Are Doggie Playgroups Right For Your Pet?

By Rachel McCabe, Behavior Technician

Now that the weather is nice, many of you are probably thinking about making a trip to the local dog park for some good, clean doggie fun. But socializing isn’t enjoyed by every dog. And some may not even know how to play safely with new friends. Check out the tips below to help get you and your favorite pooch prepared for play dates.

Matching Up:  Spayed or neutered dogs are better candidates for play groups. Then you don’t have to worry about hormones getting in the way. It’s also best to pair up with dogs that are similar in age, size and play style. If your dog likes to play rough, he could injure a smaller, more timid dog.

Introducing New Dogs: Start by going for a parallel or linear walk. Parallel walks have the dogs walking side by side at a comfortable distance and then slowly coming together. Linear walks have everyone walking in single file while periodically switching out the leader and gradually moving closer to one another. This allows the dogs to be in each other’s presence without being too personal.

You can also use fences to introduce dogs.  The safety of a fence allows the pets to interact with each other without the risk of danger. Chain link fences tend to work better because dogs can’t get their muzzles completely through. Ex-pens can be used similarly for smaller dogs.  It’s best to use fences that are neutral to both dogs to prevent territorial behavior.

How to tell if they’re playing or fighting: Observe their body language. Dogs at play usually have soft and squinty eyes, ears back, open mouth, and loose and wiggly bodies. They may play bow, lift paws, and/or bend their elbows. You may also notice their tails in a neutral to low position with possible long and sweeping wags, mouthing, nibbling and brief pauses in movement. Some dogs will even lie down and initiate play to accommodate a much smaller buddy.

Dogs that are getting ready to fight alert us with their body language long before biting. You may want to separate the dogs if you notice any of the following: hard eyes, ears alert and forward, wrinkled lips, bared teeth, growling, stiff body, piloerection (hackles up), head/tail remain high, repeated mounting attempts, avoidance, escape attempts, hiding, or constant chasing with no switching roles. Dogs don’t always bite and cause physical damage to be fighting. But by not heeding these warning signs, you may be putting your dog at risk for getting into a fight that DOES cause injury.

When in doubt:  Err on the side of caution. If you are uncertain about the interaction, remove the “pushy pup” and hold off to the side. Allow the other dog to decide whether or not to re-engage the interaction. If he/she approaches and shows signs of friendliness and wanting to play then you’re good! If he/she doesn’t choose to approach then it is probably time for a break.


  • Use 1 handler per dog.
  • Don’t allow off-leash play until you are sure that everyone is getting along.
  • Keep the leash loose whenever possible.
  • Take breaks even if things are going well.
  • During breaks reward the dog for focusing on the handler.
  • When walking; allow dogs the freedom to explore their environment.
  • Don’t force the interaction and allow the dogs to set the pace.

*Information adapted from the ASPCA.


Are Doggie Playgroups Right For Your Pet?

Connecticut Humane Society

701 Russell Road, Newington, CT 06111
800-452-0114 | FAX 860-665-1478 
The Connecticut Humane Society is a 501(c)(3)
non-profit organization. EIN: 06-0667605
Copyright 2013 Connecticut Humane Society

Copyright 2013 Connecticut Humane Society