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How To Socialize Your Dog With Other Dogs Post-Pandemic

By Kayla Fratt

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The pandemic has impacted all of our social lives through the past year or so. That includes the social lives of our dogs. While we sheltered in place, our dogs stopped going to daycare or training classes. In areas with strict lockdowns, dog parks and even popular hiking trails may have been closed down.

Going forward, how can we get our dogs comfortable with other dogs again? It’s important to think proactively about helping your dog readjust to having doggie friends before a problem arises. You may have already noticed that your dog seems shier or overly exuberant with other dogs following this period of social isolation. 

The first thing to consider is whether or not your dog wants to return to socializing with other dogs more. Many adult dogs prefer having a few close friends that they know well rather than hanging out with a bunch of strangers at the dog park. Just like humans, dogs have different levels of sociability. Some adult humans love concerts and mosh pits; others don’t. Some dogs prefer the doggie equivalent of tea at a bookshop with a good friend.

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Many adult dogs prefer having a few close friends that they know well rather than hanging out with a bunch of strangers at the dog park. Just like humans, dogs have different levels of sociability.

If your dog is shying away from other dogs — growling, snarling, snapping or even just avoiding play — consider that they may prefer to have a few good friends to go on weekly walks with. Attempting to change your dog’s personality by convincing them to like the dog park is unlikely to work. My adult dog falls into this category. I’m not sure if my puppy will or not; at his age, he thinks everyone is his buddy.

If you do think that your dog wants to dive back into the social scene, that’s great too! In that case, we can start reintroducing your dog to the social scene slowly. Rather than jumping into the dog park or doggie daycare at peak hours on a sunny Saturday, head to a lightly to moderately-trafficked walking area. 

Ideally for relatively friendly dogs, find an off-leash friendly area where dogs can communicate freely. If you think your dog is likely to struggle in an off-leash environment, connect with a trainer to help with off-leash skills or mitigating aggression rather than going at it alone.

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Ideally for relatively friendly dogs, find an off-leash friendly area where dogs can communicate freely. If you think your dog is likely to struggle in an off-leash environment, connect with a trainer to help with off-leash skills or mitigating aggression rather than going at it alone.

Once you’ve found an area with some other relatively friendly dogs, go ahead and get moving. Let your dog greet the other dogs naturally — with arcs in your approach and lots of time for them to sniff on loose leashes. It’s your job to help your dog keep the leash loose as they sniff around the other dog. Pulling on the leash can increase tension during the greeting. After a few seconds of sniffing, get moving again. Constant movement reduces the likelihood of a fight and encourages the dogs to engage in “parallel play” where they simply walk, run or sniff near each other. That’s really lovely social behavior and is actually healthier for many dogs than rough-and-tumble play.

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Constant movement reduces the likelihood of a fight and encourages the dogs to engage in “parallel play” where they simply walk, run or sniff near each other. That’s really lovely social behavior and is actually healthier for many dogs than rough-and-tumble play.

If your dog is unable to succeed in an environment like that (or you don’t have one nearby), you can engage in “parallel walks” or “dog park TV.” Rather than diving right into those greetings, walk around an area where other dogs are in a parallel line. Your dog can sniff where they were, see them and move freely at a distance. This helps lower arousal and can prevent your dog from feeling highly excited or nervous.

Similarly, “dog park TV” involves taking your dog near a fenced dog park and simply walking nearby. Let your dog watch the other dogs from a distance where your dog can remain relaxed and keep your dog moving! If your dog gets fixated or upset, you’re too close or stayed still for too long. Keep pacing and circling in a low-key fashion. Over time, you can move both parallel walks and dog park TV closer to the other dogs before eventually allowing interactions to proceed. 

Finally, we’ll say again that most dogs do best with a few good friends. Try to find some doggie friends that can meet up at a park, for a hike or even at a back yard for regular interactions. Not all dogs love all other dogs, so take note of who your dog likes and plan their social circle accordingly.


Kayla Fratt is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant and the owner of Journey Dog Training. She’s passionate about helping owners prevent and treat behavior problems in their pets. She also works as a conservation detection dog trainer with her border collies in Missoula, Montana. She’s an avid runner, cross-country skier and a budding agility competitor.

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