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Puppy Play Dates

5 Great Ways to Make Doggy Friends (and Why You Should)
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At  Cassidy's recent birthday party, there were two tables full of treats. One had the typical birthday fare – ice cream, goodie bags and a birthday cake. The second featured food and treats specifically for dogs.

The menu was ideal for the celebration of Cassidy's second birthday. Cassidy is a basset hound, and the party guests included Callie, Buddy and Sadie, the dog friends he meets regularly on doggy play dates in the local dog park.

"Dogs are social animals, and they need contact with humans and other dogs," says canine expert Michele C. Hollow. They're here to please us, so they need that socialization. But they also enjoy each other, so doggy play dates are a good way to get them together."

How Dogs Learn from Play

Just like children, our dogs enjoy and benefit from controlled, structured play with other dogs. "I believe it is very important for dogs to play with each other and socialize, especially when they are puppies," agrees Paula Baker Prince, Director of Training at Dogboy's Dog Ranch. "Young dogs learn how to communicate with other dogs as well as what is acceptable adult behavior."

"Allowing dogs to play together with a variety of different dogs gives dogs the breadth and depth of experiences that helps create more tolerant dogs," Prince adds.

Setting Up Play Dates

Start networking! Of course, you'll have to find appropriate dogs for your pet to play with. One of the best ways to do this is to approach friends or family members who have dogs and arrange a time when you can all play together. If you don't already have a "doggy network," your vet, trainer or groomer are good resources. Ask them about the area dog parks, day cares or meet-up groups.  Online sites like Meetup.com can also direct you to other dog owners in your area looking to establish friendships of the four-legged kind.

Find the right space. Ideally, the play date should be held at a location where the dogs can run freely. A large, fenced-in backyard is ideal, but a local dog park, walking trail or pet-friendly beach can also serve as a good setting. "The dogs can play with a ball or toys, or you can throw a Frisbee for a game of fetch," Hollow says. "Just make sure there's a lot of running. It's good exercise for you and the dogs."

Get involved. The play date should include the owners of the dogs participating. "This is also good socialization for you, as you will have something in common – the love of your dogs," Hollow says. The dog will also be on her best behavior, knowing "her master's voice" is nearby.

Match dogs by temperament. It's also important that your dog plays with the right dog. "It's more about matching temperament than in matching size or breed," Hollow says. High-energy dogs should run together happily, but may intimidate the shyer dogs.

Stay safe. Doggy play dates are best suited for the well-behaved, well-trained dog.  Owners are ultimately responsible for their pet's behavior, and must correct, control and clean up after their own dog. A combination of well-mannered dogs and conscientious owners will result in a positive play date experience – for all involved.

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