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Playgroups

Setting Up the Play Space

If you have an enclosed space, you can run playgroups! Here are recommendations for the bare minimum requirements, and a list of things that are nice to add on, if resources allow.

 

There is not a one-size-fits-all checklist as every group has different resources.  Some groups will already have many of these on hand.  Other items may need funding or a donor base to acquire them, depending on priority of where the items fall on the "good," "better," and "best" lists that follow.

 

Below is a list of items or considerations for setting up a good play space for the dogs in your care. Items are labelled “good,” “better,” or “best” (“good” defines the minimum needed) where it applies. Extra items needed for indoor spaces are noted as (indoor).
 

SIZE OF SPACE:

Some sources suggest a minimum of 50-100 square feet per dog.[1]

  • Large Space Considerations:  Very large play spaces can make it difficult to reach dogs quickly should a fight occur, or if the dogs need to be interrupted during a tense exchange. A larger space might require more staffing (see What Do You Need?) in order to reach any part of the play yard quickly in the event of a fight. 

  • Small Space Considerations:  Very small spaces make it difficult for dogs to move away from each other to diffuse potential conflict.  If you only have access to a small enclosure, consider using it for pairs of large dogs, or small dog playgroups.

SUBSTRATE/GROUND COVERING:

Know the pros and cons of the ground covering in your play area. For example, pea gravel can be difficult for staff to move quickly on, especially when it is wet.  Concrete or linoleum for indoor spaces can cause injuries due to dogs slipping.  

  • Outdoor ground cover/Indoor flooring surface: 

    • Good: Pea gravel

    • Better: Artificial turf. Concrete/epoxy for indoor spaces with yoga mats or floor mats to break up the surface

    • Best: Natural grassy/earth areas.  Rubber areas for indoor spaces

  • Ground covers to avoid:

    • Cement (heat and friction can cause pad irritation)

    • Slippery surfaces

    • If an indoor floor is slippery, provide non-slip mats to reduce risk of people and dogs slipping.

ACCESS TO THE FIGHT KIT:

Your fight kit should be easily accessible from any part of the play space.  Consider both size of space and ground cover type when deciding where to place fight kits, and how many to have available.  If the play space is very large, consider placing multiple fights kits in the space.

EQUIPMENT/SPACE FOR SEPARATING DOGS IF A FIGHT OCCURS

  • Good: Temporary tethers (wall tie-downs, carabiners with leashes attached to fence); X-pens with sheets over them 

  • Better: Nearby enclosed yard to move dogs to when separation is needed

  • Best: Catch pen/airlock to allow quick separation (An enclosed space at enter/exit gate area)

WATER ACCESS FOR BREAKING UP FIGHTS

  • Good: Portable buckets of water (Must be enough water to cover the dog’s face and airways to encourage dog to open mouth to let go of the other dog if there is a latch on), or large high-pressure water guns

  • Better: Regular hose

  • Best:  High power hose

PATH TO PLAY AREA

Consider ensuring your path for bringing dogs to and from playgroups reduces the potential for barrier frustration by doing the following:

  • Avoid passing through areas with loose dogs (e.g. you should not have to go through another yard to get to the play yard.)

  • Prevent dogs on their way to playgroup from seeing other dogs in kennels.

    • Visual barriers can be used to block lines of sight between dogs. 

    • Depending on the location or area you have, vary the walking route to the play yard to prevent dogs seeing each other.
       

GATES OR DOORS ENTERING/EXITING PLAY AREA

  • Good: Able to latch with one hand. Ability to lock to prevent unexpected entrances. 

  • Better: Able to latch with one hand and swings both directions, window on door for indoor spaces. 

  • Best: Catch pen or airlock with doors that swing both directions and able to latch with one hand. 

OBSTACLES TO BREAK UP SPACE & PROVIDE PLAY ALTERNATIVES

Sturdy obstacles in the play space allow dogs to more easily get away from other dogs or climb if they prefer.  
Items are that are ideal are trees, benches, and sturdy agility equipment, but can be as simple as plastic lawn chairs or easily constructed raised wooden pedestals or hay bales.

WEATHER COVER

Shade (for hot day or regional weather considerations).

REMOVAL OR MANAGEMENT OF TOYS

Your shelter may want to have a toy box up high or securely closed with a latch for ease of removing all toys or carefully managing the use of toys during play, to prevent conflict between dogs over a valued resource.

[1] Bennett, R. & S. Briggs 2008. Off-leash Dog Play: A Complete Guide to Safety and Fun.

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