Q: My friend is throwing her dog a birthday “paw-ty” and I was invited, along with my sixth-month-old Lab mix Tugger. I’ve been told there will be about six or seven other dogs there, and I’m worried about how Tugger might react. He’s doing great in his puppy obedience class, and he’s generally a pretty well-behaved boy, but he’s not had much experience dealing with groups of dogs (there are only two other puppies in his class). I want to bring him to the party, but I don’t want to overstress him (or myself!). Do you have any tips for preparing Tugger for the canine chaos that will be this birthday “paw-ty”?
A: Doggie birthday parties are all the rage these days and a fun reason for people to get creative in the name of celebration. You are right to think about ways to help your dog navigate it successfully—just like humans, not all dogs want to be friends and play for hours. Here are some tips:
1. Ask that all dogs are kept on leash until everyone has arrived. Have you ever noticed that most dog altercations occur in the first minute or two of meeting? This can be because everyone’s anticipating the encounter, which results in high arousal levels. Keep dogs leashed to ease any tension and remain in control.
2. Once everyone has arrived, suggest a parallel walk around the block. Parallel walking is a great way to for dogs to meet and get the initial energy out of their system. Acclimating side-by-side can diffuse a potential disagreement that could have brewed if they met head on. Start with all the dogs walking in a line and as you walk, gradually start to bunch up into a group. Be sure to interrupt any staring that your dog may be doing—that’s a sure way to make at least one dog get nervous and react.
3. When back at the house, impose breaks for your dog. Appropriate dog play looks horizontal with dogs taking turns rolling on their backs and taking self-imposed breaks. When you start to see vertical play (dogs on two legs), interrupt and give your dog a break until they relax.
4. If things get too intense, say your good-byes and end on a good note. Many people have different thoughts about how dogs should play, but it’s your job to advocate as you see fit. If you see your dog getting bullied, hiding, or playing too rough himself, cut your losses and take him home. Ending on a good note makes him more likely to be successful at future social engagements.
About the Trainer: Nicole Stewart, CPDT-KA is the Director of Training for AnimalSense Canine Training & Behavior (animalsense.com). She studied and worked for Paul Owens, co-author of “The ‘Original’ Dog Whisperer” for years in California before starting a successful training business of her own on the North Shore of Chicago. Nicole, a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, joined the AnimalSense family as Director of Training in 2010. Nicole oversees a staff of 18 dog trainers, as well as teaching group classes and private lessons.