Social Interaction for Dogs: Q&A with Dr. Sueda

When it comes to the overall well-being of your pup, you want to ensure that their health and happiness are accounted for. Interacting with other people and dogs is a critical aspect of dog wellness and it impacts dogs’ development and interactions at home. If you consider the fact that many dogs dislike being away from their human or dislike being alone and bored in general, it’s no wonder that socializing helps to avoid stress and anxiety, which often leads to unwanted behaviors from your dog such as nonstop barking or howling, indoor accidents, and destructive acts.

For new pet parents who recently adopted a dog or for pet parents who are continuing to work from home, socializing your dog regularly can have many mutual benefits. To help us better understand the benefits of social interaction for dogs, we spoke with behavior specialist, Dr. Karen Sueda, DVM at VCA West Lost Angeles Animal Hospital for her insight.

What makes dogs social animals? What does that mean?

Dogs evolved from wolf-like ancestors that lived and worked together in social groups. Domestication favored the selection of social traits (e.g. decreased fear of humans) and artificial selection for certain traits (e.g. cooperative hunting with humans, companionship) may have also emphasized sociability.

Why is dog socialization important to a dog’s health and well-being?

The ability to express natural behaviors is an essential part of good welfare. Social interaction with other dogs or other species (humans, other animals) is part of a dog’s natural behavioral repertoire.

How does social interaction and play benefit dogs throughout their lifetime?

Depends on the individual dog's personality (i.e. how naturally sociable they are). Some dogs (like people) enjoy and seek out interaction ("social butterflies") while others prefer to be on their own ("wallflowers" or "homebodies"). The goal is to provide social interaction to an extent to which the dog enjoys it (more for some than others) and the *type* of play and social interaction the individual dog enjoys (e.g. some dogs enjoy meeting new dogs; others want to play only with one friend; some like playing with toys [object play vs. social play], etc).

Since we (humans) need to social distance during the COVID crisis, what are some ways a dog can still get interaction with other dogs and humans in a safe way?

  1. No way is 100% safe but the more predictable and controlled the situation is the better.
  2. Meeting in a safe, enclosed outdoor area (e.g. yard, etc.) with friends and their familiar dog(s) whom we know our dog likes and has played with well in the past. People stay at a distance from one another (with masks if needed); we trust that our friends are taking precautions, and no one is ill.
  3. Day Care is also an option depending on if the dog likes going to Day Care and if Day Care staff are taking all proper precautions both with clients and among themselves and pets; disinfection and social distancing protocols in place.
  4. Outdoor dog parks if your dog likes going to the dog park and if people stay at an appropriate distance from each other
Note from Camp Bow Wow: At Camp Bow Wow, we hold ourselves to the highest safety standards. Because we take safety very seriously, we’ve created policies to ensure a happy and healthy environment for all our Campers, such as all dogs must pass our interview process before they can participate in our group play environment. To learn more about our requirements, check out our Day Care FAQs here.

We continue to monitor policies and recommendations as the COVID-19 situation evolves and have provided new safety guidelines to our Camps. We encourage you to reach out to your local Camp to learn more about precautions the Camp is taking to serve our communities.

How can pet parents stave off a dog’s stress or anxiety once they return to a ‘new normal’ and leave the house more?

I recommend a gradual transition back to their "new normal routine". For example, if the client hasn't left the dog home for longer than an hour for the past four months, don't abruptly begin leaving the dog home alone for 8 hours. If possible, transition back to an "away from home" routine, gradually increasing the duration of time they are gone (e.g. 2 hours, 4 hours, etc.), seeing the owner get ready for work in the morning, going on fewer walks during the day, etc.

Note from Camp Bow Wow: While much is unknown about future schedules and routines, if you get an update that tells you a return to your previous or similar schedule is coming, you can plan to work with your pup during your remaining time at home. Try incorporating these tips into your weekly routine to make future separation less stressful when the time comes.