Your puppy’s first meeting with other puppies is a lot like a child’s first day of school. There will be all sorts of things for your pup to investigate and become familiar with including new sounds, sights and smells. Of course, there will also be new friends waiting to greet your puppy and to help them learn to improve their social skills during play.
This experience can be very exciting, and loads of fun for pups and their parents. Just like children at school, social interactions might at times also be a bit of a challenge for your puppy. In order for this to be a fun, positive, and beneficial experience, you should know what to look for and how best to react to a variety of common puppy play group scenarios.
Puppies will learn an enormous amount from the other pups, but your intervention and feedback is also important. By monitoring your puppy’s behavior, and knowing how to best react, you can set your pup up for a successful experience. Here are a couple of common scenarios you may see as well as some tips to make the most of these social occasions.
1. Let’s Get This Party Started!
Some puppies charge into their first play group with gusto and confidence. They run right up to every other pup without hesitation and may even insist on play by pouncing and barking. If your pup is on this end of the social spectrum, part of the benefit of socialisation is for them to learn how to tone down their play with those pups that are less receptive or concerned. After all, not everyone is a fan of a more in your face sort of social encounter and your pup will do well to learn some self-control. Of course, being of the same species, puppies are well equipped to learn from each other. However, puppy parents should step in to make sure the experience is as positive for the other pups as it is for their own. Avoid reprimanding your pup and instead simply give consistent and ongoing feedback by picking your puppy up for a brief break from play and/or redirecting your pup to another puppy that is better suited to their play style. Keep in mind that these breaks do not mean your pup is being naughty. These brief breaks from play simply allow your pup an opportunity to learn that overly pushy play makes the play end for a bit. In addition to preventing another pup from feeling overwhelmed, the pup taking a break gets an opportunity to practice being calm when held, even when around exciting situations.
2. I Must Hide!
Most puppies have had the benefit of weeks of social interaction with their littermates and mother. However, making new friends can be a little stressful for some puppies at first, especially when other pups enthusiastically run over to say hello. Your puppy may try to hide and this is perfectly normal. Sometimes pups need a few minutes, or even a few encounters, before they feel comfortable enough to venture out from behind your legs. If your puppy chooses to hide, it is important that you don’t try to force them to play. Pulling your pup out from behind you, or pushing your pup towards another pup, could actually do more harm than good. Allow your pup to adjust and proceed at their own pace. You might feel disappointed or worried if your pup chooses to just watch the play from the sidelines, but you shouldn’t. Your puppy is still getting exposure to other dogs and baby steps in the right direction are crucial to development. Just listen to your puppy’s call for support and be sure to plan for plenty of puppy socialisation opportunities to help your pup blossom into a social butterfly!
3. No Time to Choose the Proper Potty Spot.
Even if your puppy has made great strides with regards to house training, don’t be surprised if they have an accident while playing. It’s important not to scold your pup. This may negatively affect the progress your puppy has accomplished at home. Always remember that bouts of high activity may require more potty breaks for dogs of all ages, especially puppies. If your puppy has an accident, simply clean it up and know that in the future more breaks and trips outside are in order.
There are so many potential benefits to properly socialising puppies. Seek out opportunities for your puppy to play with other pups. Your puppy will get to practice and improve their social skills, they’ll have a blast, they’ll be tired out afterwards (so you can have them practice time alone skills more easily when they get home) and you can also practice important life skills during the play session. One of these is the ‘gotcha’ game. Teaching your young pup that having people grab their collar is a good thing (even when in the midst of high energy play) bodes well for your pup growing into an adult dog that is accepting of being caught in an emergency (for example, if they ever get off leash unexpectedly). You can teach your puppy to love being caught by gently grabbing their collar, immediately following up with a treat and then sending them back to play some more! Your pup will quickly realise that being caught isn’t so bad if it means plenty of praise, a treat and a return to playtime. This will ensure that you can keep your puppy safe in the future while also reminding them that you’re their favourite person at the party.
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