Play groups are one of the most important ways that Alachua County Animal Services keeps dogs mentally stimulated and socialized and how staff gets to know each dog’s unique play style and behavior. They use this information to find the best home for every dog.
Participating in and photographing playgroups is one of the most exciting things I get to do with ACAS. The importance of playgroups has been well documented throughout shelters nationwide, thanks largely to the Dogs Playing For Life program.
Playgroups occur as frequently as possible, but with limited staff, volunteers can be essential so there are enough people present to help control dogs, especially for larger play groups. Here are a few things that I’ve learned while participating.
How are playgroups organized?
Play groups are organized and overseen by the shelter veterinarian and also conducted by staff. On the veterinarian’s clipboard are notes on somewhere around 100 dogs.
All of the information gathered on every dog is important. This includes intake notes whether the dog was surrendered by an owner or picked up as a stray. It also includes behavior in the kennel, behavior through barriers, behavior on leash, and, if safe, behavior in loose play.
How often are dogs tested, with how many other dogs?
Dogs are tried with other dogs at a set time after intake and repeatedly after that. Dogs are tried with a wide variety of dogs. Gender differences, energy level, play style, confidence, and many other factors are taken into consideration when choosing potential playmates and playgroups for each dog.
What do ACAS and rescues learn from playgroups?
Staff and volunteers learn which dogs are most in need of extra enrichment like doggie day outs, which dogs are a priority for foster homes, which dogs need extra help at the shelter for behavioral modification, and which dogs need to go to a rescue for extra help as soon as possible.
Private rescues draw on the suggestions made by ACAS staff to decide which dogs to take into their rescues, whether to take dogs to adoption events, and what kind of foster home would be ideal for each dog.
If dogs demonstrate consistent problematic behavior in play groups, on outings, or in the shelter, rescues are notified and asked to take the dog into a program designed to work on behavioral modification, with a foster family who is capable of controlling the dog while working on behavioral concerns.
What about dogs with severe dog-aggression?
For dogs that show persistent and intense aggression towards other dogs, especialy in cases where a dog may have a history of fighting, dog-dog tests may not be appropriate. It can be traumatizing to the tester dog to be exposed to a dog showing severe aggression. Furthermore, the possibility of a serious accident occuring is much higher. For these dogs, other information is used to determine the severity of dog aggression.
What does “Dog-friendly,” mean?
We often hear the word “dog-friendly” in terms of, “Is this dog dog-friendly?” or, “I need a dog-friendly dog,” but in reality, the concept of dog-friendliness is a bit silly.
After all, you wouldn’t say you’re not “person-friendly” just because you don’t like everyone you meet. People get along on a diverse scale. The same is true of dogs.
The way that dogs play and relate together in a group teaches us a lot. We can learn that a dog gets along with a particular gender, personality type, or individual dog. We learn that some dogs get along with most dogs, while other dogs are selective about the dogs they like to be around.
Do playgroups help save dogs?
Information gained from play groups, along with notes from day outs, fostering, and behavior in the shelter, all work together to form a plan for each dog.
This makes it more likely that a dog will not only find a home, but find the best home for them. It also keep dogs with potentially dangerous behavior problems from ending up in the wrong homes.
Play groups are just one of the many ways that Alachua County Animal Services gets to know the dogs that pour into their kennels each week while simultaneously enriching their lives. If you’d like to learn more or get involved with fostering, volunteering, or doggie day outs, don’t hesitate to contact me or Animal Services.