If you’re old enough, you’ll remember the days before kids had regularly scheduled “play dates”. These less-than-spontaneous play times are actually a thing of the late 20th and early 21st century and now it’s pretty much a no-no to skip such activities for your little one.

And while it’s true that kids learn to socialize by participating in such events, not everyone is sold on the idea of this kind of rather forced, scheduled play.

But what about your dog? Have you subscribed to the idea of doggie group play? Do you worry that your dog might not be social enough for such an activity? Are you afraid that your small – or meek – dog will be attacked or otherwise hurt by a more aggressive animal, even one of the same size?

Your fears aren’t unfounded nor are you alone in these fears. Our dogs are like members of our family, and just as with our children, we worry about group dynamics, bullies, and other problems that can arise with group play, especially when the play includes dogs we don’t really know.

Play styles

Experts tell us that the success – or failure – of group play depends more on the play styles of the dogs in the group rather than whether the dogs are all the same size or close in size to one another. That’s because dogs are very different from one another.

• Some dogs will stay on the outside looking in. He or she will bark and perhaps circle the group but never really become part of the play.

• Some are what dog experts like to call “wrestlers”. These are the dogs that are physically aggressive though not necessarily mean. They’re involved in full-body play, often pinning down other dogs and perhaps engaging in neck biting, which is usually harmless.

• Other dogs merely like to play a fun game of chase, which can go on throughout an entire play session.

• There are also dogs who are extremely shy but crave some contact. They will softly nudge other dogs but never wrestle. Older dogs tend to often behave in this manner.

• Other dogs seem to adapt to the behaviors of the dogs around them. They might become the chaser, the tug-of-war player, the outsider, the gentle nuzzler…anything to belong to the group, just like some children.

Mixing different play styles for group play

Yes, dogs large and small and of different play styles can enjoy group play. But the group play that happens at your doggie daycare facility is much different than that which might happen in an unsupervised play area at a dog park.

Here’s where your care provider enters the picture. An experienced, trained dog care facility owner or worker doesn’t just randomly mix dogs in play situations. At Creekside Kennel, we take time to get to know your dog before they’re thrust into a group play experience.

We know which dogs prefer to remain by themselves, which are overly playful (but harmless), which are the wrestlers that can unintentionally hurt a smaller or meeker dog, and – mostly – which dogs aren’t very fond of one another or simply prefer not to play.

As such, we put together group play scenarios that are suitable for each member of that group. Our play groups are “controlled” in that we know each of the dogs, and when a new dog comes to our facility, we get to know his/her personality before we place him in a situation that could be harmful to any of our dogs.

We know the signs of inappropriate play and, conversely, what a dog should look like when he is enjoying playtime with his canine friends. We also understand that puppy play is different from older dog play and we plan accordingly

So…why even bother with group play?

Puppies, especially, need group play time. It’s perfect for burning off all that excess energy and excitement but it also teaches them how to handle social interactions with other dogs. With this sort of socialization from the beginning, a dog is more likely to go through life without serious incidents involving other dogs.

Of course, there are exceptions and personalities change as dogs age, but the consensus seems to be that early interaction with fellow puppies is desirable.

Early play and interaction with other dogs can also help with “bite inhibition”, which means puppies will learn how to control biting and also learn when a nibble is a nibble and when it’s a bite that can hurt another animal.

However, it’s important to note that as dogs age, they not only have less desire for group play but they also become pickier about with whom they want to play. So, you may see that change in your dog’s socialization by about 2 or 3 years-old.

Trust your caregiver

Just like a parent dropping off their child at daycare or pre-school for the first time, it can be hard for a doggie parent to admit that time away from home and with other dogs might be just what is needed.

Just like concerned parents of small children, you’ll see pensive puppy parents watching as other dogs approach theirs, sure that disaster is about to occur. But it usually doesn’t.

Remember, avoiding your dog’s exposure to the world rather delays the inevitable. Your dog WILL have interactions with other dogs on the street, at someone else’s house, or elsewhere, so allowing him or her to develop early confidence to handle those encounters will be to everyone’s advantage.

Remember, at Creekside Kennels we take your dog’s safety seriously. We also love to see our dogs playing together. If you have any questions about group play, please talk to our highly-experienced staff about your concerns.