A customer recently wrote about how we deal with aggression when we have groups of dogs playing, as you can see we do regularly (anywhere you see our pictures and videos). So here is a rundown of how we deal with dogs not getting along:
- Groups. Unlike the dog park, we have many outside areas where dogs can run. On the 20 acre property, there are four large fenced fields we use for dogs (larger and an acre), and another dozen yards. If two particular dogs don’t seem to get along, or if one dog routinely seems to be aggressive to a specific type of dog, we can still work out ways for the dogs to socialize and be outside. If a dog can’t socialize at all, they still can have a yard and go inside and outside whenever they’d like. Size, age, temperament, kind of fur, gender: there are many factors in making up groups and if our initial decision of how to do it isn’t working, we can change, keep changing, until everyone seems happy and no one is growling or getting mad.
- Tricks. Another trick that works best on a dog that isn’t routinely aggressive but appears aggressive in the short run due to fear with an unfamiliar setting is to introduce one or two dogs who are extremely relaxed and social first. Dogs do pick up on each other’s moods rather quickly, so this can work quite well. This can ease a dog into the new setting.
- Supervision. Someone is always around. When we take a larger group out to the pond or another field, they are supervised all the time.
- Time. When the dogs have had a few days to get to know each other and have not shown any aggression, leaving them to hang out together seems to be no problem. On the first day or when some new dog arrives, we have to observe and monitor a lot more than after a day or two.
- Long term employees. If the people here did not know most of the dogs well already – and only need to get to know the new ones – this system of social dog boarding would not work. Vern has been here more than a dozen years. Julia comes every summer. Me, Will, I’ve been at this for 14 years. Gary, who mostly builds and does maintenance, nevertheless knows many of the dogs by name and temperament. He’s been working here for eight years. If you had no idea who was who, you could not group them for safe play.
- Sex. Most dogs are fixed. If all the dogs here were intact – some in heat, others horny as hell – no way would this work. The occasional unfixed dog who comes here does not get as free-run of the place as the castrated/spayed dog does.
So, that’s a rough guide to how we do it. And, knock wood, we have not had a serious fight here in more than six years. There has been no more than a few scratches from some nonsense that some dogs got into but no dogs have been hurt in more than 1000 individual boardings in the past six years.
It’s true that if I leave two dogs together and walk away and can’t see them, they could kill each other. But the same is true for my children, any couple cohabiting, two people on the bus… that’s why when a person jumps another person and hurts them it’s in the newspaper. Usually, people can sit next to each other, even live together, do all kinds of things together. When they can’t, it’s news and unexpected. The same with our socialized, fixed dogs. The norm is getting along. This is all the truer because we mix and match who is with whom.
I hope this essay helps to understand some of what we do in terms of socialization and aggression in a social dog boarding setting.