We know it can be absolutely adorable when dogs copy each other. When they start doing the same precious thing as their furry friends at the park? Or encouraging their own favorite behaviors?
We know, we know. We probably have the same reaction you do.
But sometimes when dogs pick up on each others’ actions, they learn bad habits.
So is there any way to put a stop to the less than cute “contagious behaviors”?
Yes and no.
The nature of the behavior itself determines whether or not it can be prevented. Which means it’s important to understand just why your dog is being a copycat in the first place.
Seeking Social Acceptance
Going back to our previous example of when dogs copy each other in the park, you’ll find a scenario of dogs seeking social acceptance.
Your dog may be uninterested in splashing through the pool or climbing on ramps. That is, until they see other dogs doing so. At which point, your pooch has a very quick change of heart.
This is because dogs are social animals. Just like people, they don’t like to be left out of social activities. The desire to fit in prompts dogs to act in certain ways.
This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. But as a pet parent, you have the capability to prevent this social contagion, when necessary.
Meaning you have a say in who your dogs friends are, and who they’re learning from.
You can avoid problems at the dog park (or in other dog social events) by avoiding misbehaving dogs and such misconduct-inciting-situations as overcrowding, toy nabbing, playing rough, and jumping.
Likewise, if your own dog has a tendency to misbehave, you can be a responsible pet parent and stop the spread of bad habits by removing your pet from situations where a “social pandemic” could occur.
Avoid taking them to the dog park until you and your pets have mastered the dog park do’s and don’ts.
You’ve probably also noticed dogs copy each other when it comes to food, toys, or space.
In fact, this sort of copycat behavior can bridge species. When your dog sees any other pet claim something as its own, they will instinctively decide that they want it.
For example, one dog won’t be interested in eating until it sees another animal move towards its bowl. Or they won’t be ready for bed until they see their sibling curl up on the blankets.
In truth, when you have two animals in close quarters who mimic each other, it’s usually a passive aggressive play for dominance in a small territory.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it’s normal for pet siblings to establish dominant-submissive relationships with one another.
However, you can help avoid any jealousy inspired aggression by insuring all pets in your home have their own toys, beds, bowls, etc.
Protective Instincts Kicking In
All dogs are descended from wolves. As such, they all have a set of mutually inherited protective instincts ingrained in them from birth.
Just like social desires and territorial drives, these instincts can also make dogs copy each other. And when that happens, pet owners really have little-to-no say in the matter.
For example, if you’ve ever heard a group of dog’s barking – and had your own pup join in the chorus – you may have noticed that the ruckus all began with a single animal. One dog barked, and one by one, the others did too.
This behavior is inspired by the wolf’s pack mentality. The initial bark sounded an alert – possibly a warning – and your dog’s instincts tell them to spread the word.
As annoying as it can be to have your dog barking (especially at night) sometimes you just have to acknowledge their roots and understand where they’re coming from.
The best thing for you to do in this situation is realize that your dog is on edge and alert for a reason. Rather than admonish them for this “contagious behavior”, you should be sure they’re comfortable and provide assurance until your pet seems to feel that any threat has passed.