Dogs play for life

Dogs at play, a critical component to enriching the life of a shelter dog, as well as helping staff to better understand a dog’s true temperament.
Dogs at play, a critical component to enriching the life of a shelter dog, as well as helping staff to better understand a dog’s true temperament. Submitted Photo

Dogs live to play. Let’s let them play to live. This is the idea behind an innovative training program for shelter dogs rooted in the notion that a dog’s natural instinct is to play.

At the invitation of the Friends of Madera Animal Shelter, I along with two other EMC SPCA volunteers spent three days at the Madera Shelter learning about and how to implement this progressive program to ensure that the dogs staying at the future EMC SPCA shelter will have the best possible quality of life that we can provide.

Dogs Playing For Life (DPFL) was founded by Aimee Sadler. After many years of shelter work, she realized the decisions being made on a dog’s temperament by shelter staff were often inaccurate.

They were usually made at the dog’s intake evaluation when he is suffering from overwhelming fear of unfamiliar people and surroundings, strange smells and loud noises. A dog’s immediate reaction to initial intake procedure, cage barriers and on-leash walking were not necessarily reliable indicators of a dog’s ability to be social with other dogs and adopters.

Sadler started experimenting with play groups consisting of many dogs in an enclosure off-leash. Finding that many dogs who were initially labeled as too aggressive or fearful to be social with other dogs often did very well, she realized this could be the difference between life and death.

DPFL is based on removing shelter dogs daily, if possible, from their kennels and the stress of shelter environment and grouping them off-leash in large play groups. They get a chance to burn off energy and counteract the stress of shelter life. They become more relaxed and better behaved when meeting potential adopters.

It helps them learn critical dog-to-dog social skills and will help them develop positive relationships with dogs outside the shelter. Shelter staff gain a much truer understanding of each dog’s personality.

This information can be used to make more successful matches with potential adopters. And lastly, kennel cleaning staff can work much more efficiently when shelter dogs are outside of their kennels.

The curriculum, taught by a visiting DPFL Team, consisted of three days of on-site training for shelter staff and volunteers. Included were a classroom presentation, the demonstration of safe handling techniques, hands-on training and the fundamentals of successful play group experiences for all involved.

Safety protocols for people and animals are emphasized to ensure play groups bring out the best in shelter dogs. The goal of every shelter is to move their dogs in to loving homes as soon as possible. The quality of life in the shelter directly impacts the animals’ potential for adoption.

DPFL is an innovative approach to enrich shelter life for dogs.

EMC SPCA is planning to implement this program and invite the DPFL Team to the shelter when it’s completed.

Along with committing to make the shelter the best it can be for the animals, EMC SPCA wants the shelter to benefit the community as well. We will continue the spay and neuter program to reduce unwanted animals.

We’d also like to help educate our youth. By developing curriculum for our elementary school children, we will have the opportunity to teach them responsible pet ownership, the value of family pets, and the commitment needed to be worthy custodians of their care.

Our architectural plans include a community meeting room where we will be hosting educational classes and training seminars. We also hope to develop a parent/child volunteer program and eventually have summer camps.

Our expanded Foster Care Program informational meetings will be starting up in September and October. Sharon Fitzgerald, president of the EMC SPCA, is working on a fun idea that won’t have to wait until the shelter opens. We will be inviting the local children to participate in the burying of a time capsule on the shelter grounds.

More information on this fun event will be available in the fall.

Until then, watch for our updates.