FOTAS: Group play can work wonders for shelter dogs | Pet News

Paddy, a pretty mix of white and black border collie, sneaks into the playground with his head and tail down between his legs. He backs away from the people on the farm and is aware of their intentions. Then Graham, a Black Retriever mix, is let in and everything changes. Paddy’s ears rise and he slowly approaches the larger dog. You come face to face and sniff. Paddy’s tail appears and begins to wag angrily, and Graham nudges him with his nose. Soon they will start wrestling and chasing each other like best friends in the yard.

Welcome to the world of Dogs Playing for Life, a group play program designed to provide shelter dogs with a better quality of life and social interaction so that they can be better adopted.

The DPFL team recently visited the Aiken County Animal Shelter to train staff on how to keep dog playgroups safe and effective. The DPFL founder and managing director, Aimee Sadler, led the training, which assessed the compatibility of 36 guard dogs with other dogs, as well as their personality traits and play style. By observing the dogs’ social interaction through playing time together, the DPFL program helps guard dogs behave better and be more adaptable.

The program helps FOTAS and staff identify key personality traits in individual dogs and successfully match homeless pets with adopters. Group games can help shy dogs like Paddy find their confidence, and overly aggressive dogs learn how to play well with others.

Dogs that play for life first visited the shelter five years ago and presented their guidelines and training to FOTAS and the county. This recent training was a refresher course that included two days of intense hands-on training.

The shelter staff have taken on these lessons and have held playgroup meetings twice a day for the past two weeks. Staff usually manage five or six dogs at a time, but group play can include a dozen or more dogs if they get along and enjoy similar styles of play.

Some of the shelter’s shyest dogs, like the pit bull mix Trinity and the spaniel / hound mix Tenor, blossom into superstars. They can’t wait to get out of their kennels and play with other dogs.

A kennel environment can be incredibly stressful for dogs. However, group play helps dogs receive enrichment, physical and emotional care that can help them interact more positively with potential adopters, move more easily to new homes, and interact appropriately with people and other dogs in the community.

Last week, Donovan, a black lab mix who arrived at the shelter with a lot of nervous energy exacerbated by kennel stress, served as an example of how useful DPFL can be. During his date with a family, he was relaxed, confident and even dropped onto “Mommy’s” lap. Within a few minutes he was sitting in her car and driving to his eternal home.

Your life is in our hands.

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