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As a pup-parent, you’ve likely met other dog owners and have bonded over a shared love of your four-legged friends. Eventually, the idea for a playdate between your two dogs is likely to come up. The idea seems like a fun one at first, until you remember a few instances of your pup’s bad behavior. Even if your dog is generally well-mannered, you never know how he might act around a stranger, whether human or fur ball. Pup playdates are a good chance to socialize your dog to new experiences and individuals, but there is a right and wrong way to go about them. Avoid a meeting mishap between your dog and his pup-pal by reading this to-do list and ensuring your playdate is a success!
1. Pick a Playmate
Not every dog will be the right friend for your dog. Factors like age, size, sex and energy level should be taken into account to give this playdate the best chance at success. For example, it’s best to pair up dogs of opposite sexes, as dogs of the same sex may see each other as threatening and are more likely to get into fights. This is not to say that two female dogs or two male dogs can never get along, but it is not as encouraged as having a male and female dog play together for the first time. A playmate close in age to your pup is also ideal, as the energy levels of the pups will be more likely to match up, whereas a young, lively puppy might get on the nerves of an older, more tranquil dog. Likewise, it’s best not to have dogs of differing sizes playing together, as one may end up overpowering the other or injuring the other without intention. Finally, make sure your pup is up to date with his vaccinations, and aim to surround him with other vaccinated pups to reduce the chance of spreading illness.
2. Choose a Neutral, Secure Environment
Where the playdate takes place matters just as much as who your pup is spending it with. Like your pup’s playmate, the setting must also be a good match; not too cramped, but also not too spacious. Avoid having the first encounter at your or the other owner’s house, as the dog living there may feel like his territory is being infringed upon when an unfamiliar dog enters it.
3. Take it Slow
For your dog’s first introduction to his new playmate, you will want to maintain a cool, calm demeanor. Since our dogs can pick up on human feelings of stress, going into the meeting with bad feelings can set your dog up for a failed experience. Keep a lax grip on your dog’s leash and encourage him with a praising tone of voice. Most importantly, don’t force the interaction. Despite trying your best to pair your pup with what appears to be the right playmate for him, it still might not be a perfect match. Take it slow by allowing your dog sniff out his playmate and encourage the other owner to do the same. Pay attention to body language to see how both dogs feel about the experience. Tongue-out smiles and wagging tails are signs of a good time, while a stiff body, exposed teeth and growling might be signs to separate the two pooches. But if both pups look relaxed and eager to play with each other, then allow them to play off-leash under your supervision.
4. Break Time
Even if all is going well, your pup and his playmate are bound to get tired sooner or later, so interrupt the play about every five minutes to split up the dogs, allowing them both some time to take a breather. After refueling them with water and treats, you can send them on their way again while keeping a watchful eye.
5. In the Case of a Fight
You’ll know if the encounter turns into a fight if you hear a lot of angry noise or see the dogs tangled up or displaying signs of aggression. Although most dog fights are minor, a risky situation that involves two irritated dogs should be halted immediately to avoid injury or worse. To safely end the fight and avoid getting hurt yourself, spray the dogs with water from a hose or spray bottle to distract them away from the tussle. Alternatively, you can make a loud noise to startle the dogs into silence. Always keep your hands away from either dog’s face. Once the dogs are separated, document any injuries and keep both pups secured on leashes, where they can no longer interact. If you wish, you can give the playdate one last shot on another occasion, but depending on the severity of the fight, you may have to accept the fact that not all of “man’s best friends” are meant to be “best friends.”
Dog playdates can be a fun socialization activity as well as provide a healthy means of exercise. As long as the encounter is kept safe, a pup playdate should be a positive experience for all involved.