Shelter Dog Play Groups?!?!

What a concept – bringing together groups of pups with different backgrounds and the baggage that comes from being strays or simply thrown away. It’s called “Dogs Playing for Life” and it’s a program developed by Aimee Sadler of the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation. This program is being taught around the country to shelter and rescue groups who want to take the next step in exercising and socializing the dogs that will one day – hopefully – be a part of the larger community.

So, why am I talking about this program? Because the Wake County Animal Center (WCAC) is taking this step and as a volunteer I was able to join in the training this past week.

The classroom training was full of useful information about the benefits of play groups and the different play styles, so I just have to share some of these insights here.

  • 30 minutes of play group offers the same mental and physical stimulation as a two hour walk.
  • Dogs teach each other much more effectively than we as humans can teach them.
  • Healthy contact can help reduce Barrier Reactivity and On Leash Reactivity.

And the stuff about play styles gave me insight into how my own dogs play.

There are no “gentle and dainties” in my house… or is there? As I reread the description about this play style being relatively quiet with frequent stops and starts I noticed it describes Ruby when Khayla is trying to play with her in the living room.

Now “rough and rowdy” definitely describes my Khayla and the pure joy she gets out of grabbing, holding, chasing and tumbling, and if they’re out in the yard Ruby will join in the fun. I think Khayla actually likes being thrown to the ground by Ruby.

I guess the reason we don’t have any “push and pull” players in our house is the lack of herding breeds in our mutts, although Ruby does love to chase squirrels (what dog doesn’t?) and cars driving through the neighborhood. Or maybe that might be better described as “seek and destroy,” which is a prey drive style. To some it may not look mutual and will tend to require a little human intervention to keep it even.

As play yard monitor I thought one of the best lessons they taught us was to make this the dogs’ play group. We need to hang back and let them teach each other and work things out. This requires many of us to retrain ourselves – even in my own home I find I need to refrain from sticking my nose in all their business.

We also spent time learning when and how we need to step in – funny, a lot of this stuff seems like it should apply to the school yard as well. The human needs to step in when the play is no longer mutual or one dog is having fun at another’s expense. Also if a dog’s response is disproportionate to feedback from the other dog. And definitely when a fight breaks out – we’ll talk more about this in a future post.

Besides being a neutral yard monitor, you can start your group off right by keeping the yard free of toys and treats, making sure collars are properly fitted, and ensuring all Halti’s, slip collars and scarves are removed. Later, once you’re comfortable with their group interaction, you can also remove their dragging leashes.

Here are a few pictures of the fun we had …

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Remember, stop by the WCAC any day of the week between noon and 6:00 p.m. to meet some wonderful animals and potentially your newest family member.


4 thoughts on “Shelter Dog Play Groups?!?!

  1. Awesome photos!! Awesome program! Thank you for the post. This really helps those of us who wanted to be there for the training, but couldn’t because of work schedules. I’m really interested in anything/ everything that you learned from the training Thank you so much for sharing. WCAC foster mom : Cathy Hilling

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