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As we watched our younger dog go from puppy to young adult, we started to notice some things about her play behavior. One of those was that as she grew older, she started to be more picky about dogs. She went from liking almost every dog she met as a puppy to only connecting with some dogs and not others. This is a more common occurrence than you may think. It had us wondering, why does my dog like some dogs and not others? Here are 11 reasons that might affect how dogs choose their friends.
To understand how dogs choose their friends, it's important to understand how they make friends. Dog socialization is rooted in canine communication, which is mostly done through body language and scent. These are the primary ways dogs communicate with one other and set the stage for positive or negative socialization.
Your dog may not like something about another dog's body language. For example, they may be displaying dominance or over-excitement. Many overexcited dogs can trigger another dog who prefers to meet calmly or get to know each other before any high-energy interactions. Dogs can sense subtle body cues that humans cannot, so you may not notice anything different but your dog does. Dogs can even read body language from a distance, meaning they may have made their mind up long before meeting another dog.
While humans scan the world with their eyes, dogs do so with their noses. It's their way of gaining information about their surroundings, including other dogs. Your pup simply may not be fond of the scents of another dog. Dogs can also pick up scent from a distance, which means they can have a wealth of olfactory information before coming into contact with another dog.
If your dog had a negative experience with another dog in the past, they may react to new dogs they meet that have a similar look, smell or demeanor. A dog may become timid, fearful or temporarily aggressive around these "similar" dogs. And again, your dog may be able to sense the similarities from a distance, triggering a reaction from afar. Unfortunately, you won't know if this is the reason behind your dog's behavior unless you know your dog's complete history, which isn't usually the case.
Pro Tip: This is also the case on the flip side, for positive past experiences - many dogs will be more social towards dogs that look, smell or act like current or past friends.
Some dogs are turned off by another because they exhibit improper or bad canine etiquette. A few examples include jumping on your dog or in their face, sniffing their groin, running up intensely and without warning, standing over and mounting or humping. In general, proper canine etiquette involves approaching at a normal pace, preferably while sniffing the ground, then slowly inspecting and sniffing one another.
Like humans, dogs have individual preferences and unique personalities. That means some dogs may be indifferent to others (just as some humans prefer not to socialize) or they don't vibe (just as humans don't always get along with everyone). Sometimes, two dogs' personalities and play styles don't work well together. It's normal for some dogs to keep their distance, be neutral toward one another or remain acquaintances rather than becoming friends. As long as there's no aggression or fear, this is just fine.
Some dogs prefer to socialize and play with dogs of the same sex, while others gravitate to dogs of the opposite sex. So it may be as simple as whether the other dog is male or female.
It can also be as simple as breed. Some dogs may like certain breeds better than others. This is often based on personality or play style. For instance, Labrador and Golden Retrievers tend to be mouthy while German Shepherds and Border Collies are often vocal and French Bulldogs and Pugs snort quite a bit. A dog may feel threatened by mouthy play, scared of barking or confuse snorting for growling. There is even a theory that dogs recognize their own breed and seek them out for play.
Age can play a factor in whether a dog likes another canine. For example, senior dogs may seem as though they dislike dogs more than younger ones. This is often due to a difference in energy level, worsening vision, increased joint and body pain, or other age-related health issues. It can be particularly noticeable when an older dog is around puppies.
Possessive or protective dogs often don't want others coming close to whatever they value, which can come off as unfriendly. They may be defensive of a possession or item, like a toy or water bowl, but they may also be guarding you. If this is the case, your dog may come off as though they dislike another dog. In reality though, they may be fine or even like that dog when together but away from their valuables.
Pro Tip: Possessiveness is often seen in dogs that are coddled too much and some small dogs who are treated like tiny humans by their owners. No matter the size or breed, it's important to properly socialize and obedience train all dogs.
Sometimes, dogs seem like they dislike another dog but they are actually reading your emotions or attitude. As aforementioned, dogs can read even the subtlest of body language, including our own. If you become tense around another dog, your pup may react accordingly and become tense, suspicious, fearful or aggressive.
Socialization is an important part of a dog's life. It allows them to develop proper canine etiquette, positive behaviors and healthy habits. Dogs that are not properly socialized often have trouble understanding when a dog wants to socialize versus when they want space, when or how to play, how to use their mouth appropriately, and what other dogs like and don’t like. In addition, they may become fearful of other dogs and more prone to anxiety or aggression later in life. All of this can result in your dog appearing to dislike other dogs, or more likely, actually disliking other dogs.
You can help your pup get along with other dogs through socialization classes, obedience training and positive reinforcement. Socialization is the most effective way to accomplish this. You can either enroll in a socialization class or use real-world exposure to other dogs (as long as your dog is fully vaccinated) on walks, at dog parks or elsewhere. The earlier the better for socialization.
Pro Tip: Always ask if a dog is friendly and if it's okay for the two to say hi before approaching a dog you don't know.
Obedience training helps teach dogs impulse control, which can be a great tool for social interactions. Some basic commands your dog would learn include sit, down, stay and heel. One benefit is that your dog be able to show some of that learned impulse control with others, which can help with communication and respecting another dog's boundaries. You'll also be able to get your dog's attention amidst play or interactions, as well as have them sit or lie down when a dog prefers a calmer greeting.
Positive reinforcement training can help your dog associate other dogs with something they enjoy. Not only will this encourage good behavior around other canines, but it will help your dog see them in a favorable way. Make sure you're giving your dog something valuable, like their favorite treats, and that you're doing so when they're behaving well around other dogs. You'll want to give plenty of treats, almost continuously, to really reinforce the positive association.
In general, the occasional disliking or avoidance of certain dogs is normal and nothing to worry about. However, if the preferences seem to escalate to fear or aggression, you may want to talk with your vet or a professional dog trainer and behaviorist.