Space & Supply for Safe Group Play
By Professional Pet Boarding Certification Council
Safety should be the top priority when designing and utilizing play areas for group dog play. The design should be functional and safe for multiple dogs, and it is important to be prepared for all scenarios.
Dogs are sensitive to movement into their physical space, so providing adequately-sized play areas is an important priority. Here are some industry guidelines for physical space requirements:
- Indoor play areas should provide a minimum of 75 sq. ft. per dog (i.e., facility without free access to outdoors).
- Indoor/outdoor facilities should have a policy in place for dog rotation when outdoor portion of space cannot be utilized.
- Facilities that limit dogs by weight or segregate playgroups strictly by size may drop to a 40 sq. ft. per dog requirement if 80% of the dogs in the playgroup weigh 30 pounds or less.
Indoor play areas should provide a minimum of 75 sq. ft. per dog (i.e., facility without free access to outdoors).
Indoor/outdoor facilities should have a policy in place for dog rotation when outdoor portion of space cannot be utilized.
Facilities that limit dogs by weight or segregate playgroups strictly by size may drop to a 40 sq. ft. per dog requirement if 80% of the dogs in the playgroup weigh 30 pounds or less.
- Indoor play area walls should be a minimum of four ft. in height, but six ft. is recommended.
- If “jumpers” are admitted to playgroups, indoor play area walls should be floor to ceiling.
- Outdoor fenced areas should be a minimum of six ft. in height with an angled-in top, or eight ft. with straight sides.
- Six ft. straight-sided fence is acceptable if a second, shorter fence is placed inside the perimeter, leaving an open space of not less than three ft. between the two fences.
- A double gate/door system should be employed that requires dogs to go through two secure gates or doors in order to get out of the facility.
- Adequate security fencing should surround all outside enclosures and be in good repair.
It is also recommended that all play areas be designed to include greeting areas. This can be a small area, about four ft. by six ft. in size, with open fencing to allow for an initial greeting period prior to joining the dog play group. This should be required even for dogs that know each other in order to safely join the playgroup. Dog arrivals to group play are high-risk events that require good management to ensure safety, so allowing dogs time for their greeting rituals and to get comfortable prior to entering the play area will help minimize the risk of issues between dogs.
Climate control of indoor and outside play areas is a very important safety factor as well. Keep in mind that dogs are generally more physically active during group play, so for their health and safety, be sure to provide the following:
- Shaded areas large enough to accommodate all dogs in the group in extreme heat and rain
- Adequate shelter from wind and cold
- Temperature control of indoor play areas (kept at a range of around 60-80 degrees)
- Fresh drinking water accessible to all dogs in group play, both indoor and outdoor.
Safe Play Supplies
The primary focus of group dog play is the interaction with other dogs, but there are always risks and situations that may arise which staff members must be prepared to handle. Here are some recommended supplies that will ensure safety and enhance enjoyment of the play environment:
- Individual housing for each dog/dog family to be segregated for rest periods or facility emergencies (e.g., lodging enclosures or properly-sized crates)
- Safety collars or tools to cut off collars in an emergency situation
- Play equipment designed for dogs that is easily cleaned and disinfected
- Open crates or places where dogs can take a break from other dogs in the group
- Toys that are durable for group play and a quantity that allows each dog that wants a toy to have one (soft, stuffed toys or high-value chew-type toys are not recommended)
- Slip leads for moving dogs
- Elimination cleaning tools and disinfecting products
- Dog and staff first aid supplies.
By following these recommendations for the group dog play environment, your facility has a better chance of keeping everyone—both dog and human—safer and happier while they enjoy their time together.
Voluntary Facility Accreditation Standards – Pet Care Services Association (PCSA) Voluntary Facilities Accreditation Program (VFA Program).