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We brought our dog home from the shelter around 3 years old, she had been a stray for about 2.5 years previously. She's 6 now.

We like to say she has a big personal bubble. Sometimes she'll sniff other dogs, and let them sniff her, but all of a sudden, she's done and tries to chase them off. She also can't really handle more than one dog at at time. She's generally more comfortable with dogs smaller than her (she weighs 35 lbs) but certainly gets uncomfortable around them too. Leashed or unleashed (i.e. a dog park) doesn't seem to matter.

When the other dog takes the cue, things are fine, but when they keep nosing around or getting in her face she gets really riled up. She has a few dog friends she acclimatized to and plays with fine, but we moved away from them. We got her used to them by leaving her with the other dogs for a week. Obviously, this isn't a good solution for dogs at the park or friend's dogs.

We try to introduce her to other dogs but we really can't predict when she'll be fine and when she'll not tolerate them well.

I'm not really sure what steps to take next to help her relax around other dogs. I've thought about putting on a comfortable muzzle so that she can see that other dogs aren't going to be aggressive toward her if she isn't but I also don't want to make her even more nervous.

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As long as she doesn't actually bite other dogs, you shouldn't put a muzzle on her. That's more likely to escalate the problem because it hinders her nonverbal communication with other dogs. Making a nipping gesture at other dogs without actually nipping them is great dog communication that she probably learned while living in the streets. It's the dogs that grew up knowing only humans that don't understand her because they haven't had much opportunity learning dog body language.

Please consider for a moment whether she actually needs to be more comfortable around other dogs. Of course it makes for a lovely picture in our heads if she could happily play with a bunch of other dogs at the park. But is that really what she wants? She had to fend for herself at a very young age and any foreign dog was a potential rival for her food or safe place to live. She can become more relaxed around dogs, but she will never completely lose that attitude.

If you found a person at the park that you're willing to interact more with and their dog seems like the kind your dog might be ok with, ask them if you could go for a walk together so your dogs could get to know each other in a calmer environment. Many dogs connect the dog park with running and playing and adrenalin, so they are very excited. Going on a walk side by side calms the dogs down and it creates a feeling of belonging to a pack for the dogs.

The trick is to start walking without letting the dogs sniff each other first. Speak to the other person and arrange the walk accordingly so that everyone knows how to act. You can walk with both humans in the middle and both dogs at opposite sides for a minute to calm them down and get them into the spirit of walking instead of playing. After that, the dogs can change sides and walk next to each other if they want. You only need to walk for 10 minutes together with the dogs to benefit from this effect. Let the dogs play after the walk and see how they behave.

Your dog might be even more comfortable if you met your friends or other dog owners (maybe someone living close by) outside of a dog park.

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  • Sorry, the behavior isn't unique to a dog park. We have tried many walks and would like to be able to walk her with other dogs. It's when they meet up and the other dog is excited to meet her that she goes on the defensive and we don't feel comfortable with them together. Aug 10 at 19:16
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    @AzorAhai-him- Ah, I understand what you mean. You should arrange the walk with the other person beforehand and when you meet you just start walking besides them, without letting the dogs sniff each other first. I edited my answer accordingly.
    – Elmy
    Aug 11 at 5:49
  • @Elmy in the second paragraph, maybe never instead of ever? :) Aug 16 at 20:27

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