Our Dogs Play for Keeps
All play and no work make for happier dogs and better adoptions
All play and no work… makes for great dogs to adopt from the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV). Thanks to national training program “Play for Life,” local shelter dogs are enjoying daily play sessions with their neighbors, and the results are lifting everyone’s spirits.
“When a dog enters a shelter, they have lost everything they know and love—their family, their home, their daily habits,” says Kyle Conte, canine behavior specialist at HSHV. “They are at the shelter with no choice in the matter and not understanding why. They are nervous and afraid and looking for something familiar to them. If you can imagine how scary that would be, you can understand why interacting with a being who speaks your language is so enriching and important for them—not to mention fun. After all, who doesn’t like playing with friends?”
Expert trainers from “Dogs Playing for Life” visited HSHV to share best practices on managing regular dog play groups. Founder Aimee Sadler notes, “To my surprise, shelter dogs having social access to one another still raises concerns revolving around safety, behavioral and health risks. As a result, social isolation has been the industry norm for both dogs and cats for far too long.”
By contrast, shelters like HSHV that are implementing play groups report happier, less stressed animals, countering common anxieties experienced in kennels.
“As lovely as our shelter is, dogs are not meant to live in shelters. Because many of those relinquished are high energy, untrained large dogs, it is a challenge to give them what they need to thrive in a shelter while they await adoption,” says Tanya Hilgendorf, HSHV’s president and CEO. “In terms of behavior, you’ve heard, ‘A tired dog is a good dog.’ Our wonderful, tireless volunteer dog walkers help with that a great deal—but many dogs also yearn for the chance to play with other dogs.”
Krista Donohoo, HSHV’s adoptions manager, has seen the play groups make the dogs more appealing to adopters and lead to better adoptions.
“We’ve seen dogs really come out of their shell and show us their personality,” says Donohoo. “Managing daily play groups takes extra effort, but definitely pays off. Potential adopters and our staff learn so much from them. We discover how each dog interacts with other dogs and people which helps us make the best matches for individuals looking for a dog. And the play groups help progress the dogs’ training, which helps them get adopted faster.”
“Dogs are great teachers of other dogs. Sometimes better than we humans,” Conte chuckles.
And play groups have been a great myth-buster, too. HSHV places numerous dogs of all sizes, breeds and ages together at once—often grouping pit bull-type dogs that people assume are aggressive.
“But they play really wonderfully together,” says Conte.
“Just like humans, canines’ behavioral health is just as important as physical health. And play helps satisfy their needs for both mental and physical stimulation,” says Hilgendorf. “Daily supervised play groups are just part of our continuous goal to increase the quality of care for our animals and get them into loving homes.”
“And people just love to watch the dogs in play groups,” adds Hilgendorf. “I think it is an oxytocin boost to watch them play together—a very joyful experience.”
Press who would like to see play groups in action, please contact Wendy Welch to schedule. Public who would like to volunteer to help with shelter dog enrichment including play groups are encouraged to visit www.hshv.org/volunteer.
About The Humane Society of Huron Valley:
The Humane Society of Huron Valley, located in Ann Arbor, is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and relies solely on the generosity of our supporters to provide critical community programs and services. HSHV is an award-winning organization, recognized for our best practices and highest animal "save-rate" among all similar shelters in Michigan. Charity Navigator, the nation's top charity evaluator, awarded HSHV a 4-star ranking, the highest possible. The mission of HSHV is to promote the loving, responsible care of all animals in our community. HSHV is not affiliated with any other humane organization and does not receive funding from the United Way. More information can be found on HSHV’s website (hshv.org) and on our annual report (www.hshv.org/2015annualreport).