A Guest Post By Jessica Borda
It’s 8 a.m. at the shelter. Dogs are stretching their legs for the first time. A staff member comes to their kennel and asks “Are you ready to go to playgroup?!” And the full body wiggles commence!!
Twice a day between 50 and 100 dogs get out to playgroup. Playgroup is a lot like recess-a bunch of dogs running out in the yard with a person or two supervising dog interaction and the dogs learning how to successfully maneuver through social interaction with one another. Of course, it’s not quite that simple but for 3 hours in the morning and about 2 hours in the afternoon, the dogs get to run and just be dogs. No leashes, no kennels, and no humans micromanaging their every move. The dogs get to run off their energy and their frustration from being cooped up in the kennel is greatly reduced. Now when the public walks by the kennel, they see a dog resting comfortably or happily greeting them at the kennel door. They are just too pooped to get riled up! High energy dogs finally have an outlet to expend their energy instead of just sitting there barking at the door. Another benefit of playgroup: the staff can immediately see if a dog is good with other dogs. Now we can talk to an adopter intelligently about what integrating another dog in their home can look like.
Every time a dog gets adopted, Austin Pets Alive! gets to save another life from the city shelter. Then every week, our trained behavior staff evaluates each dog to see how they fit into playgroup. A list is created to indicate which dogs get along with the others, what their individual play styles are, etc. So while it looks like the staff is just letting dogs do what they want, they actually know who gets along with who and supervises them accordingly. There are young dogs that get out with better socialized adults to learn proper manners; there are dogs that might not get along with other dogs so their group is smaller; there are some dogs that only get along with lady dogs. The staff learns so much about them and puts them in the right group, so they can have positive interactions with dogs while getting exercise.
Just like at recess, the behavior staff member in the play yard, for the most part, just lets the dogs interact with each other, only stepping in when one dog isn’t listening to another or if it escalates too quickly. An observer might see dogs barking at each other, showing teeth or chasing each other. It’s all part of healthy dog interaction, but rest assured that our expert staff has all the tools, skills and experience to stop potential negative interactions.
So are you ready to go to playgroup? Our Sunday playgroups will be open to the public for the month of January. Come visit us and experience some doggie recess for yourself from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. on Sundays throughout the month.