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What are the risks?


While shelter dog playgroups have many benefits (see Why Playgroups?), allowing shelter dogs off-leash access to each other may increase risk of the following:

  • Injuries to dogs;

  • Injuries to staff and volunteers;

  • Negative outcomes for some dogs as a result of playgroup incidents;

  • Associated upset and conflict amongst volunteers and staff;

  • Risk of disease spread.

Caring for dogs in a shelter or rescue environment without running any playgroups also carries inherent risks that should be considered:

  • Unknowingly adopting dogs to the general public who are unsafe with other dogs;

  • Behavioral decline (including escalating barrier frustration) associated with lack of access to other dogs and the freedom to express most normal social behavior;

  • Behavioral decline associated with “kennel stress” and insufficient physical exercise and mental stimulation.

Although there are no peer-reviewed published studies reporting the frequency of injuries associated with dog playgroups, shelter or rescue management must consider these risks when choosing whether and how often to offer playgroups.

The above risks can be reduced by having the following items in place before starting playgroups:

  • Documented staff & volunteer training  (See “Training to be Completed”);

  • Disease control protocols approved by your shelter veterinarian;

  • Written criteria regarding how shelter playgroup incidents will impact a dog’s “adoptability” (See “Using Playgroup Data”, coming soon);

  • Protocol for documentation of all incidents/injuries & measures to identify causes & solutions (See “What to Document & How”, coming soon).

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