Diamonds in the Ruff
Helping My Dog Meet Other Dogs
Does your dog need "dog friends" to be happy?
Ask your dog! Some dogs enjoy the company of dog friends. Some dogs could do without. All they need is you. And that's okay.
Your dog is not maladjusted if he'd rather hang out with you than go run with all the dogs at the dog park. Some people would rather read a good book than go to a party and make small talk with people they don't know.
Appreciate your dog for who he is.
While he is still small enough to carry, you can walk the Centennial Trail where he can observe a variety of sizes and breeds of other dogs from the safety of your arms. As far as actually meeting other dogs, the main thing is to make sure the dogs he is meeting are healthy, vaccinated, well behaved and well-socialized - which you don't know about dogs you meet out in the real world. Pick friend's and family's dogs that you know are appropriate and will provide a positive experience.
The best dogs for him to meet are calm and don't really care about him. Hanging out sniffing in the lawn is better than wrestling or being chased and knocked down or learning how to play high arousal, play fighting games. Retrievers are 'mosh pit' full body contact sport players. There is nothing a herding breed hates worse than being knocked around. They prefer polite greetings and games of tag with minimal touching. They are put off by in-your-face gushy types who come in too fast. Exposing them to that over and over again tends to quickly generalize to "all dogs are rude-stay away!" reactions. Make sure dogs he meets are kind, respect his personal space needs, and aren't overwhelming.
Set up a play date. If you have a friend who has a calm, healthy, vaccinated, well-adjusted, socially-experienced dog who will be a good mentor for your puppy, invite them to come over for the afternoon or go play at their house. Want extra socialization? Schedule sleep-overs at a trusted friend's. The goal is to seek out situations where calm dogs hang out together and go sniffing together. It isn't about "playing" or wearing each other out. Crashing around, wrestling and mock fighting, or chase, tackle and pin games can teach poor social skills, not good ones.
My vet said he needs "more socialization" - what does that mean?
Usually it means that your dog lacks social experience and is therefore uncomfortable with new people, animals, places, and/or things. The goal of socialization is to help the dog relax, build confidence and replace suspicion and defensiveness with trust. The dog park contains way too many unknowns to be certain your dog will have a safe, confidence building experience. especially for dogs who lack good experiences.
At the dog park, there are no assurances that these are safe, appropriate, vaccinated dogs. You won't know if their owners have off-leash control until it's too late.
Illness and Parasites
If you have a young puppy that has not finished his complete vaccination series, do NOT take him to any public place where unvaccinated dogs may have been - especially the dog park. Viruses can live in the soil for a very long time. A dog park is a breeding ground for any number of viruses and parasites that can be spread via the soil, water and air. Upper respiratory viruses are much more likely to be passed around the playground than in training classes, day cares and boarding kennels where vaccinations and health checks are required before enrolling.
Parasites can be picked up through contact with feces and by drinking water from puddles in common areas where fecal matter has been. Bacterial infections and giardia are common issues as they can live in a wet or damp environment for a very long time.
Other intestinal parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms and whipworms, live in the soil and can be easily passed on to your dog if it ingests these eggs by licking his feet, eating dirt, etc. If you are a regular at the dog park, have your dog's stool checked routinely by a veterinarian for intestinal parasites.
"It's all fun and games
- until someone ends up in a cone."
Another problem owners should watch for in a dog park is co-mingling of big and little dogs. Serious injuries - even death - can result from the injuries inflicted to a small dog by a larger dog.
Dog fights also can arise between dogs of any size, so owners must always be watchful of their pet to make sure that safe play is taking place and redirect before things get tense to keep fights from breaking out between dogs.
If your pet is not properly socialized for this type of interactive play, altercations are likely to occur.
Many dogs don't like to play with dogs they don't know. Much like many people are more comfortable hanging out with close friends than going to big parties where they don't know anyone.
Thank you, Robin Bennett for this great meme!
For more information on reading dog body language, attend the "What is My Dog Saying?" canine communication lecture held monthly at Diamonds in the Ruff. And to learn more about Dog Park Safety, check out the "What is My Dog Saying at the Dog Park?" presentation HERE.
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Photos by Margaret Duclos