Play And Socialization


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The dog is the only being that loves you more than you love yourself.” 

--Fritz Von Unruh

Social Interaction with Humans

as well as other dogs is crucial. The imprinted ages are 0-8 weeks of puppyhood. During this time they learn socialization skills and bonding with both other dogs and humans.

Play With Other Dogs.

A dog’s first exposure to interaction is with its litter-mates. Within each litter there are some dominate and some passive. During the 8-10 weeks they are together, dogs learn “pack etiquette” and develop socialization skills from each other, including submission and play and wrestling patterns. The mother dog teaches them obedience.

Owners that draw their dogs close when another dog walks by, or act suspicious and afraid of other dogs as they attempt to greet you, will pass this attitude on to their dog, which is neither healthy or smart. Encourage your dog to sniff, play and interact with the permission of the other dog’s owner (they might be trying to train, or work out problems - be sensitive to this), but let your dog know you are still in control.

General Rules of Introducing Your Dog to Other Dogs and People

1) Puppies are susceptible to parvo and distemper (life-threatening diseases) until they have had ALL of their shots (usually 3-4 months). They require 4 sets of shots for their first year and then just one set every year after. Rabies is every three years. Muddy parks that are populated by a lot of dogs are a breeding ground for bad bacteria. Just having your puppy walk through there and then lick his paws can lead to a serious illness. Older dogs who are vaccinated can be carriers of disease. 3-4 months is not too long to wait for them to be socialized.

2) Don’t allow your dog to mount other dogs, male or female. This is not always motivated by a “sex drive” but it is usually a way to establish dominance. It is annoying and offensive, and not likely to be any fun for the other dog.

3) Playing with other dogs. Don’t be alarmed by all growling. Dogs play rough with each other. In most cases, it’s best to let them work it out - a dog will usually let the other dog know his limits. However, be prepared to step in if you think it’s getting out of hand. Signs to distinguish “good play” from a potential “fight” are in watching the dog’s body language and tone of bark. Know your dog’s personality and limitations, what irritates him. Don’t allow other dogs provoke him.

Good play often involves “pretend fighting”, which includes bared teeth with no or little snarling and a high pitched bark or yip, loose and exaggerated body movements, wrestling, body slamming, slapping or boxing with paws, chasing, etc. The most obvious indicator being a wagging tail. Dogs communicate with body language and eye contact, and I know that humans don’t see everything that goes on. Because they have unique personalities, what appears to be healthy wrestling can turn into a fight in an instant - even between dogs that are friends - for no apparent reason. Keep an eye on your dog at all times until he has played with the other dog in several instances. Also be aware that dogs play differently in their own territory and may be more aggressive toward other dogs or less accepting of another dog’s behavior in their own home.

Signs that a dog is truly angry and has the intention of doing harm will be stiff rigid body movements, hair raised on back and neck, low tone of bark or growl, usually poised at a standstill or slow stalking movements with their tail straight up in the air - NOT wagging. Or, more obviously, bared teeth and lunging movements. You will usually know a fight when you see one. They usually stand up on hind legs to indicate overpowering the other (this can also be a sign of friendly play if their tails are wagging an they’re not barking aggressively.

How to handle a fight. Fights can be prevented by owners knowing their dog’s limits. Don’t allow your dog to pester other dogs by nipping, jumping, sniffing or mounting when not wanted. If the other dog owner isn’t paying attention to what their dog is doing, and he’s bothering your dog, step in and pull your dog back, or tell the other dog to knock it off.

If there is a fight, you absolutely have to scold or discipline your dog, even if he didn’t start it (the old “he started it” routine is not an excuse). I see a lot of dog owners pulling their dog away and then stroking them to calm them down. What you are saying to the dog is “good dog... you did the right thing... it’s not your fault. “ You may have ended that fight, but you’re not saying it was wrong. You want the dog to know that he/she should avoid fights at all costs. Domesticated dogs need to understand that fighting is NEVER an option and never allowed, and that as the pack leader, you will do the defending and not let them get hurt. Don’t feel like your dog will just lay there and get killed - most fights are over dominance. If your dog backs down, there usually isn’t a fight at all, and if the other dog insists on being aggressive, YOU have to step in and deal with it. If you leave them to defend themselves even a little, or deal with it in their own instinctive way, they will take it upon themselves to decide when and where to fight (of course, be careful how you deal with other people’s dogs).

Don’t over-do it on the discipline - it will confuse the dog if you make too big of a deal out of it. Just pull them away, give them a stern “no bark” or “no bite” while looking them in the eye and then a short time-out or down-stay. If your dog truly wasn’t an instigator at all, and another dog comes up aggressively, or your dog is attacked and not fighting back - pull your dog away from the other dog and keep him close to you, while telling the other dog to back off in a serious tone. You have to step into the situation with confidence and use a loud, growly tone of voice (say, “that’s enough…knock it off”, and back out with your dog beside you – don’t turn your back on the aggressive dog). As your dog sits next to you, then praise him, because he avoided the fight. When pulling a dog from a fight, grab the tail – try to avoid putting your hands anywhere near the face.

5) Teach Your Dog to Share Their Toys. If he growls or bites, immediately hold his snout and give the “quiet” or “no bite” command. Put his leash on and calmly take him aside and place him in a “down”. Praise, “good down”. Give him a brief time out (1-2 minutes) while the other dog plays with the toy - then release him to join in. This applies to a dog that does not have a dominance problem. There are several other measures to take if your dog truly has an aggressive tendency toward other dogs.

6) Never Allow Your Dog to Chase or Harm Cats, Squirrels, Ducks or Bunnies. Just because it’s “natural” to them doesn’t make it open season - this is for their protection as well. Even a friendly game of chase can cause a small animal or rodent to defend themselves and cause great harm to a dog’s face and eyes.

7) Annoying Play. Watch your dog to make sure he’s not annoying other people or dogs. Not all dogs play the same way. Herding breeds like to chase, body slam and nip at heals. This is like a gesture of war to other breeds. Labs like to retrieve - anything and everything. Make sure they’re not collecting up everyone’s toys for themselves, etc.

8) Play With People. Puppies don’t realize they are being domesticated, or that the goal is to not play like a dog. Dogs play rough with each other because they have thick skin and fur. They can inadvertently hurt you because they are unaware of their strength and our vulnerability. It doesn’t take long for them to learn their limits, however, there are a few general rules that will help to avoid disaster:

No body parts (arms, legs, etc.) should ever enter a dog’s mouth. It is natural for puppies to be very oral. This is how they communicate and play with each other. Because they are young, and are limited in their expression, they will grab your arm or tug at your leg for attention. This cannot be allowed to any extent.

Tug-O-War. An all-time, universal favorite for any breed or size dog. Tug is okay as long as you are the one who starts and ends the game. In other words, the game ends with you telling the dog it’s over and you have the toy in hand. Label the game “tug”. When you want the dog to stop, give the “drop” or “give” command. This way, it is a game that has a beginning and an end. If you drop the object and leave them with it or ask them to stop and then walk away when they don’t give the object to you, you will create a monster. They will soon learn to play this game, in which they are always victorious, at inopportune times, like when you’ve picked up a stick and want to throw it or get an object out of their mouth (possible danger), but you can’t because the dog is determined to win, as usual. You are no longer their loving master, but the enemy - all’s fair in tug & war. This is a good exercise to teach your dog how to play with manners, as you would a child.

Play with Kids. If you have kids, it’s really important to train the kids how to pet and play in a way the dog respects them as a leader. Teaching the puppy/dog acceptable play habits with kids, starts with teaching the kids how to play with the dog. Most kids are prone to running and screaming which excites the puppy (or dog) and is an open invitation to imitate that wild behavior. Believe it or not, some of the best times a child and dog will have together is when they’re working on basic obedience (sit, down, come, etc.). They both thrive on accomplishment - it’s a real confidence builder. However, it’s important that an adult is present to supervise this so the dog is taught with the correct techniques. If an adult isn’t present, good games are fetching, practicing tricks like shake. Avoid playing chase with young dogs, because they might pick an inopportune time to play that game, like when the neighbor kid (who is deathly afraid of dogs) goes riding by on his bike. For younger kids and toddlers just focus on teaching them how to pet and stroke and be nice to the dog. Also, have the child pet a puppy from underneath the chin instead of on the head. When a puppy sees the hand coming down toward it - naturally, it will greet this with mouthing. One game to avoid is holding a toy or piece of food in your hand while they jump up to get it - very bad habit. That’s not something you want them to do when your guest is holding a sandwich and the dog decides he’s going to show off. Or he sees his favorite toy at the park - only someone else seems to have it and he runs over to jump up and get it... get the picture?

9) Play with Toys. If you don’t want them to chew your new socks and shoes, don’t give them your old socks or shoes as toys. They can’t differentiate. As a general rule, I don’t allow my dogs to ever put material in their mouth - with exception of a cloth toy IF they don’t attempt to eat it.

Rawhide is a popular chew toy for puppies and dogs, however, it is not recommended. It can block the digestive system and/or fill them up so that they don’t eat their food. It is also a very un-nutritious and poor quality of protein (equivalent to boot leather) which is a major promoter of kidneys problems, if fed over a long period of time.

Squeaky toys are very popular. Throw away anything they have torn in to small bits so that they can’t choke on or digest it. Don’t give them balls or toys that are small enough for them to swallow or have lodged in their throat.

Interact often with their toys. Label each one with a name (don’t pick names that sound too similar). This will help to develop their vocabulary and also to learn to share and play correctly with humans. Labeling toys with names really comes in handy if you want them to drop one and pick up another and bring it to you.

Overview of Play & Socialization

* Vaccinate immediately, and don’t expose them to heavily dog-populated areas until their 3rd set of shots. Limit their socialization until this time - vaccinated dogs can be carriers of disease. 

* Socialize carefully - know the signs of good and bad play.

* Don’t let your dog be annoying to other dogs - don’t expect your dog to put up with being annoyed.

* No human body parts in the dog’s mouth.

* Teach your kids to play appropriately.* Don’t give the dog objects to play with like socks or shoes, that aren’t always acceptable.