While kennels, shelters, and sanctuaries are great resources and alternatives for dogs without permanent homes, they unfortunately tend to be highly stressful environments. Dogs sometimes go many hours without human contact, don’t get to choose when to eat or go outside, and are subjected to almost constant loud levels of barking. Imagine being trapped in that environment, and how stressed that would make you.
Stress is something dogs in the kennel will always face. One way we try to reduce stress is play groups. Plays groups help the dogs in many ways including: learning from each other, working on behavioral problems, and just plain having fun! It’s a great way for the dogs to forget they are in the kennel- even if it is just for a little while.
Choosing play group partners is a process. You must take into account a dog’s play style, temperament, and overall personality. Once you make what you think is a good potential match it is important to test out the play group before just letting dogs run loose together. Dogs should be walked together a few times to get used to each other, and introduced slowly while on leash. Play groups should be closely observed for the first few times they are out together, and it should be noted if any complications arise in these first few trial runs. We recommend no toys or food be present as these resources can trigger an otherwise friendly play group into a dangerous one. After careful introductions dogs can be allowed to run around together, but for a while we recommend leaving leashes attached in case there is a scuffle. This will allow you to safely separate dogs should a problem arise.
Some dogs that come to the kennel haven’t been around other dogs or haven’t been taught appropriate dog behaviors. When we let dogs play together, they are able to learn new things from each other. A dog that is normally shy will begin to open up and learn from the other dog. At times, they pick up on the other dogs’ behaviors like how to interact with each other, how to play, and even that not all people are scary. We have noticed that if a shy dog that normally stays away from people is out in a play group with a confident dog, that shy dog will begin to be more interested in human interaction.
One example of the benefits of having play groups is Linus and Axel. Linus came to us as a feral dog. He didn’t trust anyone and was very shut down while in the kennel. Axel was a confident sanctuary dog but he wasn’t fond of other animals. We knew they could learn a lot from each other, so we began the process. Axel had to have small and slow introductions to Linus while wearing a muzzle. Axel was muzzle trained before this began so he was comfortable with the situation. After weeks of working with them we noticed Linus coming out of his shell. He began being comfortable with being pet, asking for attention, and finally showing his true personality. At the same time, Axel was learning that not all animals are bad. We were able to remove the muzzle after a few meets and they began to play together daily. By doing this process, each dog learned new things and ultimately were adopted to great, loving homes.
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