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Playgroups

Introducing Potential Playmates

DOG INTRODUCTION METHODS

Dog-dog introductions can inform dogs’ future interactions with each other, and how a dog is labeled in the shelter. An unsuccessful dog introduction can lead to a dog being labeled as “dog aggressive” or requiring “no other pets” / an “only dog” home. These labels correlate with longer lengths of stay. A great introduction can open up more playgroups to that dog and lead to an adoption. Understanding how to maximize introduction success is critical.  

The goal of the introduction methods summarized here is to allow a shelter dog access to other dogs, for evaluation of the dog’s current skills and sociability, or welfare purposes. These methods are not meant to teach “manners.” However, behavior modification is often easier if the dog is allowed to play first. (More information on Leash Frustration and Play Skill Problems will be coming soon). Here are the methods available:
 

These methods can be used for first-time introductions, and/or for bringing dogs into an ongoing playgroup.

 

The method used can depend on:

  • The dogs’ behavior histories if known;

  • Any body language or behavior around other dogs seen prior to the introduction;

  • Time & staffing constraints, comfort and skill levels;

  • Comfort and experience levels of the handlers;

  • The purpose of the introduction: 1) evaluating an unknown dog’s dog-friendliness; 2) evaluating a pair of dogs for play together; 3) rotating dogs into an ongoing playgroup.

Some details that can affect introduction success, regardless of method, include:

  • Whether dogs are introduced 1-on-1 vs. into a group of dogs;

  • Whether a dog is the first brought into a playgroup vs. later into the group;

  • Whether a dog has experienced prolonged barrier frustration in the shelter prior to being allowed to play;

  • Whether the dog is tired (due to prior exercise for example) vs. freshly out of the kennel.

  • Whether the dog is fearful of other dogs.

PROS & CONS OF DIFFERENT METHODS

Off-leash, no leashes dragging. New dogs are brought into a play yard with a known dog-friendly dog if possible. (See Off-Leash Dog Introductions)

  • PROS:

    • Barrier frustration can be avoided;

    • No leash tangling, dogs are able to move more freely;

    • Easiest method to use when introducing dogs to an ongoing playgroup.

  • CONS:​

    • ​Need to manage crowding at yard entrance;

    • If a fight breaks out, dogs are more difficult to separate;

    • Neutral dog could get injured or have a bad experience.

Off-leash, leashes dragging.  Leashes dragging on one or more dogs can be used during first-time introductions or when bringing dogs into playgroups. (See Off-Leash Dog Introductions)

  • PROS:

    • Barrier frustration can be avoided;

    • Dogs are able to move more freely;

    • Fights can be separated using leashes with possibly reduced risk to handlers.

  • CONS:​

    • ​Need to manage crowding at yard entrance;

    • Neutral dog could get injured or have a bad experience.

    • Leashes need to be watched for tangling. It can take a few extra seconds to separate dogs who are fighting by picking up leashes.

    • Dogs may learn to play tug with other dogs' leashes.

On-leash. On-leash introductions can be used for first-time introductions, or when bringing dogs into a very small playgroup. Dogs are allowed to see and approach each other from a short distance. Handlers attempt to keep leashes loose while dogs interact. (See On-Leash Dog Introductions)

  • PROS:

    • If dogs begin fighting during initial on-leash introduction, they are easily separated.

  • CONS:

    • If dog approaches quickly, leash may easily become taut. The taut leash increases the risk of barrier frustration which can be mistaken for dog aggression by both dogs and handlers.

Through fence/gate. Introductions through a fence/gate can be used when evaluating dog-friendliness of unknown dogs, or limit contact for fearful dogs. Dogs are allowed to look at and sniff one another through a barrier. (See Dog Introductions Through a Fence)

  • PROS:

    • If dogs begin to fight they are unable to injure one another as seriously;

    • Shy dogs have a chance to investigate without being overwhelmed;

    • Some staff or volunteers may feel more comfortable as they learn body language;

    • Some staff or volunteers may give more dogs a chance (based on breed biases or other biases).

  • CONS:​

    • ​Provides the least information compared to other methods;

    • High risk of barrier frustration;

    • Dogs may end up being nose-to-nose rather than the more natural greeting of nose-to-rear;

    • Difficult to differentiate between dog aggression and barrier frustration;

    • That pair of dogs might develop a negative association with each other and make future introductions more difficult.

Dog introductions can be modified for barrier frustrated or reactive dogs, and dogs who are fearful of other dogs.

PLAYGROUP DOCUMENTATION

After introducing dogs and evaluating their play style and best methods for introducing the dog to playgroups, fill out related documents. Note that, while access to other dogs fulfills a basic social need for many dogs, not all dogs enjoy playing with or being around other dogs. 

Examples of Documentation Include:

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