Just like you don’t become best friends with every person you meet in line at the grocery store, dogs don’t automatically love every other dog they meet. There is a scale of sociability and just because some dogs don’t enjoy meeting or playing with strange dogs, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with them.
The Scale of Selectiveness
The scale of dog selectiveness refers to the range of preferences and reactions dogs have when faced with meeting a new dog. Social dogs are at one end and aggressive dogs are at the other, with dog tolerant and dog selective dogs in between. This scale is fluid and dogs may shift their position on the scale based on lived experiences and development. For example, most puppies start out as being dog social, but as they age and reach adulthood, many will naturally begin to shift their feelings about engaging with strange dogs to more of the middle of the selectivity scale and will become more dog tolerant or dog selective.
Dog social dogs are generally always happy, eager, and comfortable when meeting new dogs and tend to enjoy dog parks and dog daycare environments. These are the kinds of dogs we often see on TV or in movies who are eager and excited to see other dogs and are very comfortable meeting, playing, engaging, and living with them.
Dog tolerant dogs can sometimes be mistaken for dog social dogs because, even though they don’t generally love engaging with other dogs, they tend to be naturally neutral and tolerant of seeing or even engaging with dogs they don’t know. These dogs often appear to be relaxed at the sight of other dogs and even when meeting them, but do not generally seek out those encounters. They tend to do well in multi-dog households, and don’t require a lot of extra management or support when meeting or playing with known dog friends who also have good dog social skills. Dog tolerant dogs often do well with dog friends and enjoy playing with them.
Dog selective dogs are pickier about what dogs they like and are comfortable being approached by. These dogs are sometimes leash-reactive and may display behaviors like barking or lunging at some or all dogs they see. They benefit from close supervision when meeting other dogs. Dog selective dogs often have certain types of dogs that they are comfortable with or who they don’t like. Sometimes this preference is based on the size of the other dog or on a certain physical characteristic like pricked ears. A dog’s tendency to like or dislike another dog may also be rooted in behavior, for example not liking bouncy puppy-like energy, or dogs they perceive as being rude or boisterous. Dog selective dogs may be able to cohabitate with other dogs, or have dog friends, but may require extra support from their owners to introduce and manage their interactions with those dogs in the home.
Dog aggressive dogs are generally not comfortable being approached or greeted by other dogs, even dogs who are behaving playfully. Aggressive dogs need lots of gentle management and supervision anytime they will be near other dogs. Some aggressive dogs are able to learn and develop solid manners where they can completely ignore other dogs, but generally will still be uncomfortable and act aggressively if those dogs come into their space. These dogs are often happiest not having any interactions with other dogs, though with proper training, introductions, management, and supervision, some (but not all) can live with select other dogs.
What Determines Dog Selectiveness
Dogs are individuals who will have unique preferences about how they engage with other dogs. A dog’s selectiveness and desire to engage with other dogs is based on a variety of factors including genetics, socialization, training, breed traits, individual personality, and positive and negative experiences they have had near or with other dogs. Intentional socialization by exposing your dog in appropriate ways to new places, experiences, people, and friendly adult dogs and puppies is an important part of puppy development. Unfortunately, it does not guarantee that your adult dog will be dog social, or even tolerant or neutral toward other dogs in all situations when they are an adult.
It’s important to keep in mind that different breeds of dogs have different temperaments and sociability with other dogs and people. Some breeds, especially as they reach maturity, are more suspicious, wary, or protective, which can impact their desire to engage socially with other dogs, especially strange dogs. On the other hand, some breeds will be more predisposed to naturally staying dog social into adulthood. Remember that breed characteristics are just one factor, and each dog is an individual with different likes, dislikes, and history.
Can Dog Selectiveness Change?
A dog’s level of selectivity is something that may shift and evolve over time. Most puppies start out as dog social and naturally tend to become more tolerant or selective as they age. Positive age-appropriate training and socialization experiences will help dogs stay or become more comfortable being around or greeting strange dogs. Similarly, negative experiences like being scared or attacked by another dog can have an impact on a dog’s level of comfort with the presence of other dogs in the future.
Respect Your Dog’s Boundaries
It can be tempting to wish, hope, or imagine that the dog you bring home, or the puppy that you raise, will be a social dog happy to meet and play with any dog they meet. But that isn’t naturally who every dog is. Try to always respect your dog’s comfort around other dogs. If you know your dog is uninterested or uncomfortable being approached by strange dogs, support your dog by asking other dog owners to not to allow their dogs to approach. If you have a social dog, instead of allowing your dog to approach and greet all other dogs they see, prioritize training your dog to respond neutrally and ignore other dogs you might encounter. Only allow greetings when you have asked other owners for permission and know their dog is also eager to greet.
If at any point you aren’t sure or are nervous about your dog’s engagement with other dogs, it’s always okay to reach out for help. A dog trainer can help you manage and understand your dog’s interactions with other dogs, looking at behavior, body language, and how they interact near and when greeting dogs. A trainer will also support you with determining if your dog is frustrated or overexcited about wanting to greet other dogs, or if they are fearful and uncomfortable about the close presence of a strange dog.