Dogs are highly social animals that won’t thrive without contact with their own species, and even if your dog lives with another canine companion they should also get out and about regularly to meet and play with other dogs.
However, allowing your dog to play with others off the lead must be managed carefully, with a basic understanding of the additional unknowns and complications that this can bring. One of the core elements to bear in mind when socialising your dog is the fact that you cannot control the other dogs, nor how their owners keep control of them – or otherwise – which means that off-lead play with others requires your full attention and a good level of control over your own dog.
When it comes to allowing your dog to play and socialise with other dogs off the lead in public places like dog parks and other enclosed areas, there are a few rules you should always follow to keep your dog safe, and ensure that the experience is a positive one for them.
Read on to learn about seven essential rules to follow when socialising your dog off the lead.
First of all, before you allow your dog off the lead to play in any situation, you should ensure that the area is secure. If you’re going somewhere new for the first time, don’t assume it is fenced or secured on every side unless you have checked, and also consider how the gates or entrances work and if your dog might be able to dart out if someone opens them.
If you are socialising your dog in a wide-open space, keep them in sight at all times, to ensure that they don’t disappear off out of the far end of the park, or follow another dog and owner out.
A dog that doesn’t always get on well with others, that can be defensive, or that simply doesn’t know how to communicate appropriately with other dogs shouldn’t be let off the lead with unknown strangers – working towards improving your dog’s social skills and how they interact with others should be undertaken in a planned, controlled environment with other dogs that have a known background.
A dog that is unruly, badly behaved or that doesn’t know how to interact with others can cause havoc in a dog park and soon upset the status quo, which won’t endear you to other dog owners and can even be dangerous.
All dogs should be able to follow basic commands, including recall, before they go out to play with others.
Before your dog goes out to socialise with others, it is important to make sure that they are protected against the various ills, ailments and problems that dogs can pass between each other when mixing in close quarters.
Your dog should be up to date with all of their vaccinations (including kennel cough) and also, be protected against fleas and wormed regularly. They should also be spayed or neutered unless you intend to breed from them – and socialising intact dogs and bitches requires extra care and attention.
You should always keep your dog’s lead handy and be prepared to put it on them quickly if required – even if your dog is very obedient, highly social and great with others, the same may not be true for other dogs that they meet!
Taking a ball or toy to the park to enhance play is great fun for most dogs, but not all dogs take well to the idea of sharing their toys with others, something that is pretty much unavoidable when socialising.
Don’t take your dog’s favourite toys to the park, and if your dog doesn’t like to share, it might be best to leave the toys at home entirely.
Supervision is essential for safe, stress-free socialisation and dog park play, and you should always keep one eye open for signs of problems, such as one dog that is being too rowdy or that is overly dominant with others.
However, it is wise to allow dogs to work out their own relationships to each other and to communicate with each other without unnecessary human intervention, and persistently getting in the way, separating dogs, and trying to micromanage their interactions will actually lead to stress and curtail the dogs’ ability to establish their respective pack positions.
Only intervene when absolutely necessary, and otherwise, keep a watchful distance.
Finally, knowing when the time is right to take your dog home is an important skill when playing with others – this may be when your dog gets tired, is beginning to overexert themselves, or retreats from the other dogs because they have had enough.
If another dog is becoming a problem, this may also mean that you should cut your trip short, and try again another day or in another park.