Animal socilization: play-dates

As we know, part of being a responsible pet owner is making sure our animals are socialized. Socialization includes being able to interact with other animals — both members of the same species and members of other species. Today, let’s focus on same species interactions, particularly doggy play-dates.

This is a picture of Jenny (collie), Ruby (collie/lab) and Gilbert (beagle). These are by the way, all adopted dogs, and each was adopted once they were adults. In fact, Ruby and Gilbert were adopted as seniors. Jenny and I met with Ruby and Gilbert’s person Kathy, and Gus the golden, for a play/walk/romp the other day. Gilbert has lost his hearing, so he remained on leash since recall is problematic for a hearing and vision impaired senior. Jenny, Ruby, and Gus however, had a great time running, playing, barking, chewing sticks and rolling in grass.

I was able to get just a couple of pictures, in part because these puppies were moving too fast and far away for my little click and shoot.

Jenny had not met Ruby, Gilbert, and Gus before. There were no conflicts and they all had a good time. Gilbert grazed on grass and sniffed, while the others were running and rolling. In order for such interactions to be “normal” for your animal companion though, preparation is necessary.

For example, Jenny, Ruby and Gus all had shown they were able and willing to respond to call-back. In other words, before they were ever let off leash Kathy and I knew from training and experience that they would come back when called. They also wore collars and we carried leashes just in case we encountered dogs/people who were not as comfortable with off-leash dogs.

These dogs also all had prior socialization experiences. We didn’t just take them out into a big open space and let them run free. Jenny for example has been in numerous situations with different numbers of people, small and large spaces, on leash before off, and has proven that she has retained her training/manners to a degree that make her ready to be off leash around other animals and people.

Also, the area we were walking in is a dog walking area. We were not trespassing on private property or in an area that is predominately used by bikes, vehicles, or walkers who are uncomfortable around dogs. While we did encounter some mountain bikers, other walkers with unleashed dogs, and one walker with leashed dogs, overall there were only positive interactions. The one exception was a leashed small dog who showed considerable aggression. I applaud the owner for taking the dog out but also think this little dog would have been much happier given an opportunity to socialize rather than being dragged from the scene.

Since Kathy and I both have experience with dogs, all the dogs but Gus were older and calm, and Gus is just friendly, the small dog’s owner could have taken advantage of this situation. Kathy and I were willing to stop and allow the dogs to socialize. One way to accomplish this would be for the small dog to be allowed to approach and interact with Jenny while she was leashed (I immediately leashed Jenny when I saw how uncomfortable the small dog’s owner was with his reaction – Gus was also leashed. Gilbert, god bless him, was oblivious and Ruby was more concerned about Gus than the other dog.)

 Allowed a little time to relax, this little one could have had a positive interaction with one or more dog-friendly dogs, and been a little better prepared for the next outing. When you are working on socializing your dog – and many dogs need to work on socialization – take advantage of opportunities when you bump into dog friendly dogs and owners who are willing to help in the socialization process. Jenny for one has had lots of practice at this and she seems to actually enjoy helping other dogs relax.

If you have some good advice to share, or stories of how you’ve socialized your dogs, I’d love to hear them!

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