Animal “Play Groups” Make for Better Adoptions and Health

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Dogs frolic together at Saint Francis of Assisi.
Dogs frolic together at Saint Francis of Assisi.

Shelter workers and volunteers want potential adopters to have as much information as possible about their dogs (and cats) to make sure all parties will have a happy ending.  Unfortunately, in some shelters, dogs are kept in cages where they can see but can’t interact with other dogs.

Nationally renowned behaviorist and trainer Aimee Sadler says dogs are social animals; they live in packs, so having them interact in man-made packs, called “play groups” while they’re in the shelter, can reveal a lot of information to staff and others.

 “It’s hard enough to be in shelters but to be socially isolated like that and to have all of those situations where they’re put in a stressful area and can’t access each other but have to stare at each other and all the barking and all the noise and meeting strangers all the time.  It’s one thing we can do to make them feel more comfortable and closer to being in a state that’s going to help them feel comfortable meeting people and better as an adoption candidate.  It’s also important for shelters to know how their dogs are going to interact with other dogs, so they can help match people to the right pets when they have other dogs in the home.”

“Also, if they want to go to the dog park with their dogs, if they want to go hiking, if they want their dogs to meet other dogs in the community, it’s really nice when the shelters already have a sense of what their skills are when they’re here and also to help them develop those skills.”

Sadler came to the area over the weekend, for three days of seminars and hands-on experience.  She has more than 25 years of experience in animal welfare, works with the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation in Colorado, and travels the country promoting play groups to national animal welfare and professional dog training conferences.  Staff and volunteers from Angels of Assisi and other area rescue groups took part in the workshop.

According to Sadler, the dogs’ interactions in play groups gives staff and volunteers the most insight into who they are in a natural state.  She cautions staff need to watch their behavior before putting them in a play group but they may surprise them once they meet other souls.

“We’ll use certain tools like a muzzle or sometimes have them wear head halters, things that they can concentrate on other than just charging another dog.”  She says staff should give the dogs the benefit of the doubt that even if one dog might not have the best social skills, being with other dogs may bring out his or her social side.

Bobbie Patterson is a trainer with Angels of Assisi and says the information she was getting from the workshop was “awesome.”

“Like with Stella, when Stella had the altercation with [another] dog earlier, I would have chosen not to place her back with that same dog, whereas Aimee chose to thin the group out a little bit and bring him back in. . .and everything was fine.  So, it’s a call I would have not made but it’s a call I’ll definitely try now if the situation is right.”

She looks forward to being able to get most of the dogs out, once Angels has enough space to have play groups.

In fact, Angels had a notification on their Facebook page already this week, asking for volunteers to help supervise new play groups that are being formed.