Safely Managing High-Risk Events in Group Play
By Professional Pet Boarding Certification Council
To keep dogs safe during group play, it is important to be able to identify and be prepared for key events that raise the arousal levels of dogs. Since arousal and aggression are closely linked, it is the responsibility of pet care staff to manage these events so dogs are not overly excited or aroused.
Dog Arrivals & Departures
As new dogs enter a playgroup or others leave, this can be a time of high arousal and excitement for most dogs. Many will rush to greet the new dog entering, or as a dog is leaving, may try to follow the dog out the gate.
It is important for staff to maintain control of arrivals and departures to the playgroup by following these tips:
- Slow down; maintaining a slow and controlled approach will help the dogs to do the same.
- Use your body to back dogs away from gate during both arrivals and departures.
- Observe body language of all dogs and intervene when any dog shows signs of discomfort.
- Set dogs up for success and segregate dogs that get aroused during peak arrival and departure times.
- Do not pick up and carry a dog during entry or exits. This is dangerous as dogs in the group will jump up in an effort to greet which can injure the dog or you.
Rest periods are an important part of day-long group play. Without rest periods some dogs will not take breaks on their own and can become an annoyance to those dogs who are trying to rest, sometimes leading to aggressive behavior.
Dogs are normally excited to join the playgroup after a rest period, so to ensure safety, remember to:
- Require calm behavior prior to releasing dogs from the rest enclosure (have each dog sit and show control before opening door).
- Walk dogs on leash, one at a time to the playgroup (don’t open the doors and allow dogs to run wildly to the play area).
- Build the playgroup slowly after a rest period and keep moving with the dogs around the play area as they join and run with their playmates.
During all-day group play, changes in staff are common so it is important to have a safety protocol in place for shift changes.
Here are few key items to add to your protocol:
- The existing staff should delay their exit until all dogs have completed greeting the new person and the group is calm.
- The existing staff should inform the new staff of any issues that occurred with the group prior to their arrival, or advise them of any dogs that need additional supervision.
Visitors & Distractions
Many play areas are visible to facility clients, visitors or strangers that pass by. When people or other distractions are visible through fencing, it can result in arousal and excitement in the dogs during play.
Staff can reduce the arousal and maintain control during these distractions by:
- Moving to the fence and putting your body between it and the dogs. Face the dogs and back them away, letting them know you have the situation under control.
- Use obedience cues to divert dogs from potential distractions outside the fence and engage them with another fun activity.
- Another solution would be to install solid fencing around play areas.
Keeping dogs safe during high-risk events requires good leader skills. Staff should stay observant and alert at all times while supervising dog play. It is important they keep moving with the dogs and be consistent in enforcing rules and boundaries. They should set dogs up for success with proactive management and praise them for good behaviors.
1. Off-Leash Dog Play: A Complete Guide to Safety & Fun by Robin Bennett and Susan Briggs
For more information on Professional Pet Boarding Certification, or to enroll for online education visit www.PetBoardingCertification.com