Dog to dog socialization is very important to your dog of any age.

Dogs are naturally pack animals and, while the human pack is very important, dogs naturally gravitate to their own species.

Is this true of every dog? Of course not. Some dogs prefer people and some dogs prefer dogs. But COVID-19 separations from our normal social behaviors unfortunately also carried over to our dogs.

I am seeing many more dogs now that are not very social or are indeed afraid of other dogs. They have missed the socialization window due to our forced isolation.

Beginning the socialization process usually is at a time when your pup or dog has had all the initial vaccines. Prior to that, casual hellos or known dogs are OK for short times. And it is okay to go to puppy classes with pups that are also up to date on their vaccines at about 10 to 12 weeks of age. But for full play, 4 months and older is the rule.

For the full play process, you have choices. Do you go to your local dog park or to daycare? What’s the difference? Some dogs do not do well saying hello or playing on a leash, as they are too confined. But off leash they can be much better.

If your dog is very tied to you emotionally and physically, the daycare is often better. Why? You won’t be there for the dog to constantly come back to. And the dog won’t be protective of you around other dogs.

Daycare stimulates a dog’s natural play instincts around other dogs without worrying about you. It also stops you from interfering in the dogs’ play!

Some daycares have groups divided by size and others by play style. Daycares are usually supervised by staff. This doesn’t mean accidents can’t happen, but they are very limited.

Dog parks are available in some private communities as well as public community parks. An advantage is the hours they are open, and the fact that the parks are free.

In some cases, you will know the owners, often your neighbors, as well as their dogs. Dog parks usually have small and large breed areas.

If your dog is not going to spend all the time by your side, then dog parks can be good.

However, make sure you and other owners are not spending all their time talking with each other instead of paying attention to their dogs’ play. Accidents happen more often when the dogs are not being watched for behavior signs.

At dog parks, you will not know if the dogs are up to date on vaccines, whereas at daycare it is a requirement. If you can find out when your dog’s favorite buddies go the park, you can arrange to go at the same times.

Bottom line is just get your dog out there to socialize – period!

Abby Bird is owner of Alphadog Training Academy.