You’re Not a Bad Pet Parent if Your Dog is a Loner

Victoria Schade, CPDT-KA
By Victoria Schade, CPDT-KA on Dec. 21, 2018

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By Victoria Schade

It doesn’t take much to win a dog’s unconditional love, and that’s one of the reasons we cherish them as companions. Most dogs are driven to try to make friends with everyone they meet, both canine and human. Their boundless affection and dog socialization skills are inspiring!  

But not all dogs like to make friends.

Some dogs might be closely bonded with their family but don’t want to connect with anyone else. They’re well-adjusted, happy dogs, but they seem to prefer being introverts, chilling on their own instead of joining the crowd.

Because this feels so un-dog-like, pet parents might wonder if they did something to cause their dog’s standoffishness. But loner dog behavior can be a product of nature or nurture, or a combination of both. If your dog is healthy and content and acts appropriately around other dogs and people, it’s actually no reason for concern.

The Difference Between Aloof and Fearful Responses

It’s important to first distinguish between a reserved dog and a dog that’s fearful, as the reactions can look similar at first. While both dogs might be reluctant to approach strangers, aloof, loner dogs will likely regard someone they don’t know from a distance without retreating, or might quickly sniff the person and then move on to avoid further contact. A fearful dog might cower, run away or try to hide when approached by an unknown person.

Similarly, loner dogs usually don’t initiate interactions with other dogs. They might allow a dog to do investigative sniffing and reciprocate, but they’ll rarely respond to play requests. These are the dogs at the park that prefer to investigate the perimeter rather than getting their paws dirty in the scrum. On the other hand, a fearful dog might retreat before another dog can get too close, or preemptively bark to prevent the dog from approaching.

What Causes Loner Dog Behavior?

There are many reasons why a dog might seem reserved. Some dogs are bred to work independently, such as herding and guarding dogs. Other breeds are notorious for bonding to their family but remaining wary of strangers. That said, breed traits aren’t a guarantee of dog behavior, which means that it’s possible to have a Labrador that’s not a goofy lovebug, or a Jindo that’s a social butterfly instead of a wallflower.  

Some loner dogs might have suffered from early trauma or a lack of exposure to novel stimulus during the pivotal dog socialization period, which might make them reluctant to get to know other dogs and new friends.

Keep in mind that canine personality can change as a dog matures. A happy-go-lucky puppy might mellow into a reserved adult. The drive to play with peers can also diminish as a dog gets older, so don’t be surprised if the star of the dog park becomes more selective about playmates as he gets older.

However, if your normally affectionate dog suddenly becomes reserved or withdrawn, he could be dealing with an undiagnosed health issue, so make an appointment with your veterinarian for an exam.

As long as your dog is appropriate with other dogs and people, meaning he’s pleasant and tolerant during interactions, it’s okay for him to be a less demonstrative friend.

Living With a Loner Dog

First, don’t blame yourself for “creating” an introverted dog! Even though most dogs seem hardwired to try to make the world love them, there’s nothing wrong with a dog that prefers the company of his familiars above others.

That said, some loner dogs might even be reserved with their own family, avoiding extended petting sessions and close-in snuggles. Although you might be disappointed that your dog isn’t more cuddly, try to respect what your dog is saying to you.

It’s important to let your dog set the pace for physical affection, particularly if you hope to encourage more contact over time. If you reach out to your dog to pet him and he backs away, understand that he’s telling you “no thanks.”

Test his threshold for touch by stroking him on the shoulders or chest for a few seconds, then stop and see if he asks for more by moving in closer to you or pawing at your hand. The secret to building a strong relationship with any dog, particularly a loner dog, is letting him set the pace for interactions.

Encourage your guests to toss dog treats to your dog from a distance rather than forcing contact, and let them know that he probably won’t appreciate a petting session. Make sure to give your dog an escape route when strangers are around, particularly when he’s on a dog leash and “trapped” near people.

You can gently discourage contact by telling people you’re working on specialized training—you don’t have to be specific—and move on before your dog is pushed out of his comfort zone. Remember, you are your dog’s advocate, and you help him cope when he’s in a challenging situation.

What About Dog Playing Sessions?

Even though you might think it’s fun for dogs to have dog friends, your furry best friend might not agree. If your dog isn’t motivated to play with peers, don’t force him to go to the dog park where he might encounter pushy dogs that don’t take no for an answer. As long as your dog is appropriate around other dogs, there’s nothing wrong with choosing the loner life over playing with the pack.

Love the Dog You’re With

Aloof dogs can feel more cat-like because they’re selective with their affections, which can be a disappointment for some pet parents. But dogs are gifted communicators that show their affection in a million different ways, like a panting smile or a companionable stroll. Even if it’s not exactly what you envision, your snuggle-free loner dog will always love you back in his own unique way!

Victoria Schade, CPDT-KA


Victoria Schade, CPDT-KA

Animal Trainer

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