Lenora struggled to find a home as a puppy because she was so shy. We weren’t sure if Simba’s anxiety around strangers would ever allow him to get along well with other dogs or new people. That is, until one simple thing in common gave them a brand new chance in their next home: Playgroup sessions with other shelter dogs.

This past June, our staff, volunteers, and other local rescue partners joined forces to participate in a training session for a revolutionary program that has proven to be life changing for shelter dogs like Lenora and Simba. Called Dogs Playing For Life (DPFL), the program is designed to enhance the quality of life of shelter dogs by allowing them to interact with other dogs safely through playgroup sessions for behavior modification purposes, more accurate assessments, and reduced kennel stress.

The concept is simple: Let dogs do what they do best (play!), and everyone benefits. Animal care specialists get an optimal chance to observe and modify behavior. Potential adopters get a better idea of the dog’s behavior outside of a kennel. Dogs get to socialize and burn off energy. It’s a win-win for everyone involved in the adoption process at the ARL.

 

 

These playgroups have proven to be effective in allowing us to accurately assess behavior, allowing us to understand a shelter dog’s true nature from all angles. A dog may express concerning behavior in a kennel or on a leash, but this is not always an accurate portrayal of their behavior when they are in a new and overwhelming environment such as the shelter. This is crucial because it is up to us, as animal care and pet placement experts, to provide an accurate assessment of each animal that enters our shelter so we can be sure the animal is an ideal match for a new family.

Consider the story of Simba, a year-old German shepherd mix who was showing severe leash reactivity towards other dogs. His severe case of “stranger danger” prevented him from getting close with any dogs or even people due to appearing aggressive and fearful. However, when we gave Simba a chance to participate in our playgroups, we discovered that he was one of our most well-behaved dogs in our play sessions! Interacting with other dogs and allowing his energy to burn off in these playgroups helped Simba reduce his kennel stress and manage his “stranger danger” tendencies.  It’s no wonder that Simba got adopted shortly after participating in only a few sessions of DPFL playgroups and is now thriving with his new family.

These playgroups also allow potential adopters to get a better idea of a dog’s behavior outside of their kennel. While not all our sessions are open to the public at this time, our pet placement specialists are able to speak more confidently on the social skills and abilities of animals after seeing them participate in these play sessions. Lenora’s family happened to luck out the day they came to meet with her – Lenora, a blue heeler puppy, was quite reluctant around people and animals. While most puppies are quick to get adopted, she waited for a home for almost two months in foster care because of her shyness.

One day, when she came to the shelter for a meet and greet with a new family, we let her join a playgroup that was happening across the way. Lenora was suddenly having the time of her life playing amongst other dogs as she suddenly became very social and playful! Her potential adopters were amazed to see Lenora become a whole new puppy around her other dog friends, and that was the moment they knew they were ready to take her home.

Here at ARL, we are always looking for ways to not only ensure quality of life to all animals under our care but also for our team to develop all the tools to further develop their expertise as animal caretakers. Through the DPFL program, our team has learned how to further connect with our shelter dogs in ways that reinforce the human-animal bond, improve overall health and social skills of shelter dogs, and encourage lifelong learning and play. This program is an excellent milestone in the trajectory of canine enrichment program development at the shelter, and we are so excited to continue this project indefinitely thanks to the team at Dogs Playing for Life!

We would like to thank our friends at The Center for Animal Health and Welfare, Harrisburg Humane, Eva’s Play Pups in Uniondale PA, Humane PA, and Char Will German Shepherd Rescue for joining us during these training sessions.

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