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Talking Points: Volunteers


When starting a playgroup program at a shelter or rescue, volunteer concerns should be heard. The program will run more smoothly if everyone involved is on board. Here are some commonly voiced concerns among volunteers, and useful talking points when addressing them.


Any interaction with animals carries a risk of injury to people. This risk does increase when a person is directly involved in playgroups, especially if they are called on to break up a fight. (See Roles and Responsibilities - not all playgroup roles require fight interventions). 

  • Volunteers who aren’t comfortable being involved directly in playgroups can contribute in other ways, including setting up or cleaning the play yards.

  • Volunteers who do want to participate directly in playgroups will be provided with training in dog body language, dog play, reducing the risk of fights, and safely breaking up fights. They will have safety gear available and be trained how to use it.

  • Volunteers should be allowed to increase their degree of participation at their own pace. Ideally, trainees should start by observing playgroups without any responsibility for supervising the dogs. 


If you run playgroups long enough, some fights will occur and some injuries to dogs might result. Ways to minimize this risk are listed below.  When discussing this concern with volunteers, it is important to be clear that fights and injuries are always a risk of playgroups. 


  • Volunteers will be trained to monitor play, to interrupt potential fights before they start, and to end fights in a way that minimizes injury risk to dogs (and people).

  • Most dog fights do not result in serious injury. While there is a chance there will be major injury to a dog during playgroups, it is more likely to be minor scratches and punctures.

  • If there is a significant concern that a dog might injure another dog, that dog could be muzzle trained for playgroups depending on your organization’s resources and comfort level with this procedure.

  • Ideally dogs will be pre-screened for inclusion in playgroups based on behavior history and/or other available information (see Dog Assessment for Playgroups).

  • Dogs to be included in each group will be planned ahead of time, using the best information available to make good “matches”. 


Some volunteers may be concerned that a dog could be euthanized as a result of a fight during a playgroup. There might be circumstances in which information gathered about a dog during playgroups results in that dog no longer being considered adoptable by that shelter or rescue. 

  • Growling, snapping, and/or inhibited biting are normal dog behaviors and generally not cause for concern. Scuffles that don’t result in injury are usually not grounds for a dog being deemed unadoptable by most shelters and rescue organizations.

  • Information gathered in playgroups can increase adoption success and decrease adoption returns.

  • Forgoing playgroups might actually increase euthanasia risk due to deteriorating welfare and behavior in the kennel. Playgroups are expected to increase welfare, decrease stress and decrease the development of behavior problems associated with stress. 

  • It’s important to be up front about the likelihood that some dogs will be deemed unadoptable by the shelter or rescue based on playgroup behavior. Explain why dogs who exhibit certain behaviors or injure other dogs severely aren’t placed by your organization.

  • Go over your organization’s adoption and euthanasia criteria with the volunteers so they understand how decisions are made. 


Volunteers may be concerned that shelter playgroups divert limited shelter resources from other programs.

  • Explain any plans you have made to assure the play area is available for other purposes as needed during other times of day.

  • Playgroups are actually a more efficient way for volunteers and staff to provide enrichment and exercise to dogs who enjoy them, leaving more time for other projects or dogs who need more individual attention.

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