Introducing your puppy to new friends makes for adorable pictures and fond memories, but socialization is more than just fun. Getting to know their canine peers is a crucial part of a puppy’s development, helping them grow into a well-conditioned and behaved adult dog. While it’s possible to “teach an old dog new tricks” and socialize them later in life, familiarizing puppies with the world around them early tends to pay off.
Before Scheduling a Puppy Playdate
Is your dog ready to “shake paws” with a new pal? The answer may depend on your answer to the following questions:
- Is your puppy vaccinated? Veterinarians suggest puppies receive a series of vaccinations during their early weeks and months to boost their vulnerable immune systems and protect them from harmful (and sometimes deadly) infections. An up-to-date vaccination record is important for keeping your puppy safe as well as any other pets they meet.
- Is your puppy protected against pests? Depending on where you live, you may need to protect your puppy against flea and tick bites before scheduling an outdoor puppy playdate. Preventive treatments against heartworms (and annual testing) are also recommended to keep dogs safe from mosquito-transmitted parasites.
- Is your puppy insured? It’s not the most pleasant thing in the world, but when curious, rambunctious puppies get together, it can often lead to trouble. The average emergency veterinary bill totals between $800 and $1,500, depending on where you live, and certain medical mishaps can cost far more. Coverage offered by insurers including AKC Pet Insurance (underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company and, in WA, American Pet Insurance Company), helps protect your pet care budget against unexpected events like these, and custom add-ons may help cover costs associated with routine and preventive services, exam fees, and other expenses.
- What about their prospective playmate? Talk to your pet-owning friend to make sure their own dog is healthy and protected from infection. If not, pencil a playdate in for a time when both puppies can safely have fun.
Talk to your veterinarian if you’re uncertain about setting up a puppy playdate. They’ll help you determine where, when, and how to best provide for your dog’s socialization during their puppy years and beyond.
Tips for a Successful Puppy Playdate
- Choose playmates wisely. Before picking up the phone to call a fellow puppy owner, make sure you’ve got a good understanding of your dog’s habits, likes, and dislikes. Are certain behaviors likely to trigger a negative response? Are they especially fearful or energetic when confronted with new things? Make sure to select a playmate with size, breed, and temperament that complement your pet.
- Focus on the dogs. Make sure not to get too caught up in your own socialization. Even if COVID-19 has meant fewer recent opportunities to chat with friends, it’s crucial to keep a close eye on your puppies at all times. The pace and tone of canine play can change within an instant, meaning even a momentary distraction can lead to injuries and hefty hospital bills. Vigilance isn’t just about avoiding emergencies, it has positive benefits for dogs and dog owners too. Watching your dog at play will help you learn more about them and their body language, providing for a better bond and easier socialization in the future.
- Location, location, location. When it comes to settings, neutral locations may work best for first-time puppy playmates. Find a secure location that’s large enough to allow for all types of play, but not so large that you can easily lose sight of your pets. If you’re hoping to schedule an indoor playdate, consider reaching out to a pet-loving friend without dogs of their own. This will provide for safe, secure play without the added stimulation that a pet store or pet-filled home would introduce.
- Be careful with toys. Dogs can be possessive about their favorite toys. If one puppy feels a sense of ownership over an object they encounter during a playdate, they may guard it or even behave aggressively toward the other dog. Whether or not this leads to a tussle, it can sour the relationship between the dogs and negatively affect the more passive party’s confidence.
- Take breaks. An active dog is a thirsty dog, so make sure to have bowls and plenty of clean water ready for hydration breaks. As with toys, bringing new or unfamiliar bowls may help discourage dogs from butting heads and guarding their property.
Don’t be afraid to intervene and call things off if your puppy and their playmate aren’t getting along. If things take a turn for the aggressive, avoidant, or lethargic, it’s best to call off the playdate and head home.