It takes a little matchmaking and a lot of observation to set up a successful doggie playdate. Even in communities with lots of dog parks, meetups and pup-friendly spots, a playdate is a good way to socialize your dog and encourage appropriate play behavior in a one-dog-on-one-dog situation.
Dogs learn about behavioral cues, burn off excess energy, teach them how to handle sharing toys and are perfect for a dog who’s uncomfortable in the dog park around a pack of other pooches
But while playdates can be good for your dog’s mental health and manners, when one goes bad, it can do a lot of damage. A dog that is attacked by another dog may develop phobias and even dog aggression down the line. Since the stakes are relatively high, it’s important to get the match right.
Here are some tips for setting up a successful playdate for your dog.
1. Know Your Dog
If your dog is very dog-selective, even a match made in doggie heaven may end in disaster. Playdates are not appropriate for dogs who have aggression toward other dogs. They aren’t recommended either for fearful dogs or dogs who are overly submissive. Both of these characteristics increase the chance that a playdate may turn into a bloody disaster.
For dogs who get on well with other dogs, choose wisely. Try to find a dog for the date who’s around the same size, with the same energy level and a similar temperament.
2. Learn What Both Pooches Enjoy
Does your dog love to play fetch? Then a date with a dog who lives to wrestle isn’t ideal. Nor is a trip to a dog beach if one dog loves to swim and the other dog is terrified of water. Be sure to talk to the other dog’s owners, and find out everything you can about their dog.
Ask direct questions. What does their dog love to play with the most? What is his favorite toy? What is his favorite game? Does he have any issues around sharing his toys? Does he have a preferred place to play or is he comfortable anywhere? The more you know, the better the match.
3. Choose a Neutral Meeting Ground
Bringing a pooch into another dog’s space invites territorial conflict. If the dogs are first meeting, try taking them both for a walk together. Let them sniff and check each other out. Observe their body language: look for the signs that both dogs are relaxed.
Walk for around 15 to 20 minutes, letting the dogs approach and retreat at will. This is the time to assess whether the match is made in heaven or not. If one (or both) dog’s hackles are raised, if the ears flatten, they stare intensely at each other or there’s any growling, these two dogs may not be the best fit. If the dogs appear relaxed and ready to play, take them to a safe, enclosed place where they can play off-leash.
4. Be Careful with Toys
While you may see an occasional tennis ball in the neighborhood dog run, for the most part it is a toy-free zone. The reason being is that dogs can get possessive with toys, including tennis balls and tug toys. One dog in the pack may decide that the toy is his, and it may not be the dog who actually “owns” it. This is the canine form of bullying, and it either leads to aggression or one dog who experiences a serious loss of confidence.
To be safe, keep the focus on the two dogs. Dogs and other animals, particularly puppies, have been playing without toys for thousands of years. If you do decide to add a toy to the party, bring more than one toy. Make sure that both dogs know the command “drop it.” If you notice at any point that the play turns too serious, remove the toy to a place where it’s out of sight.
5. Pay Attention
Leave your phone in your pocket or bag; you should be keeping an eye on the playdate. Remember, play can escalate into confrontation in a second — even when two dogs are perfectly matched. Paying attention to the dogs will allow you to interrupt if the play starts to get too intense or shifts into aggression.
That doesn’t mean you can’t catch up with a friend. There’s no need to micromanage the play, but disappearing into your cell phone isn’t appropriate.
6. Provide a Wet Bar
Bring plenty of water to the date as well as a dog bowl. If the weather is hot, this is extremely important — playing is hard work for a dog.
It’s a good idea to provide a bowl other than the one your dog uses at home to avoid any potential resource guarding. If both dogs are drinking from the same bowl, get one that’s large enough for them to both drink at the same time, or ask the other dog parent to bring a bowl too.
7. Short and Sweet
It’s best not to let the dogs play to the point that they’re really tired. Tired dogs, like tired kids, are cranky. A 30-minute playdate is usually plenty.
If at any time you notice one dog has had enough, end the date early. Look for avoidance behavior such as running away from the other dog, hiding behind your leg or laying down and looking away. This doesn’t mean the pups aren’t a match. It’s best to end the date when both dogs are happy, tired and relaxed.