies and enjoy engaging with dogs and people. How social your dog is actually depends a lot on their breed. Golden Retrievers, for example, are super open to strangers and love being around people. Getting to know the breed, as well as your dog’s individual boundaries is an important part of knowing when dogs need space.

Some dogs, for example, don’t like being approached by strangers, whether that’s people or dogs. One of the best things dog owners can do is to understand their individual dog’s need for space and not pressure them to engage when they feel uncomfortable. Allowing your dog to have space they need can help in all aspects of your training, and prevent serious behavioral issues from developing.

Why Dogs Might Need Space

“In many respects, dogs are like people,” explains Mary R. Burch, PhD, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and AKC Family Dog Director. “There are times that we need some space, and times that dogs need space.” She notes that there are a variety of reasons a dog might need space either on a specific day, or ongoing.

Yellow Labrador retriever sitting on the couch next to a man giving a high-five.
©YakobchukOlena -

All dogs, even the most social dogs, have times when they just need a break. “This could be to take a nap, or simply chill out after an active day around people and other dogs. Many therapy dog handlers report that their dogs love therapy work, but when they come home, they want to just go and be quiet. This is a stress reliever,” says Dr. Burch. Other dogs might need breaks if they’re sick or recovering from surgery, and as they age, some senior dogs need more space to get rest. Similarly, a dam with a new litter of puppies may want space for herself and those puppies.

Dr. Burch also explains that dogs who are fearful or insecure often need more space. Giving dogs space from distractions can also be helpful as part of training on your own, or during class. “A dog in a learning situation with its trainer often does better if there is space between the dog and other dogs and people in a class,” she says. “It can focus more and is not distracted by other stimuli such as noises, other dogs moving around, etc.”

Although any dog might need space from time to time, there are also breed characteristics to keep in mind. Dr. Burch notes that some breeds and breed mixes are naturally going to be more social and need less space than others. “In general, Golden Retrievers are more social and want to be around people than many Chow Chows,” Dr. Burch explains. Though of course, there will be individual dogs with their own needs for space.

Ilkka Koivula/Shutterstock

Signs Your Dog Needs Space

Dogs are very good at communicating what they want and need. It’s up to us to pay attention to those needs. Dr. Burch explains that common signs a dog needs space is that they’ll walk away or separate themselves from people or animals.

“They often go to a safe place when they need space. This may include their crate, their bed, or another room, such as a bathroom or your bedroom,” she says. If your dog is distancing themself and creating space, we want to respect that requested distance and let our dog have a break from being social.

If you ignore their need for space, dogs can act out. They don’t want to resort to this behavior, but if IGNORED, they can progress to this. “If you or someone else don’t read the signs that the dog needs space, the dog might let you know by growling, snarling, or snapping at you. These signs say, ‘Back off…I already asked nicely,'” Dr. Burch cautions. Make sure those around your dog understand that it’s important to give your dog space when they’re asking for it.

How to Give Your Dog Space

The most important first step for supporting dogs in need of space is paying attention to your dog’s body language. This can help indicate how your dog is feeling, and if they’re getting overwhelmed. If you notice your dog is getting stressed or agitated, that’s a good sign they need space.

Dr. Burch also says it’s important to pay attention to how your dog is behaving during activities. She advises providing your dog with a safe and quiet space to retreat to when things become too stimulating, like when you have guests over. If they seem to disengage or refuse to do activities, that’s a sign they’ve had enough and need a break. Respect who your dog is as an individual and set them up to succeed.

“Don’t put a dog who is an introvert in a high stimulation setting with many other dogs where it can’t get away,” says Dr. Burch. We want to do our best to always take our dog’s emotional state and need for space seriously. Respecting your dog’s need for personal space isn’t just a nice thing to do, it can help prevent serious behavior issues. “Dogs who aren’t given the space they need can become stressed, anxious, or unfortunately, even aggressive,” she advises.

Beagle laying down in its open crate.
©jagodka -

There are many ways you can give your dog space. If you notice your dog is struggling to focus around distractions, like the sight of another dog while out walking, it can help to create space by crossing the street to help your dog regain focus on you. Try to provide space in your home where your dog knows they can go to get away from people or other animals if they get overstimulated. This might look like a crate with an open door your dog can always access, or a quiet bedroom your dog knows they can retreat to.

Dog owners with dogs who need space are always in search of ways to better advocate for their dogs. Dr. Burch notes that some dog owners are using yellow colored ribbon tied to their dog’s leash or a yellow collar as part of a global movement to signal a dog needs space. “The problem with this (unless there is something printed on the ribbon) is most people have never heard of this and will think it is decorative,” she adds. If you add a yellow ribbon to your dog’s leash, you’ll still need to be vigilant about your surroundings and be prepared to speak up to advocate for your dog’s needs.

Communicating to People That Your Dog Needs Space

Golden Retriever sitting with people in an office.

Your dog is looking at you for guidance and to keep them safe. Advocating for your dog’s need for space and preventing people or dogs from approaching is important. You are under no obligation to let anyone engage with your dog. It’s perfectly OK for your dog to not want to say hi. If someone asks to pet your dog, don’t feel guilty for saying no. Similarly, your dog doesn’t have to be social with other dogs to be a good dog. The most important thing is not putting our dogs in stressful situations.

Dr. Burch advises that it’s best for dog owners to clearly communicate what their dogs need. “Step right up and be direct. Tell the person, ‘My dog needs space right now. Could you back up a little bit? Maybe you can pet him later,'” she advises. You can also put yourself physically between your dog and another dog or person to help your dog feel more comfortable. This helps your dog to know that you will create and enforce the space they need.

If you have people visiting your house who aren’t listening to your instructions about ignoring your dog, Dr. Burch advises that it’s best to take your dog to another area of the house or their crate to remove your dog from the stressful situation. By giving your dog this space, you can reduce their stress, which can help prevent their behavior from possibly escalating to aggression.
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