It is crucial during puppyhood to introduce proper socialization and play with other dogs. This should help prevent dog-to-dog negative experiences and associations from arising. Below are some suggestions to consider:
One on one play
Instead of bringing your puppy to the dog park where there can be a multitude of dogs of different ages, sizes and temperaments – consider one-on-one interactions instead. This way you can easily interrupt the play if it starts to escalate or become stressful for your puppy. The dog park can be overwhelming with no real way to escape and subsequently your puppy may develop negative association, habits or reactivity towards other dogs.
Find similar sized breeds/ similar aged puppies or dogs to play with
The puppy Great Dane won’t likely be the best match for the puppy Chihuahua. Similarly, some breeds are more rambunctious and playful than others. The quiet/calm puppy might get too intimidated by the bouncy “in your face” puppy. Try to find puppies with similar play style and similar sizing. This will help prevent intimidation and one puppy getting too stressed/overwhelmed. Always watch body language. If it looks like one puppy has had enough make sure to take a break.
Consider leaving a leash attached during play
A short 4 or 6-foot soft leash can stay clipped onto a flat collar or harness during play. This way if there is any conflict or issues that arise you can easily grab and separate. Young puppies are still learning so using a leash to help guide them through situations can be beneficial.
One of the biggest problems at dog parks/playdates is lack of “dog language” knowledge and not paying attention to the dogs. Standing in groups while the dogs run and play, possibly missing any stressful cues from your puppy or missing any bullying and disrespectful behavior from other dogs/puppies. Monitoring the situation will allow you to intervene when/if needed and hopefully prevent any negative situations from arising.
Bring treats and toys to your playdate
Make sure you’re valuable. Bring squeaky toys, treats, balls etc. Firstly you’re using these to help make yourself important and exciting but secondly you can use these to redirect when needed. Working on recalls around the other dogs and recalls off play starting from a young age will help build the foundation for when they’re older.
Know the signs of a stressed or uncomfortable puppy
No, they won’t just “work it out”. No, don’t just let him “get over it”. If you see signs of a stressed or overwhelmed puppy you’ll need to take a break from the interaction and try to redirect onto something positive. This is where the toys/treats can also come into play. Signs of a stressed puppy include yelping or crying, hiding behind your legs or objects (under picnic tables etc), tail tucked, running away frantically (not playfully), growling/snapping. If these signs are ignored and not dealt with properly then your puppy may start to pair a negative response to other dogs.
Know the signs of a rude/incessant/disrespectful puppy or dog
Not all puppies are great at reading social signals so sometimes we need to help them. Whether you own the chaser or the chasee, you have equal responsibility in knowing when enough is enough. If your puppy is the one bothering/scaring the other one, that’s your responsibility to redirect and take a break from allowing that behavior. Signs of this would be a puppy who does not respond or react to vocalizations/ signals/ language from the other puppy, chasing relentlessly, excessive tackling (not allowing the other puppy to get up), being overbearing/ causing visible stress, and of course any sign of aggressive tendencies.
It’s important to keep your play sessions short. A few minutes, take a break, and then release back to play if everybody is comfortable and happy. If things seem to be escalating then that would be a good time to end the session. It’s a great time to work on your engagement and recalls with your puppy. It’s also an opportunity to finesse your release/break commands so your puppy really starts to understand them. Training is not just one hour here or there, it’s a lifestyle, especially with puppies. Use these situations to reinforce everything you have trained at home.
You want to try to make sure your puppy has as many positive social interactions with other dogs as possible. Avoid leash greetings with strange dogs, avoid dog parks and avoid areas where there may be disobedient dogs and a lack of structure. It’s your job as an owner to try to set your puppy up for success, I hope these suggestions can help!