Welfare of dogs: getting on with other animals

Dogs are sociable animals that need and enjoy, company. Most dogs don't like being left alone and may suffer if left without company, or with nothing to do for long periods of time.

Some dogs become distressed if left alone

Some dogs become distressed if they are left on their own, even for short periods. The length of time individual dogs can be left alone varies, depending on factors such as:

  • age
  • training
  • previous experience of being left alone
  • breed or type
  • lifestyle
  • housing conditions

However, no dog should routinely be left on its own for long periods as this can lead to behavioural problems that are distressing for both you and your dog.

Social behaviour 

If dogs are treated well as puppies, they learn to see people as friends. Learning to get on with people, dogs and other animals is an essential part of social development for a puppy. Puppies that are deprived of opportunities to develop social behaviour can become withdrawn, anxious and aggressive as adults dogs.

However, if a dog has suitable contact with other dogs early in its life it will be more sociable and this can enhance its quality of life. Dogs that have not had opportunities to develop socially, or which have bad experiences involving people or other animals, may be frightened or aggressive in normal social situations.

Happy behaviour

  • the dog has relaxed body posture, smooth hair, mouth open and relaxed, ears in natural position, wagging tail and their eyes are the normal shape
  • the dog is inviting play with bottom raised, smooth hair, high wagging tail, eyes normal shape, ears in natural position, may be barking excitedly
  • the dog’s weight is distributed across all four paws, smooth hair, tail wagging, face is interested and alert, mouth open and relaxed

Frightened behaviour

Dogs which are frightened show characteristic signs such as flattening of the ears and lowering the tail or signs of stress such as:

  • too much panting
  • licking lips
  • hiding
  • cowering
  • aggression

Dogs usually get on well with other dogs in the same household, but they may still need time to get to know each other when introduced. However, dogs will need to have their own space and places to get away from other dogs if they want to.

Dogs get to know the people they regularly interact with. They can become confused and distressed if the behaviour of those people is inconsistent and unpredictable.

It is never acceptable to frighten a dog, or encourage it to behave aggressively by tormenting it.

Angry or very unhappy behaviour

If a dog is showing the following behaviour they're either angry or very unhappy:

  • if a dog is standing with a stiffened body posture, weight forward, ears are up, hair raised, eyes looking at you, pupils dark and enlarged, tail is up and stiff, wrinkled nose
  • the dog is lying down cowering, ears flat, teeth showing, tail down between legs
  • the dog is standing with it's body down and weight towards the back, head is tilted upwards, mouth tight, lips drawn back, teeth exposed, eyes staring, ears back and down, snarling

Suitable housing

You should:

  • make sure your dog has opportunities to spend enough time with people and friendly dogs so that it is less likely to become lonely or bored
  • make sure that your dog is never left alone long enough for it to become distressed
  • encourage your dog to be friendly towards other dogs and allow it to interact with friendly dogs on a regular basis
  • give puppies regular opportunities to socialise with other dogs and people
  • always check health issues with your vet before allowing your puppy to mix with other dogs
  • keep dogs together for company if possible and if you have more than one - they will need to get on with each other, but will also need space to get away from each other when they want to
  • provide dogs which live together enough extra resources - such as toys, beds, food and water bowls and places where they feel safe - to stop them from becoming competitive and fighting with each other
  • avoid the situations that lead to your dog being fearful of, or aggressive towards, other dogs and seek advice from a vet or suitable qualified dog care specialist
  • seek professional help from a vet or other suitably qualified dog care specialist if social encounters distress or frighten your dog
  • make sure that dogs in your care are handled properly and are not stressed or endangered by other adults, children or animals, including people who look after your dog for you when you are away from home
  • be consistent in the way you, your family and friends, react to your dog and do not encourage aggressive or other anti-social behaviour
  • make sure your dog is properly cared for by a responsible person when you are away
  • make sure that if someone else is looking after your dog they understand its needs and any special requirements that it may have - they also have a legal responsibility for its welfare
  • never leave your dog unsupervised with another animal or person who may deliberately or accidentally harm or frighten it

Places to walk your dog

If your dog fouls in a public place, you should clean up the mess. Find out more:

More useful links

  • Dogs - what you need to know about owning a dog in Northern Ireland
  • Search for a veterinary practice
  • Pet Advertising Advisory Group - if you've bought an animal from a classified advert or website that has turned out to be a poorly or problem pet or are concerned about a pet being advertised for sale, find out how to report it

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