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How to ensure your dog plays well with others while visiting friends and family

It’s OK to introduce your dog to other dogs slowly.

Are you heading to an extended stay with friends or family and planning on bringing your dog? While mapping out all future bonding activities, meal plans and sleeping arrangements, it’s a good idea to prepare your pup to be the best house guest possible. 

Hi, I’m Dr. Evan Antin, a practicing veterinarian at Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital and an exotic, small and wildlife veterinarian. Here are my tips on helping your dog be on their best behavior while interacting with other pets and people.  

How to socialize a dog

Practicing socializing your dog in unfamiliar places and with new people (also called desensitization) at a young age (although you can do this at all ages) is likely the most effective way to make your dog a social butterfly. But, there are some additional ways to help your dog feel comfortable in all situations, like: 

  • Try to create a positive association with meeting new pets or people or being in unfamiliar surroundings by giving them their favorite treat. 
  • Take introductions with other pets slowly — you can try introducing your dog to new animals on opposite sides of a door (where the animals can smell but not see each other). Gradually increase the amount you let each animal see each other until they’re ready to meet face-to-face. Don’t be alarmed if it takes a while. It can sometimes take weeks to months until each animal is prepared to interact.
  • Understand your pet's personality, stress levels and your ability to intervene in any potential adverse interactions quickly.
  • Advise children to be gentle and introduce themselves slowly, especially if your dog is anxious or aggressive (and ensure these kids understand that they shouldn’t bother your dog when they’re in their safe space). 

How can I help my dog before going to a new place?

Before heading on a trip (or even visiting someone’s house for a brief visit), ensure your dog is up-to-date on any necessary preventive medications, like deworming or vaccinations. Seeing your veterinarian will help keep your pup safe from any potential illnesses and keep other pets safe, too. 

If possible, try to visit the place you’re staying before your extended trip. However, taking your pup to new environments can help desensitize them to unfamiliar places, people and pets if you can't visit your host’s house before the trip.

Once you arrive at the place you’re visiting, ask your host if it’s OK for your pup to investigate the space on their own before meeting new pets or people. This solo time will allow your dog to understand their surroundings and take in any scents from animals to let them know that other pets live there. 

It's essential to set up your pup's safe space as soon as you get to the new environment. Your dog's safe space will give them a quiet place to retreat if they feel overwhelmed. Making an effort to give your pet undivided attention, even if just for a few minutes, can be very helpful when comforting your pet after you first arrive.

RELATED: Decoding 5 common dog barks

What can I pack for my dog when visiting a new place?

Don't forget to pack a bag for your dog when visiting a new place. Here are some items that you should consider adding to their bag: 

  • Their bed
  • Crate or carrier (this can be their safe space, too)
  • Usual food and treats
  • Medications
  • Pheromones, which can help to soothe them and make their traveling experience more relaxed

How can I ensure my dog plays well with other pets? 

Suppose you had a successful introduction with your pup and new pets; congratulations! However, that doesn't mean you should stop monitoring their interactions. Make sure your dog isn't being pushed beyond their limits, use positive reinforcements and remember to let your pup retreat to their safe space if they're not having fun. 

How can I tell if my dog isn’t having a good time with others? 

When it comes to dogs (and cats) body language is everything. So even though dogs can't necessarily use their words to explain their emotions, you should pay attention to changes in their body posture to understand their moods. 

If you spot smiling, tail wagging, playful positions (like their head down, front paws stretched forward on the ground with their tail up), these are signs your pup would like to initiate play. On the other hand, you’ll want to separate your pup from others if you see any of these negative physical and verbal cues: 

  • Ears back
  • Tail tucked
  • Pointed down nose
  • Hiding
  • Avoiding other dogs or cats
  • Snarling or growling

When visiting friends, family and new pets, follow the four golden rules to ensure your pup is a great guest. Use positive associations, slowly progress interactions with other pets, utilize their safe space and read their body language. If you follow these steps, you’ll help your pup feel more confident in new settings. 

The Dig, Fetch by The Dodo’s expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too. Fetch provides the most comprehensive pet insurance and is the only provider recommended by the #1 animal brand in the world, The Dodo.

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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