As a society we've been listening to decades of information that states "dogs are pack animals" and they are "social creatures by nature" and do best with a companion. This has many dog owners with dogs that don't seem to like other dogs quite upset. They are concerned that their dog is "broken" or something is wrong because he doesn't like other dogs. And they want to seek out a way to fix the dog and make him like other dogs.
You should know something. Not all dogs like other dogs, and that's ok. While we can help dogs, like the ones I've described here, become more comfortable with the presence of other dogs, sometimes dogs just don't want to mingle with other dogs. Period. They are introverts if you will. They want to stay home and be with their human counterparts. Some dogs don't like sharing their home with other dogs either, and that's ok too.
I recall a client I had years ago that was just dead set on her dog liking all the dogs in the neighborhood because, as she stated, "We are a social neighborhood and all the dogs always just hang out together. She needs to be able to hang out with us when we do this!" I think I was a little speechless for a moment. Then I said, "Do you know any introverts? They really are happy with their small circle of friends and sometimes that's just the person(s) living in the home and that's it. All the therapy in the world would likely do nothing to change this for those introverts." She was not happy with my analogy and was very determined to get her dog to be social. Note: It didn't happen. In case you're wondering, she never did finish her training. If she had, it would have involved me helping her get her dog emotionally stable upon seeing other dogs, and later when being near other dogs.... and some other stuff likely. I can't say for sure what the "other stuff" would be because I never got that far with her dog. There is a whole protocol for these situations, very customized to each dog as each is different.
DOG TOLERANCE LEVELS
There are categories of tolerance levels dogs have for other dogs: social, tolerant, selective and aggressive. Here is a good illustration and some explanation of this. Illustrated by Lili Chin of Doggie Drawings: Dog-Dog Relationships. A collaboration with and. More details in this blog post
If your dog is specific to whom he likes and dislikes it's important to "listen" to him. Your dog doesn't want to be around other dogs. There is often a belief that if a dog is put into a situation with a lot of dogs often enough they will "get used to" dogs and be fine, or "get over it". Unfortunately, this isn't how it works. More often than not that will backfired badly for you and your dog. Throwing a dog into a punch bowl of other dogs and hoping he'll learn how to deal is called Flooding. It's a behavior therapy technique used in psychology. It's got a lot of emotional drawbacks and sometimes, depending on the individual (dog or otherwise), it can be emotionally damaging.
TOLERANT DOGS ARE THE HARDEST TO RESPECT
If you have a dog that is in the tolerant category you may see her become agitated at times with certain dogs and become quite upset. This category is highly common but most frustrating for owners because they think their dog is good with other dogs ... then one day they get snarky and the owner is incredibly upset over it.
It's ok. Your dog is just fine until a dog does something she doesn't like. Just like we don't like all people we mingle with or know, dogs don't either, or at least tolerant dogs don't. If your dog is tolerant it's really important to respect your dog and back your dog up when she becomes irritated with another dog, likely it was the other dog's fault. Your dog deserves no backlash for this, she wants some space from the dog she was snarky with. Give it to her. Remove her, leave or listen to her body language before this happens.
One of my dogs doesn't like a lot of outside dogs that aren't the two he lives with. So, guess what? I keep him away from other dogs. I have a lot of dogs in and out of my home for boarding and training. So, he could be forced to be around them. But .... why? Why do I have to force him? I don't. He is very clear in his body language and he lives very well with my dogs. So I don't see any reason at all why he has to mingle with strange dogs. Also, I admittedly don't have the time or inclination to work with him on how to change his behavior around other dogs. I could, I very easily could, but ... meh. I'm fine with how things are, and so is he because I listen to him and respect his tolerance level.
WHAT IF MY DOG ISN'T TOLERANT WITH OTHER DOGS?
Well, there are two things you can do 1) try and change this behavior through behavior modification or 2) respect your dog and keep her away from other dogs altogether. She's been loud and clear, I'm sure, on how she feels about them. So either listen and respect it thoughtfully or do something to change it.
SO HOW DO I WORK ON MY DOG'S REACTIONS TO OTHER DOGS?
If your dog doesn't like other dogs but isn't aggressive towards them (won't do harm to them but puts on a big show) you can work through your dog's emotions and help your dog learn to be more relaxed, calm and behaviorally tolerable when around other dogs. This should only be done with the help of a qualified professional that knows how to work with reactive dogs.
If your dog really doesn't like other dogs and would likely do harm to one (or maybe already has) then it's imperative that you find a qualified behavior professional to help you. Your dog isn't a lost cause and yes, there can be things that can be done to help both of you! There are a lot of factors involved when a dog is truly aggressive (has the intent to do harm or has already done harm) and only a qualified professional can lay out a plan of action for this type of dog.
The main thing you need to understand is that for your dog to live a long, happy and fulfilled life he doesn't have to have doggie friends. Yes, it's true. Some dogs are completely fine just having human friends. There are many things you can do to engage your dog in activities, training, and enrichment that don't involve play or interacting with other dogs.
Something you should know about "socialization" is that it's done with after about 18 weeks of age for puppies, probably closer to 16 weeks. Most behaviors and associations towards people, animals, places and things are set after this age. Which means after this age you are just changing how they react to these things with training.
Here is a great read on when you're past socialization but you want to "socialize" your dog by Laura VanArendonk-Baugh of Canines in Action, Inc. in Indianapolis: "Don't Socialize the Dog!"
WHAT ABOUT DOG PARKS OR DOGGIE DAYCARE?
Dog parks and doggie daycare aren't ideal for most dogs. Yes, some dogs might be ok but for the most part, dogs aren't keen on being in a large room/open space with other [strange] dogs just roaming around. There is really not a lot of fun in that for a dog.
In a setting such as these dogs aren't being dogs, they are just walking around in a large space with too many dogs thinking of things to do, which often end up as wrestling, humping or even pacing. It's not at all "natural" dog behavior to plop dogs in a large group in order to play and have fun. Dogs do not walk around with large groups of dogs to socialize. Society has designed these things to appease the dog owner.
A great read on dog parks and "socialization" by Sara Reusche of Paws Abilities Dog Training in Minnesota: "Dog-Dog Socialization: Beyond the Dog Park"
WHAT'S THE BEST WAY TO SOCIALIZE MY DOG?
The single best thing you can do with your dog is work around other dogs with your dog and
teach them how to behave and be calm and comfortable in that setting. You can even get into a well-set-up and well-run group class of your choosing. That means whether it's manners and skills you're working on or tricks or agility, or whatever ... you're working with your dog around other dogs. Your dog isn't mingling around with other dogs in class. It's not social hour.
You can also find a place on your own where dogs physically hang out (city parks) and go there to work with your dog and his skills. If you choose a park to work your dog in you should work with your dog at a safe distance from the other dogs but so that he can still learn and work as you wish.
WHAT IF MY DOG IS NOT BEHAVIORALLY SUITABLE FOR A GROUP CLASS?
If you cannot do the above — join a well-run group class to work on skills around other dogs without mingling with other dogs — then you really need to hire a trainer to come in and start you on some good foundation skills for you and your dog. Once you get a good baseline you can go from there, depending on many factors. I really cannot stress how important a qualified trainer is in order for this type of behavior training program to be successful.
BOTTOM LINE: Listen to your dog. Either stop getting him around other dogs or hire a professional to help you change his responses and feelings towards and around other dogs.
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLCservicing the Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas metroplex