Rules of Engagement: Pack Play for your Dog


Dog parks, doggie daycare, and dog-friendly events can be awesome for social pups — but some temperaments can feel frightened or overwhelmed. Little White Dog’s Barb Berman shares insights from 3+ years of off-leash adventures in doggie daycare. 

While dogs are very social creatures not all enjoy interacting with other dogs whether it’s on leash or off.  Five quick questions can help assess your dog’s sociability:

1. Does your dog show an interest in meeting new dogs?
2. Does your dog like to play and interact with other dogs?
3. Is he/she comfortable in loud and active situations?
4. Does your dog have some self-control even when excited?
5. Does your dog understand cues from other dogs?

Sometimes, dogs enjoy off-leash play but only in a small group, or only with certain dogs or temperaments. Others are more easygoing, and enjoy both small and large groups of dogs. Size and gender often matter too: some bigger males only like smaller females, or vice-versa, for instance. Dogs can even have breed and color preferences for playmates.

Actual physical space is instinctively important to dogs, as well — when they socialize, this need for space is magnified. Dogs need room to be able to remove themselves from stressful situations and avoid dogs they are uncomfortable with. Dogs are more relaxed and playful when they have enough room run around without constantly ramming into each other.

Some dogs, though, simply  may not enjoy an off-leash play environment. Signs include stiff or fearful body posture, raised “hackles,” lip-licking, and avoidance. Some dogs cling to human caretakers, or nervously pace the perimeter. Dogs who express no interest in other dogs or the environment, too, are signaling that they’re not into group play.

How do I know if my dog is enjoying himself?  You’ll see loose wiggly body posture when your pup leaves your side to explore the space, and engage with the other dogs. They’ll play-bow, give chase, wrestle, and have been known to even harmonize for group howling sessions. At Little White Dog, we’ll even see them snuggle up together for a nice long nap after particularly vigorous play!

There is no one size fits all in regard to off leash play, dog parks and dog daycare. It truly depends on the individual dog and the specific off-leash play environment.  One rule, though, always rings true: don’t force it.

Most dog behavior experts recommend that if a dog is merely tolerating off-leash play, she’s not a good candidate for it. Dogs have limits, and you should never assume you can predict his breaking point. Dogs can react defensively when they feel threatened or overwhelmed — it’s a fallacy that dogs will “work it out” if we leave them alone. Better safe than sorry, always.

If your dog doesn’t enjoy being around or playing with other dogs, that’s OK! It’s better to find another activity rather than forcing him to endure other dogs. Borderline temperaments can learn to be comfortable and enjoy new situations, but it’s best to work through issues with a trained professional.

SEND ME YOUR QUESTIONS! I’m happy to help evaluate whether doggie daycare and group play is right for your dog. Hit me up on Facebook, or stop by Little White Dog for a personal tour so you can witness pack play in action.

UPDATE JUNE 2017: Little White Dog is the current Readers’ Choice winner for Doggie Daycare in Philadelphia. Congrats to Barb, her staff, and her happy clients.


Little White Dog
Doggie Daycare and Indoor Dog Park offers safe, clean, cage-free play with trained staff who love dogs of all breeds. Birthday parties and events, too. Scotts Mills location offers plenty of parking for easy pick-up/drop-off. 
3500 Scotts Lane
Open 7am – 7pm Weekdays plus occasional “Pop-Up” dog park hours:

SOURCE: is an online resource offering great information for both dog parents and pet professionals.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.