Often you’ll find that day cares and dog parks separate dogs based on size. This practice doesn’t seem to be questioned, and is just accepted as something that is always done.
Carefully pre-selecting groups of dogs to play together based on criteria is meant to ensure that a dog can take care of themselves — that a small dog isn’t wrestling with a larger dog who could easily win every game, and that quiet dogs that just want to hang out and rest are not in a room with dogs who want nothing but to wrestle. In theory, this is meant to ensure that all is fair and dogs who play the same type of ‘game’ are playing their favorite games together.
Far from saying this is a poor practice, the question we would like to pose is: What else could we be doing? As a management style, the practice of separating dogs based on size, play style and temperament is a good choice. However, if our goal is to teach our dogs how to interact appropriately with dogs of all sizes and temperaments then we are failing our dogs by only allowing them to interact with dogs who are like them. If we never expose them to new things, how can they learn about them?
If a dog is placed in a room with dogs who like to wrestle, that dog will learn how to wrestle. Because all of the dogs in this example room were grouped together because they like to wrestle, then this dog will probably practice wrestling a lot, and become good at it. However, when you then take this dog some place else, and your dog is given the chance to play, it will do what it has learned from the other dogs in day care, and start wrestling. Depending on the other dog, this could be a bad choice.
By not segregating dogs you open up the available opportunities, and a varied play style can form between dogs of all sizes, with big dogs learning how to play with small dogs, and vice versa, and active dogs learning how to give quiet dogs their space.
Here are the University of Doglando, we do not segregate dogs based on size, play style or temperament. Prior to any dog joining our enrichment program we set up a temperament assessment; based on that assessment we will set up the dog on a schedule which will maximize its chances of fun and socialization with the other dogs already in our program. This also helps us to ensure we do not have too many dogs on any particular day so we can give the attention needed to each dog and ensure a safe coach to dog ratio. Our coaches supervise the dogs’ interactions, to make sure the rules of polite play are followed and everyone has fun — and our dogs come home with experience with dogs of all sizes and temperaments, ready with the strong social background needed to play politely with your neighborhood dogs!