Hosting a doggy play-date

In love
Crazy eyes in love. Heath and Pyrrha.

As you probably know by now, one of Pyrrha’s favorite things is playing with other dogs. We’re really grateful for this, because it evidently brings her so much joy, and there are so many other things that make her so scared. So, we have gradually turned our backyard into an occasional dog park. Here are some of the things we’ve learned about hosting a play-date!

Play-date with Ozzie
Ozzie and Pyrrha.


Cap the number of dogs, and know their personalities

I think, due to the size of our yard, and to the various complicating factors, four to five dogs is the max number of dogs we should have in the yard at one time. It helps knowing the personalities of the dogs coming, too. For instance, when we have rowdy adolescent males come over, we probably won’t invite a new puppy or a senior dog (and vice versa). It’s helpful to have a general idea of the canine personalities that are going to be in the mix. If you don’t know, we’ve preferred to play it safe and just invite one dog over at a time.

Set out a bowl of water

Nothing gets pups tired like wrestling and playing tag! We’ve found that, regardless of the season, the pups get thirsty very quickly.

Poop scoop

No one likes to accidentally step in a land mine.

Put away any toys

To avoid any tussles over toys, I like to clear the yard of anything that could potentially cause a possessive scuffle. (Even though dogs, like children, will usually find something to pick a fight over, such as that enticing stray stick…)

Play-date with Juniper
Juniper and Pyrrha.


Be vigilant and watchful during introductions…

As I’ve written about recently, we’ve become very careful and mindful during dog introductions. This is usually the most tense and delicate part of the play-date. If introductions go smoothly, usually, the rest of the play-date will too.

… but don’t zone out entirely

Keep an eye on the dogs. Watch your dog’s behavior and watch for any warning signs (such as stiff body language, hard stares, etc.). I particularly liked this post on The Unexamined Dog about watching for pauses during play. Healthy, happy play sessions should have lots of little rest periods. Be ready to break the dogs up to give them “time outs” if needed. We learned this with Roland and Pyrrha; they would occasionally play too hard and too long, and then the play would start to shift into frustration and annoyance. We’d intervene, call them apart from each other, and then in five minutes, they would be OK to play again.

Get those leashes off

If introductions have gone smoothly, dogs naturally play better untethered! (Although we may let them drag the leashes for a few minutes in the beginning, just to make sure that everyone is at ease.)

Sunday play-date with Roland
Chomp! Pyrrha takes a bite out of Roland’s leg.


Take a nap!

Pyrrha finally meets Bo
Bo and Pyrrha.

Do you ever host canine friends at your place? What have you learned from your experiences?


5 thoughts on “Hosting a doggy play-date

  1. Thank you for posting this. We’re no longer able to take our pack to the dog park and I’ve considered a play date. A friend asked if she could bring her dog and I hesitantly said yes, but we haven’t made plans yet. I hope that we can pull it off soon.

    1. Yes, of course! I hope that your play-date can happen soon! I agree with you; it’s a very nice, controllable alternative to dog parks. I get too nervous about dog parks these days, so at-home play-dates have been a great solution for us. Good luck! Looking forward to hearing how it goes.

  2. I wish we could have play dates here, but the yard still isn’t fenced, so it will be a while. We’ve attended play dates, though, and it generally goes pretty well.

  3. I actually have a dog park with dogs both adoptable and mine. On occasion, someone will stay over and then, like you, introductions are very careful. Then there was Crimson Tide who simply invited himself in….he’s doing fine but I need to watch his choice of Moi over other dogs!

  4. We very often have dogs over for play dates since most of our friends are dog people too. Luckily for us, most dogs get along just fine and they all know each other since they were puppies. So because we keep on meeting up on a regular basis, they see each other as being part of some kind of “pack” in a way, and they all have their fixed place in the group.
    Of course some dogs like each other more than others, and we always keep that in mind when arranging play dates, we try to put together a balanced group so that conflicts can be avoided.
    We don’t put away the toys, however, and there have never been incidents about those in all those years of organising play dates. What we do keep away are snacks like chewing bones, because that is food-related and is more dangerous for causing trouble in a group of dogs.
    Food is only provided under strict supervision, and no matter how big the group of dog is: they all have to obey orders!
    But overall we have great experiences with organizing and taking part in play dates for our dogs. It’s fantastic socialization!

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