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Medical & Behavioral Considerations


When choosing dogs for participation in playgroups, consider the following information when available. 


Ask your veterinarians to set specific guidelines for dogs who have:

  • Had surgery recently 

  • Not been vaccinated 

  • A contagious illness (e.g. kennel cough)

  • Open wounds or recently sutured wounds 

  • Other conditions that might make play painful or problematic (skin conditions, arthritis, orthopedic injuries, heartworm, etc.)


Dogs should be roughly size-matched. A helpful rule-of-thumb is that no dog in a playgroup should be more than twice the weight of any other dog in that group.


Review behavior history from owners, reporting parties who found a stray dog, and shelter staff.  


Examples of behavior history that should exclude a dog from playgroups include:

  • Killing another dog of similar size

  • Seriously injuring another dog (e.g. multiple deep punctures or lacerations requiring sutures). If such dogs love playing with other dogs and your shelter places them, have them play with a well-fitted and pre-conditioned muzzle.

  • A pattern of fighting with other dogs as the only type of interaction when given dog access

  • Predatory body language or behavior directed at other dogs (stalking that is not in play).

Example of stalking behavior

  • If unsure whether stalking behavior is playful, muzzle train the dog to allow further investigation

Behavior history that should not exclude dogs from playgroups include:

  • Non-injurious scuffles with other dogs

  • Minor injuries to other dogs not requiring medical intervention (shallow scratches or punctures that don’t require sutures)

Behaviors to consider & discuss that might exclude dogs from playgroup or require (pre-conditioned) muzzles if such dogs love playing with other dogs include:

  • Latch ons” (dogs who hold on for an extended period when they bite)

  • Killing or seriously injuring a much smaller dog

  • Fear and avoidance of other dogs

  • History of biting handlers who attempt to intervene in play

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