Shelter dog training and behavior is enhanced by playgroups in many ways and Cindy Bruckart of the Multnomah Animal Shelter, an open-admission, official Open Paw Shelter, is here this week to tell us why playgroups are good for shelter dogs and how to go about doing them in a safe and manageable fashion.
Shelter dogs are often quite pent up, as they generally spend about 23 hours a day in a kennel environment, often with lots of frustrating stimulation going on right outside their kennel run door. While manners training, practicing household skills such as settling and chew toy training, and continued socialization are very much top priorities when deciding what sort of environmental enrichment to provide for shelter dogs (see openpaw.org for more info), playgroups may be incorporated as one ingredient in a wellness program for maintaining or creating healthy, adoptable shelter dogs.
Exercise provides a much needed outlet for amped up dogs, but it also provides an opportunity to build confidence for shy dogs and some much needed cheer for dogs displaying signs of depression.
That said, a shelter dog playgroup should not just be a willy-nilly free for all. Cindy runs her playgroups bases on the SIRIUS Puppy Training methodology of incorporating training into play sessions. Doing so both blurs the line between training and play, to make them one and the same in the dog’s mind rather than mutually exclusive, but it also offers handlers a fantastic opportunity to use the super-high value reward of play and dog-dog interaction as a reinforcement for following their requests, such as recall out of playgroup or a brief “down-stay”. In other words, there are lots of training breaks in the play session to maintain control and focus at all times.
In order to initiate shelter dog playgroups it’s essential to have at least one trained professional, who is experienced in both reading dog behavior/body language and in managing multiple dogs, involved in each session. Volunteers must be trained before participating and Cindy believes that the ratio of dog to human should be no higher than four dogs for each human helper.
In the podcast below, Cindy also talks about what kind of dogs are suitable for playgroups, lists the top three reasons to incorporate playgroups into your shelter dog training and behavior program, and shares a heartwarming story about a shelter dog who’s life was turned around, and likely saved, by the opportunity to grow and shine outside of her kennel.