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American River Messenger

Who Let the Dogs Out? We Did.

Oct 26, 2022 12:00AM ● By Sac County News Release

Happy dogs enjoy the Dogs Playing for Life training workshop. Photos courtesy of Sacramento County

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, CA (MPG) - It was all fun and games for the dogs at Sacramento County’s Bradshaw Animal Shelter last month.

The shelter was chosen to participate in three intensive, all-day training workshops with Dogs Playing for Life (DPFL), a 501c3 nonprofit organization rooted in a dog’s natural instinct to play. The sessions, which taught staff how to conduct successful large-scale playgroups to increase dogs’ adoption prospects as well as provide efficient and effective socialization and exercise, took place from Sept. 28 - 30, 2022. Over three days and a series of playgroups, more than 100 dogs ran, wrestled and rolled around together.

The play model is part of an innovative approach to animal sheltering: one that aims to make a stay at the shelter more like a fun trip to summer camp and less like time behind bars. DPFL furthered staff’s expertise of dog behavior by teaching them how to assess nuances of play styles and body language in order to create dog playgroups that bring out the best in animals while minimizing the risk of injury or spread of infection.

“A big misconception is that it’s too risky to let dogs play or that shelter dogs have to be carefully taught how to socialize,” said Lauren Revier, Program and Research Administrator for DPFL. “It’s natural for dogs to interact and play, and when playgroups are approached thoughtfully, most dogs can participate and enjoy them.”

Dogs that have the most difficult time getting adopted stay in shelters the longest and are most at risk of developing behavioral issues due to prolonged shelter stress are generally those that aren’t social with other dogs. Most adopters and rescue groups seek out dogs that play well with others since the majority of  homes interested in fostering or adoption already have at least one dog at home. These playgroups can help the less social dogs develop the dog-to-dog skills they need to adopt and succeed in their new homes.

“When you focus on meeting a dog’s needs–their needs for mental enrichment, physical exercise and socialization–you see that many behavioral issues tend to disappear or are greatly reduced,” said Annette Bedsworth, Director of Bradshaw Animal Shelter. “Oftentimes, we can meet those needs through one simple thing: play. We’re not only going to see major quality of life increases for our dogs by implementing more playgroups, but by making our shelter a place that prioritizes the opportunity for dogs to safely have fun and just be dogs, we’re going to be able to save even more lives.”

Shelter staff plan to carry out what they learned from DPFL in ongoing future playgroups. In large municipal shelters like Bradshaw Animal Shelter, where the numbers often tip past 300 pets on site, it is a daily endeavor for shelter staff and volunteers to ensure every animal gets quality time outside of their kennels each day. Not only will the playgroups give dogs more time to run free, but they will enable staff and volunteers to spend individualized time with dogs that need it most, such as the ones that are extremely scared and shut down in the shelter environment.