by Susan Hoffman
You are your puppy's best friend, but he wants and needs doggy buddies too. It's perfectly natural and appeals to his pack instinct. And so a puppy playgroup is the perfect place for this socialization to take place.
Your puppy's social development from 6 to 14 weeks of age is critical for his growth as a well-rounded, happy dog, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). During this time, positive experiences with other dogs can reduce the likelihood of fearful behaviors, such as aggression and phobias later in your dog's life.
Find Play Opportunities
So, how do you go about finding the perfect puppy playgroup? "I love this topic. I counsel clients with puppies about how to find a good play match, or two or three, for their puppy," says Amy Robinson of Florida-based Amy Robinson Dog Training. "You need look no further than your neighborhood or your local dog park to find playmates for your puppy. You're bound to find other young dogs playing with each other."
"Observe their body language. You'll see the dominant dogs put their heads over another dog's back. You'll see submissive dogs flip onto their backs, and you'll see other dogs mouthing each other and running side by side. These are the type of playmates you want for your pup, offering the real give-and-take of play."
Robinson also says to not rule out friends and neighbors who have a kindly, patient adult dog. Adult dogs can help teach social skills and the give-and-take of play to a younger dog.
Look for Organized Puppy Playgroups
If you want your pet to join a more organized playgroup, look for a group that meets indoors and includes puppies of a similar size and age, advises Dr. Emily Patterson-Kane, an animal psychologist at the AVMA. Check with your veterinarian for recommendations. "Veterinarians have some training and oversight that can give you more confidence in making this decision," says Patterson-Kane. "I also encourage anyone interested in joining or starting a playgroup to first educate themselves about socialization, immunization and dog behavior." The AVMA offers guidelines and advice.
Not sure where to start? Check out these resources for finding or starting a puppy playgroup:
- Your veterinarian's office
- Your neighborhood or local dog park
- Dog training schools and clubs
- Humane associations
- Breed clubs
- Doggie day cares and pet resorts
- PetSmart and other pet stores that offer training services
- Your groomer's shop
- Facebook and Twitter
Whether you join a puppy playgroup or start your own, our experts advise you to be present, aware and involved. It's your precious pup, so if it doesn't feel right, you should find another group. In general, a professionally managed playgroup is more organized and safer than an informal gathering.
Look for a puppy playgroup that has no more than 15 dogs, so your pet doesn't feel overwhelmed. Make sure interactions are supervised by a human group leader to make sure smaller dogs don't get "pancaked" by larger dogs. Take into consideration your dog's age and stamina. Young puppies will mentally and physically tire out more quickly than adolescent dogs. If your puppy is pooped, it's time to pull the plug.
You can avoid many play-related injuries by simply keeping dogs on leashes until they can be trusted to safely interact with each other. And it's critical that your dog and all the other puppies in the playgroup are vaccinated against disease and wormed according to a veterinarian's schedule.
Your pup will really enjoy becoming part of a puppy playgroup. Connect with the right group by doing your homework first, and then let the fun begin!
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Pets | Dogs: How to Plan a First-class Puppy Playgroup