Play Groups Tips and Tidbits

posted: 05/15/12
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How to Create a Play Group for Your Small Dog

It can be tough for a little pooch to make it in a big dog's world. Whether they're at a dog park or doggie day care, small dogs can easily be intimidated by the way bigger dogs play. The worst-case scenario is called predatory drift, which is when a big dog confuses a little one for prey. As a result, many small dog owners opt to establish play groups just for their diminutive doggies. But a good play group is more than a bunch of pups meeting up for a romp. To start up a successful play group for small dogs, you'll need to think about the members' temperaments, play styles and size.

Weight Limits

Size is a major factor when establishing a dog play group. Establishing a limit, usually based on weight, is crucial. You'll need to set weight limits because larger dogs can injure smaller dogs -- even during play. But you're not just trying to rule out the biggest dogs: "Small" can be subjective among dog owners. While a beagle's owner may consider that dog a small breed, a toy poodle's owner would likely beg to differ. You'll usually find weight restrictions set at 17 pounds (7.7 kilograms) or 25 pounds (11.3 kilograms); these cover toy groups and small dog breeds alike.

Play Styles

Weight limits are a good guideline, but a breed's style of play is more significant when you're trying to make sure the dogs get along. Breed plays a big role in how dogs play; herding dogs may nip at other dogs' heels, for example. You might not run into this issue with a 17-pound-and-under rule, but even dogs of the same size can have vastly different play styles. Boston terriers and pugs often have their own play groups, since they tend to play more roughly than other breeds of the same size. Group organizers should be particularly aware of small dog syndrome, a set of aggressive and territorial behaviors that can keep small dogs from playing well with others. It's a good idea to allow new dogs to play with the group on a trial basis, to make sure their personalities jibe with the other dogs in the group.


The member dogs' ages will also play a role. Some dog play groups are geared specifically toward puppies, while others cater to older dogs. A good mix of ages can make for the most rewarding play group. Try to have a couple of older dogs on board, since they often serve as patient group leaders. Dog care specialists recommend introducing new members of any play group to each member individually and one at a time, beginning with an older female.

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Stick to the Rules
Frank Gaglione/Getty Images | Tim Graham/Getty Images |

There are some general guidelines that small dog play groups should observe. One standard rule requires that all dogs in the group be up to date on their vaccinations. Kids are usually kept from the dogs' play area; overstimulation can harm the little pups. Food is also usually kept out of the play area to prevent dog fights. Females in heat are asked to stay home.

The size of the play group is also a consideration. Not everyone can make it out to the dog park at the same time, so you probably won't see every member will be at every event. Even when you're planning on some absences, it's important to keep the numbers manageable. The American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends that a safe play group size is six to 10 dogs.

If you explore your town, you'll probably find a number of public areas where dogs can be off their leashes. But don't rule out something closer to home...since your group is for small dogs, backyards and smaller parks can be good venues. Getting the word out about the play group shouldn't be difficult, either. A number of Web sites host discussion boards for all manner of groups, and arranging play group dates through these sites is easy and usually free. Area veterinarians, groomers and dog day cares may also allow fliers for the group to be posted at their places.

The benefits of a play group for small dogs are enormous. Older dogs tend to socialize younger dogs; all of the members get much-needed exercise, and owners get to meet other small dog lovers.

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