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How to hold a successful puppy playdate

Updated: April 22, 2013 02:37 PM EDT
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By Susan Hoffman
From Exceptional Canine

Are you a "helicopter mom" who hovers over your puppy, or is your parenting style more relaxed? When it comes to puppy's first playdate, a little bit of both is the right approach. Playing comes naturally to puppies, but you have a critical role in making sure his first playdate goes well.

First, pick the right place. "Find a safe, fenced area on private property," advises Dana Fedman, a certified professional dog trainer and the owner of Pupstart Family Dog Training in Central Iowa. Next, "Allow the puppies to do the ‘Dance of the Leash,' letting them move toward or away and sniff each other nose to rear, without interference from a taut leash," says Fedman. "If both puppies assume the pounce position after a few seconds, they're ready to play and you can remove the leash to let them interact."

Normal Puppy Play
Puppies like to mock-fight in doggie games such as:

--"I chase you, then you chase me," with butts tucked
--Jaw wrestling or gently biting each other on the muzzle, ears and neck
--Play barking and growling
--Alternating who's on top while wrestling and biting
--Chasing and nipping at each other's legs, tails and ears

Dangerous puppy play
You should step in and put distance between your puppies if:

--Either puppy stiffens or you hear deep belly growls
--One puppy repeatedly holds the other on its back
--Either puppy bites too hard or aggressively
--The larger puppy "body slams" with enough force to physically hurt the smaller puppy
--The intensity ramps up to a level that makes you uneasy

Do your best to match up puppy personalities. "If one is shy and timid and the other is overbearing, the timid one can easily become frightened and forevermore be fearful of strange dogs. By the same token, a too-bold first encounter could encourage a puppy to grow up to be a bully," says Fedman.

Common Sense Matters More Than Age or Size
Puppies around the same age -- especially those under 6 months of age -- generally interact well with each other. If the owners are consistently monitoring the play behavior, there's little chance of injury. As far as size is concerned, you might not want a tiny Chihuahua puppy playing with a Mastiff, but this isn't as much of an issue as energy level and personality.

"We have quite a few large-breed puppies that are timid, so we let them play with our Yorkie and Shih Tzu puppies," says Lisa Collins, a certified professional dog trainer and the owner of Collins Canine dog training in Chicago. "I like to have puppies of all sizes exposed to each other, but it has to be done so that each dog is comfortable. If small dogs only encounter small dogs, they will grow up to be afraid of large dogs. And if large dogs only play with each other, they won't learn to be more careful and gentle with smaller dogs," says Collins.

If the first interaction doesn't go well, separate the puppies and walk them away from each other and try again in a few minutes. If the second attempt fails, discontinue that playdate. "Pay attention and be prepared to step in if play gets too rough. Like human children, puppies can get overexcited, and that's when a good playdate can go bad. Sometimes you need to intervene and give them little breaks," advises Collins.

When it's time to end your puppy's playdate, reinforce the good socialization lesson with praise and a cool, rehydrating drink of water.

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