Dogs Playing for Life: Florida seminar on helping reactive shelter dogs

tense dogA kennel environment can be incredibly stressful for dogs. How can shelter staff ensure dogs receive enrichment as well as physical and emotional care that will allow them to engage positively with potential adopters, transition easily to a new home, and interact appropriately with people and other dogs in the community after adoption?

Playgroups, pioneered by Aimee Sadler, CEO and founder of Dogs Playing for Life (DPFL), have become a criticial tool in accomplishing these goals. On Nov. 2-3, 2019, Sadler will present two days of hands-on working with dogs fearful or reactive to strangers. The seminar will be held at DPFL’s National Canine Center in Wellborn, Fla.

Attendees will learn how to work with dogs that are wary of strangers, building their confidence and helping them develop new skills that will enable them to meet new people (and potential adopters) happily and successfully. The skills taught in this seminar will help support the reactive dog to expand their comfort level when meeting new people.

For those not familiar with DPFL, or who have not made up their minds about the feasibility and safety of playgroups, the program has created a comprehensive impact report examining the experiences of more than 100 animal shelters with intake ranging up to 60,000 dogs per year. The average annual intake of all reporting shelters was 5,360 dogs, with an average of 115 dogs onsite on any given day.

Findings of the survey, which was designed by past Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at UF resident Dr. Amie Burling, include:

  • Among fifty shelters running playgroups for three or more months, the average decrease in length of stay was 7.78 days.
  • 100% of respondents believe that the benefits of playgroup outweigh the risks.
  • 99.21% of respondents believe that playgroups contribute to a higher quality of life for their dogs while they are sheltered.
  • 91.1% report that playgroups have not been deemed the cause of an infectious disease outbreak at their shelter.
  • 78.2% say veterinary staff is largely supportive of playgroups.
  • 70.7% indicate fights between dogs occur rarely, 13.8% never, and 14.6% occasionally.

An additional finding that provides context for those statistics:

Among a group of shelters that have been running playgroup for at least twelve months, we see that the average number of onsite bites prior to playgroup implementation was 12.22 and the average after was 8.24–a decrease of 32.78%.

It may be the case that dogs are less frustrated due to the appropriate energy outlet that playgroups provide, which may also reduce reactivity while walking dogs through kennels and support dogs in practicing behavior that is safer for the handler.

Together with improved handling skills of staff and volunteers, it appears that playgroups may be contributing to safer overall sheltering environments.

The complete impact report can be viewed here.