Picture these dogs. Gus is 7 weeks old; Lady is 7 years. Lucy is a Pug; Kona is a Labrador and Kohl, a German Shepherd Dog. Flash is well trained and has a beautiful recall; Niko has yet to hear the word, “Come.”
Using Dog Types to Predict Safe Group Play
Is there a way to predict that these dogs would play safely in a group play session at a dog park or daycare? Could they play with all dogs or would you carefully select partners? Would the dogs even want to be around other dogs?
There are some types and breeds of dogs that almost always do well in dog parks and daycares. These dogs love canine social interaction and exercise. In fact most formal group play settings are engineered just for them. Other types of dogs may be safe in such settings but could just as happily hang out with humans or alone. Using information about prior history, breed type and age, can make it easier to predict whether you have a canine play junkie or a social independent.
Professional daycares will evaluate your particular dog for suitability, of course, but there some general characteristics that the staff uses to match to their mental model of a good candidate. Robin Bennett and Charlotte Briggs call these Green Dogs, meaning that they are usually safe in a group setting and enjoy interacting with other dogs. In a dog park setting, without professional supervision, these dogs allow a greater margin of handling error.
Green Dogs: Generally Good Group Play Dogs
- Between 6 mos and 3 years of age;
- Previous dog - dog socialization experience that was enjoyed and positive;
- A breed bred to pack easily together, like, hounds, retrievers and sporting dogs, lapdogs;
- Get along well with small animals and cats;
- Good with children and friendly or tolerant around people;
- Have basic manners and obedience training;
- Can shrug off adversity by staying emotionally cool and calm.
How Can You Use This Information?
For example, if you are at the dog park and debating whether to let your Jack Russell join a group with big dogs,
Another question might be whether the dogs have played safely in the past with small dogs in a group setting. Add this information to the fact that neither of those breeds are on the Green Dog list to better assess the risk level if you let your dog play.
Yellow and Red Dogs: The Other Types
If your dog falls outside the Green Dog parameters and leans toward a Yellow or Red Dog type, is hope lost for dog - dog interactions? Of course not. Often all that is required is good choices about the right setting, group or playmate. Maybe your dog needs a bit more training in coming when called so you can pull him away from unsafe play.
Sometimes the owners need to learn how to handle the dog group setting so that there is less chaos and excitement. It is possible, however, that one’s dog really is not a group play candidate. There is no shame in that. Most dogs were historically destined for other jobs or are individualists playing a different tune. Group play for teen and adult dogs is a modern construct; dogs can be happy without it.
In the next columns I’ll look at behaviors, because it is the behaviors presented that let us judge whether a dog is truly a group play candidate, not dog types.