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Puppy & Dog Play Dates: A Simple Guide | Pupford

December 27th, 2023

Filed under Lifestyle + Stories

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Ahh, puppy play dates. One of the most fun (and exciting) parts of being a pup parent.

By now, you’ve introduced your new dog to all the humans in your life, but what about the four-legged friends?

New puppy (or even older dog) parents are often unsure of how to navigate puppy & dog play dates, and that’s okay. We’re here to help.

Here’s what we’ll cover about puppy play dates:

  • The importance of socializing your pup
  • When should my dog start having play dates?
  • How to introduce a puppy to other dogs
  • What to look for in a puppy play mate
  • Is doggie daycare the same thing as a play date?

Related Reading: How to Introduce a New Puppy to Your Dog

Before we jump into the first section, let’s hear about your experience with puppy play dates (there are no wrong answers!)

That was just for fun, but now it’s time to dive into the real stuff.

The Importance of Socializing Your Pup

young brown puppy about to be socialized | Pupford

Puppy play dates don’t just make for adorable pictures, they’re an important part of socializing your pup.

Puppy socialization is key to raising a happy dog and shaping positive behaviors for the rest of their lives.

In fact, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior states that incomplete or improper socialization can greatly increase the risk of behavioral problems (fear, avoidance, aggression, etc.) -- which is the greatest threat to your bond with your pup.

Here’s their full research-backed position statement on puppy socialization.

Want to make sure you are socializing your pup properly? Use the socialization checklist in this article.

When Should My Dog Start Having Play Dates?

what age to start having play dates for a puppy | Pupford

One of the most frequently asked questions when raising a young pup is “how old does my dog have to be to start introducing him or her to other dogs.”

This has been pretty heavily debated, so let’s get to the bottom of it.

Dogs should be meeting new dogs (along with people and environments) within the first three months of their lives. Starting as early as seven days after the first set of vaccines and after the first round of deworming, puppies are encouraged to start meeting other dogs in safe, healthy environments.

The combination of maternal immunity, vaccination, and proper care leads to minimal risk of infection.

If your dog is older than three months and hasn’t had any play dates yet -- DON’T WORRY! Start them as soon as possible -- it may take them longer to socialize at an older age but the benefit is still there.

Related Reading: How to Socialize an Adult Dog

How to Introduce a Puppy to Other Dogs

a young puppy being introduced to another dog | Pupford

Now, we’re going to give some practical advice for introducing dogs for a successful playdate.

Here are our top tips:

  • Pick your location carefully! Pick a neutral, safe space for pups to meet, where they are not overwhelmed or territorial. A dog-friendly store like Petco/Petsmart is a good option, or a local park.
  • Bring positive reinforcers, like treats and food, to create a positive association during the playdate.
  • Let your dog lead. Don’t force your dog to interact with the other dog, but rather let them do it at their own pace.
  • Be aware of any chew toys, balls, frisbees, etc. that could lead to any resource guarding
  • Pay attention to body language. Be on the lookout for body language that’s defensive, such as standing on hind legs, baring their teeth, harsh growling, or staring. If that happens, increase the distance between the dogs until your puppy seems more comfortable. Also, be sure to familiarize yourself with how to break up a dog fight, if it gets to that.

Check out this video for more tips when introducing your puppy to other dogs.

What to Look For In a Puppy Play Mate

two dogs sleeping after a puppy play date | Pupford

Just like people dates, puppy & dog play dates are more successful when the dogs are compatible.

Related Reading: Does My Dog Play More When I'm Watching?

While there aren’t any icebreaker questions dogs can ask each other to figure out if they are going to get along, you can help ensure a good match by looking for a few key qualities in your dog’s potential buddy.

Here are some things to look for in a puppy play mate for their date:

  • A similar-sized breed. We're not saying dogs of differing sizes can’t be playmates, but it can sometimes lead to one dog getting hurt. Larger dogs may not realize they are much bigger than their friends, and smaller dogs may not realize they are more fragile.
  • A dog of a similar age. Age is a good indicator of energy level. Matching your dog’s energy level is a good way to keep them entertained and engaged for the whole playdate.
  • A dog with similar play styles. A dog’s personality shows through playing. For example, Border Collies typically enjoy chasing, while Labs prefer to wrestle their playmates. Knowing your dog’s play style can help you find a friend who will play similarly, or at least in a way that won’t aggravate your dog.

Unfortunately, just because you’re friends with someone doesn’t mean your dogs will automatically be good playmates -- you have to be careful to make sure it’s a good match!

Does your dog have a designated play mate? Tell us your pup's play mate's name in the comments!

Is Doggie Daycare the Same Thing As a Dog Play Date?

two dogs playing with a ball outside | Pupford

A common question we get is “my dog goes to doggie daycare, is that the same thing as a play date?”.

And that’s a great question. The short answer is no.

While doggy daycare has benefits including more playtime, companionship, and supervision, it’s not exactly the same as a play date.

During playdates, you have a better opportunity to teach your dog about the proper way to socialize with other dogs through positive reinforcements (yay, treats!). While doggy daycare is a good place to maintain social skills, it may not be the best place for teaching them since you do not get one-on-one training time with your dog.

Also, you can control all aspects of your playdate: the environment, how many dogs are around, the duration, etc. This is especially important when introducing your dog to a new dog for the first time.

So while doggy daycare does have its role, it shouldn’t be the primary method of puppy socialization.

Puppy & Dog Play Dates Recap & Overview

Just as it’s important to introduce your pup to other dogs, it’s equally important to introduce them to a variety of people, objects, and environments.

Keep a few training treats in your pocket whenever you are introducing your pup to something/someone new -- be sure to reinforce positive behavior to help them learn and adapt.

Also, be sure to listen to your dog.

If they seem visibly uncomfortable in a situation, remove them before their behavior gets aggressive or problematic. That will prevent them from forming a negative association with other dogs, which can lead to aggression.

Have you had an experience with puppy play dates you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments below!


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