Understanding dog tolerance

Many dog owners have a vision of their dog frolicking happily among a group of other dogs, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, grinning from ear to ear. The reality is often not so picture perfect leaving many canine owners wondering how they can ensure their puppy grows into a social dog, or what they did in the past to cause their adult dog to be unsocial.

“I thought socialization would prevent my puppy from becoming dog aggressive?”

Socialization – exposing a puppy or young dog to unfamiliar people, places and things – is indispensable in creating good canine citizens, yet it may not be enough to prevent dog aggression. Aggression, like all behavior, emerges from a combination of genetics and environmental factors like socialization.

“But my four-month-old puppy loves everyone, people and dogs.”

Most puppies are what we call “dog social,” meaning they truly enjoy the company of other dogs. However, most dogs’ social skills change as they mature. Some are “dog tolerant” (indifferent or friendly) while others are “dog selective” (liking some dogs but not others) or “dog aggressive” (needing close supervision and safe management).

“What will my dog’s tolerance level be?”

A dog’s tolerance level depends on both environmental factors (how the dog was trained, handled and socialized) as well as his/her genetics. It’s also important to understand dog tolerance levels change based on individual circumstances and handling. The key to success is reading your dog’s comfort level in all situations and reacting accordingly.

“How do I know if my dog is feeling comfortable around another dog?”

Look for a relaxed body, relaxed face (squinty eyes, “smiley” mouth), loosely wagging tail or “wagging butt” and smooth movements. Be on the watch for stiffly-held bodies, “whipping” tails (vertically-held tails wagging forcefully over the dog’s back), hard stares with closed mouths and high-pitched, aroused whining. If your dog isn’t displaying relaxed movements, it’s best not to engage in dog-to-dog interactions: it takes only seconds for a tense situation to become a confrontation.

“Does this mean my dog will never like other dogs?”

Not necessarily: some dogs’ tolerance improves dramatically with responsible handling and slow, careful introductions to appropriate dogs. Since dog aggression does not correlate to human aggression, even those with no dog friends can be great pets for owners willing to manage their pet’s behavior for life (leashes at all times, no dog parks, careful management on walks).

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