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Letting Dogs Be Dogs: How Daily Play Groups Have Changed Lives

Murphy and JC

Murphy and JC

It’s a beautiful morning, with birds chirping and rays of sunlight beaming through the canopy in the play yard of the Gateway Pet Guardians Emergency Shelter. Shelter staff Shaun Case and Kimmy Nasti circle the outside of the enclosure, watching closely as a group of dogs zoom and jump about, inviting each other to play. Case, with the assistance of Nasti, is conducting a “play group,” or supervised play time with shelter dogs. Play group is an opportunity for shelter dogs to expend their energy in the mornings as they work on socializing and improving their adoptability. It helps enrich their stay at the shelter as they meet other doggy friends, and makes their time inside the shelter easier, as they aren’t as wound up in their confined kennels.

Ice Cream, JC, and Murphy in Play Group

Ice Cream, JC, and Murphy in Play Group

Last summer, the organization Dogs Playing for Life visited the Gateway Pet Guardians Emergency Shelter, and taught staff how to implement play groups and the benefits they have on the dogs. The group provided shelter staff the tools to have more structured play groups, and gave them the confidence to conduct doggy introductions – even between dogs deemed “dog aggressive!” As you can imagine, if dogs are able to get through the introduction process and play with other dogs, it significantly increases their chances of adoption. And many times, they are able to accomplish this! Nasti comments, “We have learned that some of the dogs we thought were dog aggressive due to their leash reactivity are actually excellent players and love other dogs! We have learned not to judge a dog by how they react on a leash, which has opened up the possibility of foster and adoption homes for those dogs we thought needed to be an only dog.”

Murphy and Ice Cream

Murphy and Ice Cream

The goal of Dogs Playing for Life is to use play groups to help socialize, evaluate, and change the lives of shelter dogs. According to the organization, “Implementing daily play groups has proven to be a win-­win for people and animals! And to think that these exciting life saving outcomes revolve around something so simple and natural; let dogs be dogs and allow them to play together.” Our staff, as well as the dozens of shelter dogs that have benefited from this program over the past eight months, couldn’t agree more!

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