Our dogs mean a lot to us and we want them to have the best life possible. We may feel that our dogs enjoy and need to romp with their own kind.
Though that sounds ideal, consider that humans have spent thousands of years domesticating dogs so dogs would prefer humans over canine companionship. Do we really want to encourage dogs to play by canine rules rather than human rules yet at the same time demand more of them in their close relationships with us?
I love the fact that my dogs would rather play with me than a strange dog they meet. I have dogs to interact with, to play with, and to be my companions. I don’t want to be treated like just another canine. I want to be all I can for my dogs, I also want them to be all they can for me, I mostly want them to want to be with me because I’m a heck of a lot more fun than any dog they would ever meet, and besides I have the Frisbee.
Doggy group activities assume that all dogs want to be with other dogs--this is a human assumption. In reality dogs are scavengers and are normally more semi-solitary and much prefer the company of people to that of other canines.
Many dogs have little desire to interact with members of their own species. This doesn’t mean that these dogs are unfriendly toward other dogs; they're just not interested. Sadly, people mistakenly believe that there is something "wrong" with these dogs and they keep taking them to playgroups or other multi-dog activities in order to "fix" them. Those who realize this is perfectly normal behaviour find these dogs make wonderful companions.
Dog group activities often overlook that not all inter-canine relationships are happy ones. Although some owners just want to provide their healthy, well-behaved pets with a dog companion, a good number take their pets to dog parks or doggy daycare because their dogs have behavioural problems which they hope these activities will somehow magically remove.
"Once Maggie gets used to playing with a lot of puppies, I'm sure she won't be so timid," insists the owner. "Abby has way too much energy. That's why she trashes the house when I'm gone," says another owner. "Putting her in daycare gives her the ability to burn it off."
"I'm sure Milo is so edgy because he needs more exercise "says his owner”. That's why I bring him to the dog park and turn him loose." (On other dogs).
Possibly, some timid dogs do toughen up when thrown into a sink-or-swim doggy environment in which they must learn to stick up for themselves if they don't want the other dogs to bully them to no end. However, a real risk exists that those bullies are there because of aggression problems.
The more obnoxious dogs will overwhelm and bully the more timid ones, the net result being that each dog's problems will be reinforced rather than lessened by the experience. When we add these dogs to all those whose owners search for an enclosed doggy location because their dogs will not respond to their requests, does this sound like a place where a dog will learn good habits?
Group activities for your dog may make existing problems worse or create new ones. Observe these activities without your dog to make sure you aren't enlisting your dog in a free-roaming, unsupervised dog group.
Ask yourself why you think your dog needs this kind of activity. If your dog is well-behaved and healthy, chances are that he or she is perfectly content to spend time with you rather than other dogs. Isn’t that why we call them companion dogs, to be people companions rather than another dog’s companion?
Does that mean that you can't engage inactivities because you enjoy the companionship of other people who like dogs, too? Not at all--just be sure to select those activities that will meet your dog's needs and not just yours.
If your dog or puppy exhibits behaviours such as shyness, timidity, separation anxiety, over-exuberance or aggression, discuss your situation with a professional behaviour therapist before involving your dog in any doggy group activities.