The first thing to do when you get to the dog run is sit outside. Watch the other dogs play. Is it a rough-and-tumble group or a sedate, sniff-and-trot kind of crowd?
What is your pup doing? Straining at his lead to get in or tucked behind your legs, watching from safety? A bold pup can be brought up to the fence. Chances are the other dogs will come over for a sniff and a general hello. Again, watch your pup. Eager or overwhelmed?
Either way, wait until the pack loses interest, then walk your pup near the fence but still outside. This may stimulate more interest, but what kind? If a dog starts running alongside, barking, or has his tail up and stiff, or is lunging at your pup through the fence, or your gut warns you something isn’t right—don’t go in.
If your pup is frightened or lagging behind, don’t go in. Walking along the outside or observing quietly is plenty. Give your pup plenty of distance from the action until he relaxes.
Another idea is to meet one of his puppy play pals at the run and let them romp together. Same tests before you go in, but if the group inside is basically quiet, let your friends play. Nothing gives one confidence like having a buddy by your side.
Hiring a trainer, to come to the dog run the first couple of trips can be a wise investment in your pup’s safety and your own sanity. Rule of law: Never throw down food or a coveted toy amid multiple dogs. That’s a perfect recipe for a fight, and you don’t want your pup to be in the middle.