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Karen B. London
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Quality Time Without Other Dogs
Dogs benefit, sometimes in unexpected ways
I LOVE toys! I do, I do, I do!

“He doesn’t really play with toys,” his guardian said as he dropped the dog off for an afternoon visit with us. Their realtor didn’t want dogs at home during their open house, not even resting contentedly in their crates, and work schedules meant they needed a little help. We were taking one of their dogs and his brother was going to watch the other.

Though we were not expecting Moose to play with the toys, within an hour, that dog had played with every toy in our house and a couple of items that he thought were toys although we would not classify them as such. He flapped a Wubba around at his own face and did the same with a dishtowel, went joyfully berserk over a squeaky toy shaped like a bone, fetched tennis balls and flying squirrels that my kids threw, tossed around a fleece fox with a dead squeaker inside, and “dribbled” a dust pan around like it was a soccer ball. Moose was, no matter what his guardian said, really into toys.

When we told his guardian about Moose’s afternoon toy playing session, he was genuinely surprised. He told us, “That’s odd because at home, all he does is follow Zach, who loves to fetch.” He went on to explain that Moose never got the balls himself, but just followed their other dog who loved to retrieve. And when Zach was chewing on bones or toys, Moose just watched, no matter how many were lying around. If they specifically gave Moose a toy, Zach would come over to relieve him of it. Moose never objected so his guardian figured that Moose just didn’t have a strong interest in them.

Au contraire. Many dogs live in households in which the other dog prevents them from doing what comes naturally, but if you never observe the dogs on their own, it’s hard to know that they are missing out. In Moose’s case, he was not playing with toys or chewing on bones with Zach around, but based on his behavior at our house, he loves them. (It’s almost a sure bet that a dog who is being “mugged” by another dog who habitually takes the bones and toys would rather maintain possession of them if possible.) I believe that having regular time without Zach would improve Moose’s quality of life because he would be able to play with toys and chew on bones.

Other dogs may benefit in other ways from being away from other dogs from time to tome. Spending time as the only dog with the guardian may mean receiving undivided attention or more petting. For some young dogs, it may mean a more vigorous exercise session than the older dog in the household can tolerate. There are dogs who just want the peace and quiet that a one-dog situation bestows on them, and others who appreciate the chance to train or play without another dog interrupting the flow. A class that suits one dog, but not another, such as agility or a tracking class may provide the incentive to spend time with just one of your dogs.

With the rare exception of dogs who panic when they are not in the presence of their dog family members, the opportunity to spend quality time as the only dog with their guardians has great value. A little goes a long way, so even the occasional session can be a great treat for a dog and well worth working into even the busiest of schedules.

If you have more than one dog, do you spend time with each of them individually? If so, how do you think they benefit?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

photo by Jon Hurd/Flickr

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