Responsible play group operators will encourage you to do some research and ask questions before deciding whether a play group or play space is right for your dog. Jamie Mollas, owner of Sniff Dog Hotel, recommends asking the following:
Q What kind of screening process do you have for dogs to participate in your daycare or play group?
-> This is really important to help ensure a facility is healthy and safe for your dog.
Q What methods do you use to manage behavior in playgroups?
-> If a daycare uses shake cans, squirt bottles or other aversive methods to manage dogs, this is a red flag. Using treats and positive reinforcement is generally a good sign.
Q Does your daycare separate dogs based on size or temperament, or do they all play together in a single group?
-> Dogs come in different sizes, and it may not be safe for a teacup Chihuahua to play with a full-grown Great Dane.
• Is it fully fenced?
• Is there water access?
• Is the environment really busy or quiet?
BEFORE YOU GO
• Make sure your dog has all shots and health requirements to be with other dogs and people safely, says Tanya Roberts, a certified professional dog trainer who has been with the Oregon Humane Society for 17 years.
• If you aren’t sure your dog’s behavior is appropriate with other dogs, seek advice from a professional prior to going. Brush up on canine body language. OHS conducts canine body language classes that teach the subtle signals dogs use to communicate to each other and to people. Know the difference between a happy dog and a stressed one (it can be subtle).
BE A GOOD PLAYGROUP MEMBER
In groups where pet parents supervise their own dogs, be observant of how your dog’s play is affecting other dogs. It’s a good idea to interrupt play occasionally by calling your dog over for a treat, even when play is mutual and friendly. Redirecting your dog during play will help develop his or her ability to respond when distracted and come when called.
Make sure you have a reliable recall. It may be fun for your dog to chase a little dog around, but is it fun for the little one? Praise your dog when s/he is being well-behaved to reinforce good behavior.
If your dog isn’t getting along with another dog don’t force interaction. Stay positive and redirect your dog toward a different playmate, or leave and try again another day. Your dog is the only one who can tell you if s/he is uncomfortable, and will communicate this through body language and behavior. Listen to what your dog has to say and respond accordingly.
IT'S OK IF YOU DOG ISN'T HAPPY THERE
Some dogs don’t like playing with other dogs or group environments and instead prefer solitary walks or activity. It’s okay to seek out other activities, such as long walks, a training class, or enrichment activity like dock diving, nose work or agility.
TIPS FROM TANYA
• If it’s time to leave and your dog won’t come, call, whistle or make noise and walk quickly (or run if it’s safe) toward the exit. Many dogs will follow if they think you’re really leaving.
• ALWAYS reward your dog for coming to you.
• Stand near a tree, bench or fence if you need to dodge dogs who may run into you by accident. When they are playing and running they’re not focused on you.
Sniff Dog Hotel — sniffdoghotel.com
Oregon Humane Society — oregonhumane.org
Vanessa Salvia's love for animals began as a child, when stray kittens just seemed to follow her home (who thankfully, her family accommodated). She lives on a sheep farm outside of Eugene OR, surrounded by dogs, cats, horses, chickens and kids.