Dogs are social animals. Their ancestors, the wolves, lived in large family packs with very strict rules regarding eating, entering the den and even breeding. Life was orderly. Those not happy with the rules would leave home and start their own pack or join an existing one that suited them better.
Dogs need to be part of a pack and they need to find their place in that pack. Whether that pack is people or other dogs is not so important. The important thing is that they belong.
Do dogs need dog friends? They really do. How badly they need these dog friends depends on how much interaction they have with their people pack. If they are with their people most of the time and go places and do things with those people, their need for other dogs in their lives is much less. If they are alone most of the day and stay outside a lot, they really should have another dog for companionship.
Dogs really suffer if left alone. They are bored, lonely and totally unstimulated. Two or more dogs together will play and interact, keeping their minds and bodies active. They will run and chase squirrels. Dogs together watch each other to make sure they are not missing any activity anywhere.
If you decide to bring another dog into your family unit, the question of when and how you introduce a new dog has a lot to do with the temperament of the original dog. If he is mellow and friendly, you should have no problems with an addition. You should attempt to find a dog with a similar temperament and with a somewhat similar energy level. A very energetic, active dog who loves to play should have a companion that is active so that they can enjoy exercising together. If you have a very dominant dog, care must be taken when introducing a new dog. It is not a good thing to have two dominant dogs.
An only-dog greatly enjoys getting together with other dogs for playtime. Dog parks are springing up all over the country because of this need. The parks are also wonderful because dogs today do not get enough exercise and leash laws prevent dogs from running loose in parks and in neighborhoods. Dogs should be exposed to other dogs early in puppyhood. Introductions to other dogs need to be monitored closely. Watch the body language and you can see how the introductions are going.
Incidentally, a young, small dog was killed at a Phoenix dog park recently. A large, aggressive dog ran to the pup, grabbed him and shook him to death and no one could stop him. Dog parks have become social meeting places for the owners as well as the dogs and it is easy to get involved in conversations and not be paying attention. Dog owners must keep their eyes on their dogs and on the other dogs in the park. If there are dogs that worry you, take your dog and go home. These aggressive dogs should be asked to leave and not return. It is not worth the risk. But generally, dogs love dog parks and the opportunity to play and run with the other dogs.
Dogs communicate with each other using body language. Watch the body movement of two dogs meeting for the first time. Watch who is doing the licking and who is being licked. Watch how they move together. The ears, the tail and the head position are all strong indicators of how these dogs feel about each other and who is striving to be the boss. Friendly, good-natured dogs mostly want to play. More serious dogs spend more time getting acquainted and establishing rank.
If you want your dogs to be an important part of your family, it is best not to get two dogs at the same time, particularly two puppies. The dogs will tend to bond with each other and will not rely on people in their family unit. Bring in one dog and get him situated. This might only take a couple of months. Then bring in the other dog and spend lots of time with each dog individually. If you do want to get two puppies from one litter or for some reason need to get two dogs at one time, have different family members spend time every day with each dog separately. Dogs will naturally choose one of their own as best friend over a person if left on their own. With good quality time spent with each dog individually, especially at the beginning, the dogs will be comfortable and responsive to all the people in the family as well as their canine buddy.
With two or more dogs in the family, especially large dogs, training is extra important. Family dogs need to learn good manners so that they are welcome in the house. Two undisciplined large dogs inside can cause a ruckus resulting in them being sent outside and left there. Whether you have one or ten dogs, they all love to come into the house and be with the family, particularly during quiet time in the evening. Well-mannered dogs will take their places on their cushions or in front of the fireplace and nap. The pack is all settled, safe, warm and comfortable. Life doesn't get much better than that.
Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry AZ 85544.