Puppies have a lot of learning to do when they enter the world, and one of the most important things they can learn is how to appropriately socialize with other puppies.
Yes, puppy play groups are very good. Pups need to develop good socialization habits between the 3–12 week period to teach them how to properly interact with other dogs.
This helps them to view the world positively, and to avoid developing fearful behaviours.
To meet this need, the idea of a puppy playdate, where a bunch of puppies get together and play, was formed. But are puppy play groups good for puppies?
For the first 8 weeks they would normally only interact with their mother and the other puppies in the litter. However, once you collect your puppy from the breeder, socializing with other puppies/dogs will be under your control.
If you have another dog or dogs in the household that's great. However, if your new pet pooch is an “only child” then arranging outside puppy socialization is crucial.
You will probably find this other post of mine very useful also. How much exercise does a Cavapoo need?
The posh phrase the experts like to use is "cognitive development", but it's just common sense that dogs need to be able to interact well with other dogs and the sooner they start to learn the better.
There are a lot of important factors in determining what a good puppy playdate looks like, and this article will help you understand them.
Here we let you explore what to look for, when trying out a puppy play group and how to make sure your puppy has a great time. It should be a really fun experience for you also!
What age can puppies have a playdate?
Starting at 9 weeks of age, puppies can start having playdates. Keep in mind that this number can vary depending on when your dog is having their vaccinations and deworming.
You should never want to take a puppy to a playdate before they've had their jabs.
Off-leash, free play is ideal at this age, but you should keep a close eye on your pup in any play session. Ideally this should take part in a private field with a good perimeter fence that keeps out other dogs that are not part of the organised group.
If your puppy is not having a good time, precautions need to be taken so that they can join in play when they are comfortable.
Are puppy playdates a good idea?
Puppy playdates are important to establish good social bonding between dogs. Dogs that lack socialization will develop fears of the world around them and be aggressive towards or frightful of other dogs.
Keep in mind that a playdate is not the same as taking your pup to a general dog park or open access field. Here you will be meeting adult dogs who are just out for their normal daily walks.
You have no control over what other type of potentially aggressive adult dogs might turn up. So open fields is generally a terrible idea, as bigger dogs have a lot more energy and even non-aggressive ones can be far too rough for your puppy.
Even in an organised playdate, you want to make sure that all the dogs involved are non-aggressive.
It is worth pointing out that not only yours but the other puppies involved should have had their proper shots.
The risk of spreading disease is much higher when a dog who isn’t vaccinated is introduced to the mix.
How many play sessions should a puppy have?
This can vary depending on the energy level of your pup and how receptive they are of new environments. In general, puppies need no more than 1-2 play sessions per week.
The goal should always be to prioritize your puppy’s wellbeing, and a single bad experience at a playdate can influence their behavior for a long time. Make sure they are enjoying the play sessions and don’t overstimulate them.
What’s the best way to manage a play session?
The best way to manage a play session is to keep a close eye on all the dogs to ensure that they are nonaggressive. Keep an eye on your puppy’s body language. Are they frightened or nervous?
Make sure they have the space to engage or disengage wherever they need to and remove them if you feel the situation will get aggressive or dangerous. A play session should be free of excessive barking, large dogs, and high-intensity wrestling, especially for a young puppy.
How long should a puppy play group last?
A good rule of thumb for exercising in general is that 5 minutes of play is suitable for every month of age. This applies for playdates, too.
So a 12 week old puppy should be pretty well tired out after 15 minutes of intense running around with a group of equally excited puppies. Once again, keep an eye on your puppy’s body language for signals of them getting over tired.
If they seem fatigued or are panting heavily, they’re probably done for the day and are likely to respond with aggression if another dog tries to play with them while they’re tired.
Since puppies don’t understand social cues very well, it’s always better to play it safe rather than have your dog being harassed while they’re tired.
The great thing about play groups and play dates is your puppy will sleep really well when you take them home. There is nothing quite like fresh air and vigorous exercise to tire them out. You should find that it improves their appetite also, which is another good thing.
Should I let my puppy growl when playing?
Growling can be perfectly acceptable when it the context of playing. When puppies are wrestling or play-fighting, they might growl a little. This is perfectly acceptable since there is no aggressive intent.
On the other hand, if your puppy is growling because they are stressed or not receptive to play from another dog, it’s their way of saying, “Hey, back off!”
It’s a natural part of how dogs communicate, but you should remove your dog from a situation where they’re experiencing aggression.
Is rough play good for puppies?
Rough play can be good for more active breeds that need more exercise, but dogs have different temperaments, and you should be constantly studying how well your dog is handling rough play, and it’s never a positive learning experience to let an older dog rough up a puppy.
It is worth remembering that dogs interact with one another in similar ways as wild animals would. When in a social group it is 100% natural that they like to know who are the more dominant members of the "pack".
So even when playing with one another, the stronger puppies will be gently reminding others in the group that they are top dog.
When puppy play dates are not available
If your puppy is spending a lot of time at home on their own, getting them a good chew to play with can be a big help. They are marvellous when they are teething and may just save your furniture from being chewed to bits.
So checkout this article on the Best Puppy Chews.
Also if you are going to be taking your puppy out for a walk after dark, see this great post on the Chalk Kids blog about the Best Dog Walking Torch.
Read about potty training your puppy.
Puppy play dates, or play groups can be very good for your puppies development if they are well organised and fun.
To be honest you will learn as much as they do by mixing with the other owners to share your experiences so far with others in the group.
Remember some puppy play groups have waiting lists, so ideally you should be looking for one before you get your puppy as by the time a place becomes available they will be too old for it!
So take the plunge and search for puppy playdates and organised puppy play groups in your area. We are confident that most puppies and owners absolutely love them.