How to Choose a Playmate for Your Dog
Why Choosing a Good Playmate is Important
Does your dog have excess energy and do you believe he may benefit from a frisky romp with another dog? If so, you need to be very careful in choosing a playmate for your dog. Depending on your dog's age and energy levels, he may have his own special requirements. A bad choice can have bad consequences leading to possible aggression and even a bite.
While many dogs do well at the dog park, it is also true that many dogs are not dog park material. Mingling at the dog park with many stranger dogs and among dog owners who would rather chat than supervise the interactions among dogs, may not be your cup of tea. If you have iffy thoughts about the dog park and are not too sure how your dog may do there, your best bet would be to organize play dates with another dog or have your dog attend socialization classes under the guidance and supervision of a reputable dog trainer. If your dog has ever shown reactivity towards other dogs, consider attending "growly dog classes" before exposing your dog to other dogs.
While you may want to carefully select your dog's playmate, consider that there are no rules written in stone. All dogs are different individuals. At times, for instance, same sex dogs may become best buddies, while at other times, what seems to be the best match turns out being a very wrong one! Questions to ask yourself before choosing a playmate for your dog are the following:
- Does your dog really need a playmate? Be honest here; not all dogs appreciate other dogs, especially if they have not been properly socialized or if they are a bit aloof by nature. Some dogs simply prefer the company of humans versus dogs.
- Does your dog get along best with dogs of the opposite sex? Does your dog belong to a breed that is prone to same-sex aggression?
- What is the age of your dog? Young puppies learn great bite inhibition skills by playing with their playmates, but they also can learn a lot from adult dogs. Just remember that a puppy license is not always granted by adult dogs. Older puppies may enjoy energetic romps with dogs of the same age, whereas dogs over the age of two may start becoming a bit choosy over which dogs are going to be friends and which dogs are going to be foe.
- What is your dog's energy level? Hyperactive dogs may be too much to handle for calmer dogs. This may result in the high-energy dog continuously pestering the calmer dog which will give out plenty of "leave me alone, I have had enough!" signals.
- How does your dog act when around other dogs? Does he do a play bow (a meta-signal indicating anything that follows is pure play) whine or bark in excitement to meet the other dogs? These are distance-decreasing signals, meaning he wants the other dog to come closer. Or does he become stiff, tense, hides or growls, barks or lunges? These are all distance-increasing signals, saying "go away!".
- What size is your dog? Small dogs obviously do best with dogs of their same size to prevent injuries, but some small dogs surprisingly get along great with larger dogs that are delicate players. Itsy-bitsy small dogs can get easily injured by a larger dog so size really matters when it comes to choosing their best playmates. Also, keep in mind the risks for predatory drift.
- What is your dog's breed? Different dog breeds have different play styles which may not be welcome from dogs of different breeds. For instance, Aussies and Border Collies, may enjoy incorporating eye-stalks and herding into their games, Boxers like to make punching motions with their forelegs, whereas, some robust breeds prefer to wrestle and mouth.
These questions and honest answers may help you find the best buddy for your dog. Once you have found one, your next step is to make sure everything is going smoothly and ensure their first encounters are on a positive note.
How to Introduce a New Playmate
Think you found the perfect match? There are several steps you can take to make sure that all proceeds well and things remain on the positive side. A good place to start is finding a safe fenced area where you can always keep an eye on the dogs and prevent them from escaping. If you are concerned about the two dogs ever getting into a scuffle or requiring your intervention, consider investing in a short tab to keep on them during play. This tab is short enough to not interfere with play and is something you can hold on to swiftly should your dog escape or need to be separated from the other dog. This tab should not be used to give leash corrections!
*Note: some dogs are going to eventually play with the tab, so keep this possibility in consideration!
After a brief introduction,the dogs can be kept off leash to romp and play, but make sure to always supervise interactions. It is best to limit play sessions to two dogs, since adding a third dog into the mix may make things more complicated. Indeed, two dogs may decide to suddenly gang up against one dog, or the one dog may feel suddenly intimidated by two dogs chasing him at the same time.
It helps to interrupt play every now and to allow some chill-out time, especially if play is starting to get a bit too intense for your taste. Dog play should be fluid, bouncy and fun and dogs naturally take brief breaks every now and then. If these brief breaks are not taking place, call your dogs for a brief, fun break. This is a good opportunity to practice dog recalls, making yourself much more interested than the other dog! Make sure you have high-value treats and toys to attract your dog and help him make a good choice. By doing this, you will avoid poisoning your cue.
Last but not least, make sure to end the play session BEFORE your dog reaches the point of no longer being interested in play. This way, you end the play session on a positive note and prevent your dog from having to give off " I have had enough" signals to the dog. When you end the play session with the other dog, have your dog start a brief play session with you, so again, you do not show your dog that calling him makes all good things end. Very important is to recognize the difference between dogs playing and fighting and understanding dog stress and calming signals so to intervene before play disrupts into a bloody mess.
References: ASPCA Virtual Pet Behaviorist, Choosing playmates for your dog.
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