The following information has been adapted from material on the Center for Shelter Dogs website.
Playgroups can include any dog in the animal centre that is:
- Friendly or behaves neutrally toward other dogs. Dogs that show signs of aggression to other dogs can be taken on walks instead.
- Healthy. Dogs with a contagious disease or who have not completed the animal centre’s initial observation period or vaccine protocol cannot participate in a playgroup. Pay careful attention to the health status of dogs transferred from other locations that could have a history of higher disease rates.
Dogs in a playgroup should wear martingale style collars. These collars provide a loop for a person to hold onto when necessary. When fitted properly, they also prevent the dog from slipping out of the collar when the dog is pulling strongly on the leash.
After a dog’s first playgroup session, the leader assigns the dog to their category(s), which is written after the dog’s name on the playgroup list. All dogs should be assigned to their behaviour category(s), which summarizes their behaviour toward other dogs in playgroup. Dogs can be assigned to more than one category at the same time.
DF: Dog-friendly — good with all dogs
RP: Rough play — dogs that play rough and might overwhelm other dogs
DS: Dog selective — dogs that get along with some but not all dogs
QD: Quiet dog — dogs that like to go outside, but don’t play and/or might avoid some other dogs
DA: Dog aggressive — dogs that are aggressive to almost all dogs
PD: Prey drive — dogs that chase small dogs
RG: Resource guarder — dogs that guard toys or sticks in yard (from other dogs)
Dogs should enter and exit the playgroup session in an order which decreases the likelihood of fights. Start with a dog that is known to be social with other dogs through SAFER testing as well as other known behavioural history. Continue by adding a social dog. This is followed by adding a third, possibly younger dog without manners (e.g. humping, etc.), as the two more social dogs will tolerate and teach the newcomer. Continue adding additional dogs one at a time. Once it’s determined that the whole group is a good fit then they can all go together at the next play date. Alternatively, multiple “mini” sessions may take place, so that dogs can be separated into compatible groups.
When to exclude a dog from a playgroup:
- If other dogs are showing intense interest in a fearful dog, the fearful dog should be removed. Perhaps this dog would benefit more from interactions with people or one other dog
- Any aggression (showing teeth, lifting lip, growling, aggressive bark, snap, bite) toward a person or another dog in the play yard results in the dog being excluded from playgroup until approved for re-entry by a supervisor (such as a playgroup leader, animal centre manager, or behaviour department)
- If one dog bites or severely threatens another dog (i.e., pins and stands over dog while vocalizing, despite no aggressive or assertive behaviour by the victim), that dog must be excluded from playgroup until approved for re-entry by a supervisor (such as a playgroup leader, animal centre manager, or behaviour department)
- If frequent intervention is necessary to maintain safety