Once your dog has his second round of vaccines, it is safe for him to be introduced to another dog who is fully vaccinated. Your puppy is usually around 12 weeks old at that point, and it’s an excellent time to start testing out puppy playdates. You might have heard me talk about the imprint period. This phase, between birth and 16 weeks, is when your dog is forming some opinions about the world.
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Start testing out puppy playdates
The more things you can expose him to in a positive way, the more likely he will approach the big wide world with confidence! Keep in mind that the exposure has to be positive. If you overdo it, it’s going to backfire! because it’s super important. If you haven’t watched it yet, check it out when you’re done here. Let’s get back to that WHEN question.
If your dog is a little older, and you adopted him from a shelter or just got him a little later in his life, wait a few days or a week after he comes home before introducing him to a playmate outside your household. You always want to give new pups a chance to settle in first. I’ve already touched on the WHY doggie playdates are important. As I said, they are part of the exposure and socialization to the outside world.
But you might be surprised by this next statement: It’s if your dog isn’t interested in other dogs. Not all dogs like to play with other dogs. It’s really good to try out some playdates and see what his level of interest is, but it’s also for your dog to say MEH when it comes to other dogs. Some dogs just prefer engaging with their humans, kids, or even a cat. This is Jenna and her pup Daisy and her cat Junior.
They are working through my online course. We have learned that their dog and cat love playing together. But just like with puppy playdates, it’s important to make sure it’s going well for all the animals involved. of the animals playing together to get some feedback on what we think. That’s one of the benefits of the PRO level of my course – that personalized feedback on your exact situation.
So you see, there are plenty of ways to meet your dog’s need for enrichment and socialization that do NOT involve other dogs. If you have one of those “not a fan of dogs” kinds of dogs, it’s best if you find the sweet spot: provide enough exposure to other dogs that he is not reactive when he sees them on walks, but skip the playdates and visits from other dogs if he doesn’t enjoy it. OK let’s talk about the WHO. “Who is a good playmate for my dog?”.
Well, you know your dog best so try to evaluate his play style. “But Michele, he’s such a baby, I don’t know what he likes yet!” Yep, that’s no problem. That’s why we do playdates with different dogs to see who is a good fit. But think about your dog’s temperament. Is he energetic and confident? Is he a little more timid and needs time to warm up to new things? The most important thing in choosing a playmate is to match the temperament.
Dog is unlikely to enjoy the antics of a puppy
For example, if your dog is a little on the shy side, pick a playmate who is a little calmer and will be patient and wait for your dog to engage before pouncing. You’ll also want to be aware of age when choosing a playmate. A much older dog is unlikely to enjoy the antics of a puppy. Generally speaking, try to find a dog close to your dog’s age. Maybe within a few years! That’s not a hard and fast rule but that is what has worked well for me.
Dogs of dramatically different ages just have different wants and needs. And older dogs might have some aches and pains that cause them to take it a little slower, or they don’t want to play with such an energetic puppy. Some dogs have distinct preferences. Meet Olive. Olive belonged to another trainer on my team, Nicole. As an adult dog, Olive loved to play with puppies! Just puppies! She had a brother, Copper, and they were good friends.
But when it came to playtime, it was all about puppies. Other dogs her age were pretty uninteresting to her. It took some trial and error for Nicole to figure out Olive’s preference. But once she did, playing with puppies became a great outlet for sweet Olive. You might think that choosing a playmate of the same breed is an automatic match. Not so much. It MIGHT be a better chance of a good match, but the breed is only one of the characteristics to look at.
Dogs of two different sizes
As I said, temperament is the most important factor. In addition, be aware of size when choosing a playmate. Now, it’s entirely possible to have dogs of two different sizes who do well playing together. Meet Marshmellow and Bailey. Bailey’s human, Jessica, went through my online course. She knew Bailey was going to be a big guy. And using the online course, she wanted to make sure he was a good boy for their busy household.
A few years later, Marshmallow joined the family somewhat unexpectedly. She began working through the online course again. That’s one of the benefits of this course. There’s no expiration date so if you need a refresher on some of the skills, or you get another dog, to evaluate if Marshmallow and Bailey are engaged in healthy play. Is that not the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?
Look how big Bailey is compared to little Marshie. But the thing I loved is what we call ‘self-handicapping’. That means the bigger dog alters his body positions to make him less likely to injure the small dog. You can see Bailey is lying down, he’s gentle with his mouth and he isn’t playing with more than a paw and a soft nibble or two. I guarantee you that if Bailey was playing with another dog his size, it would look a lot different!
How the dogs do when they are together
So this is an example of great play, where Bailey is taking care to not hurt Marshmallow. Jessica is working on other aspects of training to ensure there are no injuries due to the size difference. This includes Bailey waiting patiently before going out the door, so he doesn’t run over Marshmallow, and Marshmallow being comfortable in his pen and crate, so the family’s energetic play with Bailey doesn’t result in an injury.
So, as you see, size can matter, but it’s only one of the factors. What matters the most is how the dogs do when they are together. Now let’s talk about WHERE these playdates can happen. Dogs move around a lot when playing so it’s good to have them in an open room or yard. This allows some freedom to run, jump, roll, pounce and stalk. If you have a fenced yard without too many obstacles, that would be best. But an indoor area is also. Just be prepared to clear things out of the way.
When dogs play together they do NOT care about what they bump into! If a lamp falls and breaks, that’s on the human! Let’s also talk about WHERE TO FIND that playmate. Many people feel that the breeder is a good source of finding similar puppies, and people often set up playdates with relatives of their dogs. You can also ask your vet or groomer for recommendations.
Dog parks are good places to scout out
Keep in mind that vets and groomers usually see dogs only when they are stressed, so they may not know for sure who would be a good fit, but it’s worth a try. As I mentioned in that dog park, dog parks are good places to scout out some playmates. Just pick one or two dogs for a private playdate and skip the unsafe dog park. Many communities have small groups that meet up for regular playtime with similar-aged dogs.
I know in my community there’s a small dog meet up and you might find one for big dogs too! Playdates can also be with more than one dog. I would suggest you keep it to a maximum of three dogs together at a time. If you have more than three dogs you probably won’t see any pauses in play, which are important so the playdate doesn’t escalate and get too crazy. And if you have littermates, offer them a chance to play with another dog, both separately and together!
So now that we got all those details out of the way, let’s talk about HOW to navigate that playdate. Believe it or not, it’s more than just plopping two dogs in the backyard and letting them go for it. For one, try to schedule the playdate for a time when your pup doesn’t have a ton of energy but isn’t overtired either. You’re looking for that medium spot in the battery. When first introducing the pups, start with a parallel walk.
When that other dog is across the street
That means both dogs walking down the street in the same direction, each with their human. You might need some distance, like walking on opposite sides of the street. But let them be aware of each other without expecting them to meet and play just yet. We don’t love on-leash greetings, despite what you see in movies! But these walks are a great way for the dogs to start getting to know each other.
Believe me, their noses are working overtime even when that other dog is across the street! If the parallel walk is going well and neither dog is having too strong of a reaction, it’s fine to move it to an off-leash greeting in a fenced area. Here’s something you might not have thought of: Make sure to remove all collars or harnesses. Dogs are very mouthy when they play, and that’s OK, it’s normal.
But I’ve seen teeth get caught on collars and get ripped out, or collars and harnesses get hooked together. This could cause panic in the two dogs and could be dangerous. So naked pups are the name of the game! Another tip: Keep the extra stimulation low. We don’t need humans cheering on the dogs, they will do just fine on their own. Just be quiet and observe how they do together.
Speaking of noises, it is normal to hear vocalizations from the dogs. Growling barking pouncing and biting are all-natural puppy engagements. It might sound more vicious than it is as they learn and explore their vocals. During the playdate, we recommend everyone just stay out of the way, especially kids.