Socialization is a crucial part to success with your canine. However, not all socialization is good. For example, a young puppy playing with a low energy older dog is typically not going to work out well. We can relate this to humans, specifically kids and elderly; young children like to run around and goof off similar to puppies. Older people prefer to sit back and observe before being active, similar to what a senior dog would be inclined to do. Pain can also sometimes prevent older dogs from engaging in play with their younger counter parts, or simply a lack of energy. If you find yourself with a young playful puppy and an older, more mellow dog, it is likely that the senior canine is spending a lot of his or her time trying to avoid the puppy and giving warning signals which could be a nonverbal look or a “back off” growl. When assessing how and with whom you are going to socialize your pet, consider the age gap. It is important to remember that there are always exceptions. On account of being a dog trainer, I was visiting a close friend watching her dogs interact and the dynamics of the three dogs. She had a new addition of a ten week old lab, which was in the process of discovering its place in the pecking order of the pack. One of the ways he tried to figure that out was through engagement with the other two dogs. With the most senior dog, the puppy would frequently try to do a solicitation of play, such as a play bow or pawing at her. Initially, the senior dog was tolerant of the puppy’s pushing behavior, but eventually it became too much. The puppy would ignore the look the older dog was giving to back off, so the senior dog began using a low growl. The puppy continued to solicit play, so the senior dog used a lunge and a snap, which wasn’t meant to be threatening, but a more serious warning of, “leave me alone!”
I know this topic has been debated to great lengths and, like most things in life, you can find opposite beliefs. When it comes to dogs playing and socialization, size does matter. It can be overwhelming for some of the smaller toy breeds to play with much larger breeds, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t or won’t. Essentially, it will be important to use common sense and assess the situation while the dogs are playing. If two dogs of completely different size are playing and both appear to be engaging, then it should be fine. In all socialization, I like to see both dogs act submissive at various times. Submitting is a sign of respect, but it also shows that he/she is not posing a threat to the other canine. I myself Ryan Matthews as a best dog trainer in Los Angeles, I have seen countless Great Danes submit to little dogs, which is pretty hysterical to watch considering their massive size. However, I’ve also seen where a larger dog takes advantage of a smaller dog. It is important that dogs pick up on the non-verbal cues they are giving one another. For example, if one dog wants to engage or interact, then another dog could give some type of signal saying, “I welcome your interaction, or play.” A dog would do that by gently lowering the head, pinning the ears back somewhat, blinking the eyes, moving the tail, open mouth with lips pulled back, and even a look away in the other direction. All of these behaviors communicate they welcome another dog into their space. These actions can happen in a matter of seconds. However, if the receiving dog is giving a contrary signal, such as mouth tight, lips forward, tail curled above the back, braced front legs and pupils dilated, and a stillness, like the dog is frozen, that is saying, “Do not come into my space!” Some dogs may not pay attention to or notice these signals and continue to initiate play. That is why it is important for dog owners to recognize these signals and remove their dog from an unwelcome visitor.
Remember, we consistently want to be asking ourselves what our dog may be thinking and anticipate if their current experience is what they really want, or is their experience what we want for them? In other words, in this type of situation, ask yourself, does my dog want to play or should I assist it when I see these refusal behaviors? Not every encounter is going to be a good fit for your dog. The Canine Connection (the book I wrote) is largely based on being selfless with one’s dog.