Social Groups for Dogs

social-groups-with-dogsDogs are basically social animals that enjoy the company of their peers. Well-socialized canines are also comfortable around people and adapt readily to various situations. They are more relaxed and rarely react aggressively or fearfully when exposed to new dogs, people, or experiences.  Socialized dogs don’t get stressed when car horns honk, strange dogs bark, bicycles buzz by or crowds of people cruise past them. Sociable dogs live happy, care-free lives, so how can you help your dog become better socialized?

What are puppy parties?

One simple way to socialize pups is to introduce them to unfamiliar dogs in a familiar environment, i.e. their own back yard. This works well for most pups unless they exhibit aggressive territorial instincts. If your dog wags his tail when visitors arrive, a party is a good idea. If he barks and snarls, meeting on neutral ground may be more the ticket.

Even though this method is dubbed a puppy party, it isn’t a major gathering. It’s best not to overwhelm your pup by inviting a dozen strange dogs to your house at one time. The goal is to help the pup become more comfortable around his peers, not more worried. Invite a few well-behaved dogs that belong to owners you like and trust.

What’s a play date?

Unlike puppy parties, play dates involve fewer dogs and take place with more regularity. If you have acquaintances with compatible dogs and schedules you need look no further. You and your pup can both enjoy frequently scheduled visits. But if you don’t have a ready source of human/canine friends, there are ways to find them.

"Play groups, unlike dog parks, consider
the size and temperament of the dogs
and are held in private secure locations."

Scout your neighborhood for potential playmates/owners while walking your dog or visiting local dog parks.  Play groups, unlike dog parks, consider the size and temperament of the dogs and are held in private secure locations. The internet has successfully connected the canine world so you may find a compatible friend for your dog by accessing one of the many “meet-up” groups. Online communication between owners can assess compatibility of the pets prior to a play date…kind of like online dating sites.

Should we go to a dog park?

Dog parks are springing up in cities, small towns, and even rural areas. The parks are usually open to the public and are playgrounds for all sorts of dogs. With this in mind, it’s important to frequent a park where both you and your dog feel safe. Scout the park prior to bringing your dog to determine a less busy time of day to visit. Keep your dog on leash until you feel secure about the other dogs in the park. Unlike controlled playgroups, you can’t choose your dog’s friends at a public park.

Should I take my pup to puppy classes?

A more structured socialization method involves enrolling your pup in a “kindergarten class” that includes training as well as socializing. These classes can be informal where pups are allowed to play off-leash in a confined area or more focused on obedience instruction.  Pups playing with other pups develop gentle mouths as they explore their new companions and learn to respect them. They also learn to tolerate different people as they meet dog owners. Some classes broaden the curriculum exposing pups to stimuli such as car horns, children, loud music, etc. You can look online or ask your veterinary hospital about local classes.

What about doggy day care?

Busy families leave the house during the day heading to school or work, which means hours of alone time for the family dog. To provide a little companionship, many pet owners opt for doggy day care dropping the pup off at day care on the way to work and picking him up on the way home. Well-run facilities provide supervised play time off leash as well as individual walks and one-on-one play time with staff members. The dog gets both canine and human interaction during the day and returns to his loving home at night.

What’s the etiquette when taking my dog to any of these groups?

As in human social settings, there are canine rules of etiquette. Here is a checklist of items that create a good canine social group.

  1. Health status verification. Make sure all dogs have updated immunizations for communicable canine diseases transmitted by coughing or close contact. Puppies should complete their initial series of immunizations before being exposed to other dogs. Dogs should also be free of fleas and intestinal parasites. Since this is difficult to enforce in dog parks, make sure your dog is vaccinated and has a good flea and intestinal parasite prevention program that will protect him from dogs that don’t.
  2. Temperament assessment. Participating dogs should have compatible temperaments. There will usually be an alpha dog in the group, but even the “top dog” should be well behaved and not aggressive. Both you and your dog should feel safe in the group.  It’s best for females to avoid social groups during their heat cycles. 
  3. Controlled dogs. Owners should have complete control of their dogs on leash and off. Dogs should respond to their owners’ voice commands and should respect their canine peers, especially when dogs of varying sizes are grouped together.
  4. Compatible level of physical activity. Energetic dogs enjoy physically active companions. Couch potatoes prefer calmer friends. Find a group compatible with your dog’s level of physical activity.
  5. Bio Breaks. Pet owners should pick up and dispose of animal waste promptly. When visiting friends or attending puppy classes, elimination etiquette is essential and dog parks are not latrines.  Playtime makes dogs thirsty so find a source of fresh water or bring along bottled water and a collapsible water bowl.

What are the benefits of canine social groups?

Socializing your dog may have several positive benefits. Dogs, by nature, enjoy being active and instinctively revert back to their ancestral heritage of hunting or herding livestock. Pet dogs, however, spend a lot of time in a confined home setting where they don’t have to work and often become bored. Boredom leads to obesity and behavioral problems. Physical activity and mental stimulation found in play groups may decrease behavior and health problems. Investigating new sights, sounds, and smells found in the company of other dogs may provide enough stimulation to thwart the inclination to investigate the stuffing in your favorite pillow. In fact, your dog may actually need that pillow for a long nap after playing with his canine buddies.

Dogs, like people, need to practice their social skills. Spending time with other dogs will help your dog hone his ability to read his friends’ body language and to communicate effectively. These skills decrease the development of dog related fear and aggression.

Canine and human socialization occur simultaneously and dog owners enjoy meeting new friends, too. Watching dogs play is a great way to reduce your stress level. Socializing should be pleasant for you and your dog, so find a comfortable group and setting and have fun!

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

© Copyright 2015 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

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