A Dog's Social Needs

The dog has evolved as a pack animal with strong instinctive behaviors that enhance the survival of the pack even over that of the individual. The pack structure requires the dog to develop social behaviors that support a dominance hierarchy and are compatible with many individuals living in close contact most of the time. Puppies thrive on social contact, requiring constant supervision, interaction and training to develop socially and to relate properly with other pack members. In packs of wild canids the pups are never left alone and adult pack members spend at least 85% of every day in contact with other members.

The dog has developed into one of our finest companion animals precisely because of it's need for social contact and because a dog is able to substitute humans for companionship. Most behavior problems emerge when the pack social system is either absent or fails to train the pup in proper social development. Barking, howling, whining, digging, chewing and attempts to escape are all natural behaviors that increase the likelihood of a pup being found and reunited with its pack should it become accidentally separated. Dogs can be taught to accept short periods of social isolation without triggering instinctive separation anxiety and resulting behaviors. The key here is that dogs need to be taught to accept this abnormal situation and the dog must be confident that it will be reunited and supported by its human pack most of the time. Unfortunately, most people do not understand the evolutionary development of the dog and its innate and essential requirement for social contact. In the absence of leadership from members of its human pack many dogs will assert themselves and eventually interpret absence of leadership as submission and will develop dominant behavior traits. This can lead to serious behavior problems including aggression, vocalization, nervousness, over protectiveness and fearfulness.

Dogs do not thrive but suffer in isolation. They require social contact preferably with other dogs and humans. A dog should not be left alone for long periods of time during either the day or night. If a dog has to stay at home alone it needs companionship. The house becomes the den of the pack or family and can provide a dog with a sense of security making it easier to train a dog to stay alone for short periods in the house. A crate when used properly greatly facilitates this process. When the dog is put outdoors alone, when the family is away, the dog experiences feelings of both isolation and abandonment. Separation anxiety causes the expected behaviors and can lead to community animal behavior complaints not to mention a miserable pet.

Most people when educated about a dog's social needs will do what is necessary to move the dog into the home to interact with the family, provide another dog for companionship when left alone or will place the dog in a more appropriate living situation and get a cat.