‘Cause you gotta have friends, that’s right, friends, friends.

The time came for one of Phoebe’s biggest fears and challenges to be overcome… the dreaded Play Date! With lots of planning, preparation and a crossed fingers, I decided that Phoebe has come far enough for her to start becoming a little more social, and to trust the presence of other dogs. I’m happy to report another big success! Hooray!

“A Friend In Need” by painter C.M. Coolidge

Phoebe has been doing so well in class, and has slowly learnt that not all dogs are a threat to her. She’s even allowed some dogs to get close to her and allow a lot of sniffing and the occasional walk together for a couple of meters. The trouble seems to start when they look like they’re even thinking of making fleeting eye contact, or if they are exuberant and excited. Her most comfortable situations are with older dogs (because they seem to just ignore her) and puppies (not sure if it’s maternal instinct, or if it’s because they just get bored of her and wander off when she’s unresponsive?).

Overall Phoebe has been making phenomenal progress. In my head I’ even sometimes stopped to wonder if she was ever really so bad that all that fear, stress and tears were warranted. And then I remember – Yup, it was that bad, but the magical thing that has happened here is that we worked (and played) incredibly hard together, progress should be accepted with open arms! And this would be our next big step towards progress: The Play Date.

I had to think long and hard as to what dog would be suitable for Phoebe to meet on her first official play date. Anything could go wrong, I had to carefully consider all the possible outcomes, and control what little that I could. I decided that she would most likely get along best with “Olive”.

Olive. Phoebe's first Play Date buddy!

Olive. Phoebe’s first Play Date buddy!

Olive is the newest Schnauzer puppy of a close friend, and though she’s young, she’s been extremely well socialised with constant visits to other homes, pets and weekly puppy play school classes. Her “Dad” has also been a close friend of mine for many years and has had a keen interest in the trials and tribulations of Phoebe. This was important, because I had to have her with another owner who was fully prepared for the fact that there may be a lot of barking and snarling without panicking about the situation at hand.

Finally the night arrived. Olive was running late, and I felt like an awkward teenager preparing for a first date. The treats were all perfectly cut up and arranged in order from “Most Prized” to “Least Prized”, water bowls were filled and constantly moved to be perfectly placed on the tiles, I kept brushing Phoebe’s hair and coat telling her how pretty she was, and dog beds and pillows were fluffed and scattered around the house. Then the bell rang, I took a deep, calming breath and let the visitors in for the play date.

At first Phoebe was happy to see her old friend arrive at the house, but the moment she realised that there was a fluffy companion accompanying him she was not impressed. The sudden barking and lunging took me by surprise, but we both recovered quickly, and a few minutes of distraction and treat games helped Phoebe to relax a bit, and start to think the situation may just be a good one.

I then took Olive in my arms and allowed Phoebe to get closer and closer to sniff. All the while her calm curiosity was awarded with her favourite treats, and I was constantly chatting to her to reassure her that she was doing a good job. Over the course of a few minutes the dogs were allowed to roam around the house and garden freely, and every time they got close to each other treats and praise were showered over them. After an hour or two they were both exhausted from running around and playing, and they both collapsed on the dog beds next to us as we sat in the living room catching up on the latest news and gossip in each others’ lives.

Exhausted after the playdate, Phoebe and Olive go to sleep and cuddle for warmth

Exhausted after the playdate, Phoebe and Olive go to sleep and cuddle for warmth

I’m happy to say that Phoebe’s first official Play Date with a new friend went swimmingly well, and I look forward to arranging more play dates with Olive and other dogs, and ultimately finding Phoebe a doggy partner she will be comfortable and happy with!

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Summary:

Issue Addressed: Socialisation, Fear

Tool(s) Used: Basic Obedience, Treats and Praise

Cost: Low. If your dog is well socialised, all you need to do is keep setting up play dates! This can be at home, in parks, going for picnics etc

Ease of Implementation: Easy to Moderate. Once you know what signs to look for, and can implement your knowledge of training and body language this becomes easier and easier. The fact that I knew how to read Phoebe’s level of discomfort and when to distract and engage her saved a lot of stress and avoided a potentially explosive situation.

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Rating: 4/5. It took a long time for Phoebe to feel 100% comfortable and to leave my side, but once she did she was calm and accepted the situation. I think if the puppy was more playful it would have been more difficult, but because the puppy was tired she was happy to snuggle at bed time.

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How have you handled the first Play Date situation? Any advice for me on arranging future Play Dates?

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