by Leann Quire, Director of Shelter Operations, Humane Pennsylvania
“It’s time for recess!” This glorious sentence was probably one of the most exciting things you heard in early grade school. What makes recess so important for children remarkably mirrors the benefits of playgroups for dogs.
The many benefits that come from physical activity, improved social skills, and reduced stress are some of the commonalities that recess and playgroups have in common. As an adult, even if you consider yourself an introvert, think about the important relationships with the people closest to you and how those people make your life all around better. People generally feel better when they socialize with other people.
Is the same true with dogs? Research outlets state that dogs who are able to play and socialize with other dogs provides enrichment, which improves their quality of life. Playing is beneficial to the dog’s mental and physical health, and in some cases, can be lifesaving for the dog.
The longstanding concerns that surround playgroups include:
- safety of the dogs and staff
- disease spread
- staff time
These concerns have prevented, and continue to prevent, many shelters from implementing playgroups.
We were one of those shelters until recently. Why risk the chance of a fight breaking out? Why risk the possibility of anything from happening when there are enough daily concerns to be dealt with in the shelter?
Teddy is a 2 year old Rottweiler/Doberman Pinscher/Labrador Retriever mix who was surrendered with a history stating that he was an outdoor dog who never lived with other animals and had a list of other behavioral issues. Teddy presented as an adolescent dog with minimal training and lots of energy, but was shy and scared in his kennel. Teddy was introduced to playgroups and immediately proved to be a playgroup rock star by getting along with dogs of all shapes, sizes, and energy levels.
Over the course of a few weeks and handful of playgroups we were able to identify that Teddy not only did well with dogs, which we didn’t know beforehand, but came out of his shell and presented completely different from the scared, shy dog people saw when he was in his kennel. Playgroups gave Teddy the ability to show his fun, silly, and dog-loving side which brought him attention and allowed our staff to better match him, which led to his adoption mid-February of this year.
Playgroups are not only physically beneficial to dogs in the shelter, but there are many mental benefits as well. Allowing dogs to participate in playgroups helps them to learn better social skills with other dogs, burn off energy, and reduce stress. All of these benefits assist in increasing adoptions by enabling the dogs to be more relaxed in their kennels and present better during meets with potential families.
Staff also gain useful information about each dog that can be shared with adopters and potentially help make more appropriate matches. Dogs can act completely different outside of the shelter environment, so to be able to see them in a more natural environment, like playing with other dogs, we are obtaining critical information we may have not received otherwise.
After attending a wonderful seminar explaining how to perform playgroups in shelters, presented by Dogs Playing for Life, which was founded by Aimee Sadler, we are embarking on something new for Humane Pennsylvania.
We started working on playgroups about a month ago and we already see the benefits these play groups hold and are excited to continue training staff and volunteers to allow even more play and socialization for the dogs in the shelter.
With your help we can continue to make playgroups better and safer. We have a wish list of items used during playgroups and will need fence work done at both of our play yards in Berks and Lancaster Counties to ensure we are facilitating the best playgroups.
Your support will help save lives.
To discuss how you can further support playgroups by sponsorship please contact Lauren Henderson, Director of Events and Corporate Relations, at [email protected] or 610-750-6100 ext. 211.
Come on, let’s go play!