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Dogs Playing for Life – GAME CHANGER for our Emergency Shelter

A few weeks ago, we had one of the most amazing weeks at the shelter!  I had the pleasure of attending the Dogs Play For Life Seminar (www.dogsplayingforlife.com) at Purina Farms on Tuesday along with my other shelter staff and volunteers. We learned how to implement play groups at the shelter and the benefits they have on the dogs. Trainer and founder of Dogs Play For Life, Aimee Sadler, said “Dogs love to play so let them play to live!” It makes perfect sense! Dogs are pack animals!  It is natural for them to want to be with one another. 

 
I think some of our shelter staff, including myself, had some PTSD from breaking up dog fights in the past so we came to a point where we just wouldn’t introduce dogs anymore out of fear of a fight happening. We still thought our shelter dogs were spoiled; going for multiple walks a day, sun bathing in our play yard, and getting new toys everyday, but they were missing out on something.
 

Aimee gave us the tools to have more structured play groups and gave us the confidence to be able to introduce dogs again.  On Wednesday morning, Aimee and her team came to our shelter and went through our whole population of 15 dogs, with the exception of two for medical reasons, getting them into playgroups. At the start of the day we thought we had four dogs who needed to go to single dog homes and four dogs that weren’t great with other dogs. We also had a few dogs who had some serious leash or barrier reactivity so we were unsure how they would do in play groups but they ended up being some of the best dogs in play groups!  By the end of the day we only had one dog that we decided would be best as an only dog! How awesome is that?! Learning more about these dogs from playgroups opens so many more possibilities for foster homes and forever homes. 
 
Another awesome thing about these playgroups is that it will reduce the amount of time it takes our staff and volunteers to clean kennels every morning. We will cut cleaning time in half by having four kennels open at the same time instead of just one.  Dogs will be more tired and calmer in their kennels.  It will also help to reduce the noise in the shelter!  
Aimee Sadler said, “Through play groups they could expend excess energy in a healthy and interactive way that countered the common anxiety and frustration caused by life in a noisy, uncomfortable, and stressful kennel.” “Let dogs be dogs and allow them to play together.” 
 
One of the hardest things for me to do is try to remove my instinct to step in when dogs start to scuffle. I had gotten into the habit or correcting them before anything happened. If a dog started to mount another dog I would immediately stop it. Aimee taught us to “remember that socially healthy dogs are more likely to be better teachers of appropriate canine communication than humans!” If a dog doesn’t like being mounted that dog will let the other dog know. And hopefully that dog wont do it again. We had no fights from dogs correcting one another! 
 
I am so excited to see what the future has to hold for us at the shelter. I know it is going to be amazing and good change is coming. I look forward to getting more comfortable leading the play groups and teaching volunteers to do the same.  
Join us THIS THURSDAY (July 7) a Playgroup Q & A at the shelter, 5:30pm!  We are so excited to share our knowledge with all of you!  Please RSVP HERE if you are interested in attending! We hope you can make it!
Kimmy Nasti, Shelter Manager
 

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