Dogs Playing for Life Mentorship Grant

Fort Worth Animal Care and Control: Dogs Playing for Life Mentorship Grant Report

What was the money or product used for?

The grant funding allowed us to send our behavior coordinator to the Dogs Playing for Life apprenticeship at Austin Pets Alive!

How did this grant help your organization and the pets in your care?

This grant allowed our staff to gain the knowledge needed to implement playgroups and get more-accurate evaluations of animals in our care, which will in turn result in more lives saved.

How many pets did this grant help?

500 (number of animals in our care now able to go out in playgroups)

Please provide a story of one or more specific pets this grant helped.

Bentley (first photo) came into our shelter as a stray, so we had no knowledge of his history. He was labeled dog-aggressive after he came in due to his reactivity to other dogs while walking past their kennels. With the help of this grant funding, and the ability to send one of our staff members to the Dogs Playing for Life apprenticeship, we have been able to get Bentley out into playgroups with other dogs. Although it took a while, he is now learning appropriate behaviors around other dogs and loves being a part of our playgroups. Bentley is still up for adoption; you can meet him here.

Circle of Friends Humane Society: Dogs Playing for Life Mentorship Grant Report

What was the money or product used for?

Money was used to pay tuition for a Dogs Playing For Life Mentorship.

How did this grant help your organization and the pets in your care?

We are now currently doing doing daily playgroups. The dogs are happier and calmer. We have noticed fewer behavioral issues with the dogs in our care. We are able to assess them more thoroughly prior to adoption as well as help guide potential adopters to the best-suited dog for them and their lifestyle. Overall, our dog population is much more adoptable.

How many pets did this grant help?

144

Please provide a story of one or more specific pets this grant helped.

There is a lot we can say about Rolo (first collage). He originally came in as a stray, terrified and defensive, and was later revealed to be suffering from joint pain caused by Lyme disease. But Rolo’s story really starts the second time he came to us: A return with a bite under his belt and the word “aggressive” scrawled and underlined on every page.

In sheltering, we often hear the term “aggressive” very differently than the average pet owner. An aggressive animal is unhandleable and unsafe for the community. Yet in the same letter where they called Rolo an aggressive dog, they also said they loved him and they needed him to find a better home, and discussed how much he loved his family and his cat friend, who frequently shared meals with him. The behavior they were describing involved leash reactivity and guarding territory that his family frequented.

We all knew that Rolo had always needed time to warm up to new people, often preferring to walk on the other side of the road if there was a crowd. We were sad to hear that the behavior was worse for them at home and that they were unable to give him the training he needed at this time, but no part of us believed he was unadoptable.

Rolo needed a different home and another chance, but he also needed a specialized adoption to avoid any accidental bites like the one he had done when one of the family had gotten in between Rolo and the stranger he was barking at. In an area dominated by apartments, a dog looking for a fenced-in yard and no on-leash introductions is going to have a longer stay. Rolo almost suffered kennel breakdown the first time, and we were all worried about what it would be like for him now. Then, a week into his stay, I came back with new training and a new way to give Rolo a chance.

None of us knew if Rolo even liked other dogs. With his on-leash reactivity and defensive behavior prior to pain-management treatment, we had been unable to properly introduce Rolo to other dogs without him barking and snapping in the air and scaring them off. Now we were going to take Rolo out in the yard and let him have the freedom he needed.

Rolo was out first, and then we let out Duke, who we knew loved other dogs and was more submissive on first meeting. There was no fur raised and no barking. Rolo ran up and sniffed, then began jumping. When we say him play-bow for the first time, we knew we had our solution. Rolo became our playgroup rockstar. He was the first to go out and the last to come in most days, provided his joint pain was not acting up. He played with the gentle-and-dainties and the rough-and-rowdies. Rolo even became the appropriate example for the puppies and dogs who were borderline seek-and-destroy. Rolo became friendlier with our volunteers knowing that, when he saw them, it was most likely playgroup time, and he also showed significant less in-kennel stress. Rolo even learned to share his favorite thing in the world out in playgroup: the pool.

Rolo was adopted to a wonderful family, happy to have a friend for both them and their other pets. He has been in his home for two months now and they have reported that he is a natural fit for the family.

Gaston (second collage) was one of the dogs who benefited from Rolo’s guidance. Gaston was a stray shepherd mix estimated to be a little under a year old. He tended to use his mouth to explore the world, gnawing on leashes and beds and trying to use hands or clothing as toys.

The first couple of times he entered the play yard, he had a very fearful posture and acted like prey. Rolo was able to lead by example, giving him space and distracting the other dogs who wanted to chase him. He was able to correct Gaston’s behaviors instead of us intervening. Gaston went from hiding behind our legs and snapping in the corner to running out of the gate, tail wagging, with a neutral and wiggly body. Thanks to socializing with the appropriate adult dogs, he was able to gain confidence and playgroup became the best part of his day.

An added bonus was that the other dogs were able to begin correcting him for nipping or getting too rough during play, and that began to translate to how he interacted with volunteers and potential adopters.

Sergeant Calhoun (third collage), named for her obvious resemblance to the beloved (by our staff) Wreck-It Ralph character, was an adult shepherd who, on-leash, looked like all she wanted to do was fight any dog she saw. Although she was a stray who came to our shelter in the early days after Dogs Playing for Life training, we still took a moment to observe her reactions from outside the fence before heading into the play yard. She came out with her fur standing on-end and showing teeth when dogs sniffed too closely.

She was in a few small fights that were easily broken up with the spray bottle, but she was not letting other dogs correct her and was over-correcting them when trying to play.

She was a dog who, if she had been adopted during those first couple of days, we would have recommended an only-dog home. There was no play posture seen, and handlers were still needed to intervene in the fights she started, as she would not back off on her own. It took several playgroups during which Calhoun watched and observed the other dogs from the sidelines for her to begin showing interest. It ended up being a 10-month-old hound mix who began to slowly break her walls down.

This puppy was extremely playful, but also submissive. He would jump up on her and earn a snap or growl and immediately get low, waiting for his chance to try again. The two never fought because when she would come after him for jumping on her or running too close, he would roll over and wait. Over time, she began to correct him less and even started to seek him out as a companion in the yard. She never fully took the play posture that he showed, but one day when he was running circles around her and the other dogs, she started to chase him. He turned around and we all held our breath for a moment, thinking that she might not know what to do. All she did was bounce in place before running the other way, letting him chase her. It was a shock to see her fully engaged in play that way.

From there it was leaps and bounds of joining in with larger groups of dogs running the grass yard. Her corrections became more appropriate with time as well. We no longer had concerns introducing her to new dogs, knowing that she could be more calm now as long as she was off-leash.

Sergeant Calhoun was still adopted to an only-dog home by chance. She still gets to show off her new play skills when family dogs come over for a visit or they stop by the park.

Clermont Animal CARE Humane Society: Dogs Playing for Life Mentorship Grant Report

What was the money or product used for?

This grant was used to cover tuition for our Director of Lifesaving Programs, Meaghan Colville, to attend the DPFL Mentorship Program at Longmont Humane Society in May of 2019.

How did this grant help your organization and the pets in your care?

Participating in the DPFL Mentorship Program helped reinforce the notion that Clermont Animal CARE is a progressive shelter committed to implementing best-practice lifesaving programs to enrich the lives of the animals in our care. The addition of the DPFL playgroup program added an important level of enrichment for dogs at the shelter, while simultaneously offering an exciting new, rewarding and advanced-level opportunity for volunteers to engage with the shelter and our animals.

The benefit to our dogs has been immeasurable. Affording them the opportunity to engage in natural dog behavior, learn appropriate dog-to-dog interactions, burn energy and get consistent out-of-cage time has increased the quality of life in the shelter and allowed staff, volunteers and adopters to better know each dog as an individual.

Our commitment to best practices, shelter enrichment, and continuous improvement continues to elevate our status as a regional leader, which helps as we seek other opportunities of funding support, ultimately benefiting the pets in our care.

How many pets did this grant help?

Approximately 75 dogs at our shelter, to date, have been helped by this Petfinder Foundation grant. Additionally, to help launch programs at two large municipal shelters in surrounding counties, we recently trained their staff and volunteers, offering guidance on basic playgroup techniques learned in the class. Given how short-staffed we’ve been, a big challenge for us has been getting the program up and running following Meaghan’s trip to Longmont. We’ve recently hired a Dog Program Manager, however (whom we are hoping to send to a future training!), and have been able to increase our frequency. We also just hired a Volunteer Manager in the past week, so this will help us pull together, train, monitor and manage a dedicated group of volunteers to assist with this enrichment program. Our total dog intake since Meaghan attended training is approximately 400 dogs, and 75 dogs represents about ⅕ of our dog intake during the period June through today. About half of those dogs weren’t eligible for playgroups as they were either on stray hold or another hold (such as medical, behavioral or animal control), were in boarding, or were transferred, adopted or returned-to-owner during their first week, prior to being considered a playgroup candidate. Of our eligible dogs, about half participated in playgroups, some more frequently than others. Participation in the hands-on session most definitely helped propel our program forward and although not as regularly as we would like, we are eagerly anticipating increasing the numbers of dogs benefitting from playgroups. The addition of the Volunteer Manager and Dog Program Manager on staff allows us to begin some focused training and mentorship programs for playgroup volunteers, which will accelerate our implementation and rollout of a more consistent program.

Please provide a story of one or more specific pets this grant helped.

Loki (first photo) was surrendered to us as a dog with a bite history. He bit a repair man in his home where he lived with another small dog. We were told that he was difficult, resource-guarded around people, and didn’t get along with big dogs. When Loki was presented as a candidate for playgroups, staff and volunteers were hesitant and initially declined to let him participate, feeling it was too risky. What if he didn’t like the other dogs, as his owner had said? What if he redirected onto a person if they had to break up a fight? Loki was a tough sell until Meaghan encouraged staff to give him a try.

Getting into playgroups is the best thing that ever happened to Loki! He showed us that he enjoys being around other dogs and does great with people. Through playgroups, we’ve been able to get to know his true personality. He is still awaiting a forever home. You can find Loki’s Petfinder profile here.

Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation: Dogs Playing for Life Mentorship Grant Report

What was the money or product used for?

The grant was used to cover the costs of a four-day mentorship with Dogs Playing for Life (DPFL) in Longmont, Colorado.

How did this grant help your organization and the pets in your care?

The four days that our Playgroup Coordinator, Suzanne Petroni, spent in Longmont with DPFL gave her the skills and confidence to be able to lead our team of volunteers and staff in getting EVERY DOG in our Animal Care Center out to play, EVERY DAY.

After returning from her mentorship program, Suzanne set up a series of trainings where she has introduced the DPFL playgroup-management style to a dozen new volunteers and our kennel staff. She has also provided updated/refresher training for seven additional volunteers who had previously been supporting playgroups on an ad-hoc basis.

With this training and under Suzanne’s leadership, we have introduced to our playgroups numerous dogs who had previously been deemed “dog-aggressive,” or whose on-leash reactivity was so severe that we did not want them around other dogs. The results have been astounding. Several of these dogs have been with us for more than a year, and had not been allowed to be close to another dog — on leash or off — during their entire stay. Nona, Titan, Gray and Parker are among those long-stay pups who now bounce out of their kennels and into the yard for a romp and wrestle with their new buddies. New dogs who were surrendered to us due to “dog-aggressive behaviors” are also in the mix, being given a new opportunity to play, likely with better supervision and support than ever before.

Instead of immediately bringing dogs back to their kennels if they instigate altercations, we are practicing Continued Play Recovery (CPR), allowing dogs involved in such altercations to “shake it off” and complete their playgroup experience positively.

We have established a daily playgroup schedule, with our kennel staff bringing small groups out during the day and our trained volunteers leading larger and longer playgroups every evening. Our dogs are now more physically and mentally exercised than ever before, and their on-leash behavior, as well as their ability to engage with people, has improved significantly. We are also now able to provide more complete assessments about their behavior to potential adopters.

In short, this grant has tremendously improved the quality of life and adoptability for the dogs in our care. We are so grateful for the opportunity to have participated in the DPFL Mentorship program.

How many pets did this grant help?

More than 100 so far

Please provide a story of one or more specific pets this grant helped.

There are so many great stories, but this is perhaps one of our favorites: You’ve just arrived at the big school dance. You’re alone and feeling awkward while you look for your friends. You scan the crowd, and that’s when you see her. In that instant, she spots you too, and both of your faces widen into smiles. You throw your arms into the air and run toward one another, united again!

This is what happens pretty much every day in playgroup when Sharon (first photo) enters the play yard and sees her BFF, Memphis (second photo). They are the most adorable thing! He immediately gallops over to her and they reunite with wide smiles and “I only have eyes for you” play. (We posted this video on our Facebook page.)

This pairing was completely unexpected. Both dogs came to us with the awkwardness of young teenagers. Neither had any idea how to play with other dogs. Sharon was the wallflower, literally leaning against the wall of the play yard, waiting for someone to ask her to dance.

Memphis came to us nearly a year before Sharon. He was a loner for a long time, with so many people assuming (wrongly) that he wouldn’t get along with other dogs.

As soon as we got Memphis into playgroup, he made progress in leaps and bounds. Over the course of several months, he went from being socially awkward to becoming our playgroup’s biggest rock star. He helps new dogs get comfortable, diffuses tense situations between his friends and always brings the fun. Having Memphis in the play yard was the key to helping Sharon get comfortable there, as it has been for many of our dogs. Nowadays, the two are good friends who enjoy the company of one another and of multiple other dogs in the play yard.

The power of play has done wonders for the dogs in our care, including Memphis and Sharon.

Memphis and Sharon are still available, but we’re doing our very best to find their furever homes! Meet Memphis here. Meet Sharon here.

Valley Animal Haven & Adoption Centeer: Dogs Playing for Life Mentorship Grant Report

What was the money or product used for?

The grant funds were used to allow our Foster & Outreach Coordinator to attend the DPFL mentorship at Longmont Humane Society in Colorado in July 2019.

How did this grant help your organization and the pets in your care?

The grant allowed us to send our Foster & Outreach Coordinator, Sarah, to the DPFL mentorship in July 2019. This mentorship, in turn, allowed us to learn how to implement safe and fun playgroups for our canine population. Overall, this grant allowed us to learn and begin the steps towards implementing playgroup sessions at our facility.

How many pets did this grant help?

200+

Please provide a story of one or more specific pets this grant helped.

Once the DPFL program is implemented at our facility, this will allow us to support our general canine population. In particular, it will give one of our long-term residents, Taffy (first photo), some much-needed time to play and relax. Taffy is a very sweet dog, but she can be a little aggressive at the kennel gates. Because she can be intimidating to guests, people overlook her frequently. We took her out for our Mutts on the Move program and we learned that she is the sweetest dog we have ever encountered. We hope that, once we implement our playgroups, Taffy’s stress will gradually decrease and will increase her adoptability. Meet Taffy here.

LifeLine Animal Project: Dogs Playing for Life Mentorship Grant Report

What was the money or product used for?

The $1,000 grant was used to cover the tuition cost for Jabari Gadsden, a LifeLine Animal Project team member at the DeKalb County shelter, to attend the Dogs Playing for Life Mentorship Program in late May.

How did this grant help your organization and the pets in your care?

This grant has greatly affected our organization in terms of opening the eyes of many to the benefits of playgroup, both for the dogs and ourselves. It has built a lot of confidence and skill when it comes to handling dogs for both staff and volunteers learning from and using the techniques shown during DPFL. The pets in our care have been more manageable, more presentable to adopters both in the kennel and play yards, and their overall quality of life seems to have improved.

How many pets did this grant help?

250 to date. Jabari participates in weekly puppy-room playgroups, which have approximately 20 dogs in them, and there have been roughly 12 weeks since his mentorship.

Please provide a story of one or more specific pets this grant helped.

Playgroups change lives. Two of our dogs, Billy and Cho, have been specifically impacted by the Dogs Playing for Life program. Billy (pictured lying down) is an easygoing, lovely dog who enjoys the company of other dogs. His favorite thing is going into a playgroup and rolling around on his back, inviting other dogs to come over and say hello. When a dog will roll on its back next to him, he is in heaven. Because of his continual attendance at playgroups, he stayed very social even though he was at the shelter for an extended period of time. He was so social that he could be used to help dogs like Cho (second photo), who had a harder time being incorporated into groups.

Cho has barrier reactivity, not because she wants other dogs to move away, but because she wants them to play. Cho wants to play with other dogs so badly and has no impulse control, so playgroups are teaching her better manners! Cho goes into playgroups so that other dogs can teach her what is appropriate and what is not, and through this play therapy, she is becoming more adoptable with every session. Billy has found his forever home, and Cho is on her way to being highly adoptable due to the power of DPFL!

The Haley Graves Foundation: Dogs Playing for Life Mentorship Grant Report

What was the money or product used for?

This money was used to send our training coordinator, James, to attend the DPFL Mentorship at Austin Pets Alive! He went to learn how to properly implement playgroups for our foster dogs, and how we can improve the socialization and quality of life of the dogs in our program.

How did this grant help your organization and the pets in your care?

James learned how to properly conduct playgroups in a safe and controlled manner. James has conducted regular playgroups with fosters to get them out and around other dogs on a regular basis. This has helped the dogs receive physical exercise, mental stimulation, and social enrichment. Since we are a foster-based rescue, we are currently looking for a suitable location to be able to run larger, more frequent playgroups, and possibly invite other rescue organizations to participate.

How many pets did this grant help?

8

Please provide a story of one or more specific pets this grant helped.

Tank is a male German shepherd, approximately 2 years old. He was brought to us due to being reactive toward other dogs. He had previously bitten one dog. Tank was introduced to playgroups with the help of helper dogs Oliver, a cocker spaniel, and Cane, a shepherd. Tank was initially very uneasy. He had a very stiff body posture and would snap whenever another dog invited him to play. He stayed off by himself for the first three playgroups that he participated in.

During his fourth playgroup, Tank was observed initiating contact with Oliver. Tank would give small sniffs and slight play bows. About midway through the playgroup, Tank was much more loose and playful. In subsequent playgroups, Tank and Oliver would play well together. Tank and Oliver both have a “rough and rowdy” play style. They became a great fit once Tank had warmed up a bit.

Tank has found a forever home. His family bring Tank to playgroup pretty regularly to continue Tank’s progress.

Paws for Life Utah: Dogs Playing for Life Mentorship Grant Report

What was the money or product used for?

The $1,000 granted by the Petfinder Foundation was used to pay the tuition for our Operations Director, Nancy O’Connor, to attend the Dogs Playing for Life Mentorship training session at Longmont Humane Society from May 20-23, 2019.

How did this grant help your organization and the pets in your care?

This grant enabled us to send our Operations Director to learn best practices from a training and management perspective. Through daily participation in the training sessions, she learned many lessons on which practices are most beneficial to dogs in playgroups and why.

Some examples of things she learned and incorporated into our playgroups are as follows:

1. Tools to use during playgroup or any time you need to distract a dog to prevent fighting or any bad behavior.
2. Teaching dogs a door routine, which we now use consistently and also have trained our fosters and volunteers in. We use this standard process and train all handlers so that our dogs do not try to, or are not able to, run out the door when it opens.
3. We incorporated several new games learned at DPFL that really are helpful and productive in creating safe and beneficial playgroups with dogs. We have used them to show fosters how to keep dogs from going for things dropped on the floor that could potentially be dangerous to them.
4. Letting dogs play, letting them correct each other and only intervening when there is potential danger.
5. Using new tools to keep the handler and the dogs safe.

In addition to using these lessons for our own play yard, our executive director worked with the Heber City Engineering Department, Parks Department and Animal Control on a committee to renovate our new “Boneyard” dog park. Much of the design of the park (entry and exit gates, footing, stations, etc.) incorporated lessons learned at the mentorship. At the grand opening of the Boneyard dog park, where our executive director, mayor and city council members held a ribbon-cutting ceremony followed by a fun dog park event and, later, an adoption event, we held training sessions with the public to educate them on dog-park safety. The event was attended by more than 100 people and was a huge success!

How many pets did this grant help?

This will help all the dogs in our care every year, which is approximately 900 dogs per year.

Please provide a story of one or more specific pets this grant helped.

We rescued a very sweet and scared border-collie mix named Zeg from [an open-admission] shelter in Vernal, Utah. He was terrified, and we were told that he was afraid of other dogs and would just cower in his kennel. With the lessons learned from the DPFL mentorship program sponsored by the Petfinder Foundation, we worked with Zeg, first at our boarding facility in turnout groups with dogs who helped socialize him. Zeg responded initially better to those confident, playful dogs who were not a threat to him. Soon he began responding better to our handlers and prospective adopters.

When we brought him to the grand opening of our new community dog park, Zeg was a hit! He did wonderfully in large turnouts with new dogs, and played with everyone. He was befriended by a young boy at the event (first photo) and got the attention of a prospective adopter, who needed a kind, gentle and large dog who was social and could to assist her with her disability. She fell in love and adopted Zeg, and he is currently in training to become a service dog. We are so grateful to the Petfinder Foundation, which enabled us to learn these best practices and apply them to pets in our program. This type of program and educational experience is the gift that keeps on giving!

Rosenberg Animal Control & Shelter: Dogs Playing for Life Mentorship Grant Report

What was the money or product used for?

The money was used exclusively for tuition for the Dogs Playing for Life mentorship opportunity.

How did this grant help your organization and the pets in your care?

I was the individual who went through the mentorship, and I learned a great deal about canine behavior and playgroup theory. Play styles, proper introductions, and modification techniques are among the skills I took from the experience.

How many pets did this grant help?

100+ so far!

Please provide a story of one or more specific pets this grant helped.

Wanda was a fawn-colored bully mix and long-term resident at our facility who had been passed over so many times by visitors that she had become depressed. Staff loved her, but she was reportedly “dog-aggressive,” so her outing options were limited. After the mentorship, I decided to “test” her in a small playgroup and exercise the skills I learned. I was VERY surprised to see that not only was Wanda tolerant, but she was highly social in that setting after proper introductions. She played with other dogs for hours and came to be known as a playgroup star. She was adopted this past weekend!

Hope2K9 Rescue: Dogs Playing for Life Mentorship Grant Report

What was the money or product used for?

The grant was used to expand our trainer’s knowledge of dog behavior, appropriate play styles and body language.

How did this grant help your organization and the pets in your care?

After completing the mentorship program, we offered dog social events to our community as a healthy and safe alternative to dog parks. At the events, we share our knowledge of appropriate play and dog body language. Several of our community members own dogs or have newly adopted dogs who are reactive or have behavioral issues; they do not have access to venues in which to properly socialize their dogs, and thus feel the need to surrender them to a shelter. Hope2K9’s mission is to keep dogs in their homes with FREE support.

How many pets did this grant help?

This grant has helped at least 15 dogs so far.

Please provide a story of one or more specific pets this grant helped.

Cypress, a 6-year-old pittie who has been in our rescue for a little over 400 days, truly benefited from our expanded knowledge of dog social behavior and, slowly but surely, learned how to relax and socialize. We are happy to report that she is now adopted, to a family with another dog. We once thought she would need to be in an only-dog home. She is now happily playing with her new brother and living the dream (first photo).

A dog named McKinley was recently rescued. She developed leash reactivity and got herself into many scuffles at dog parks. Her owner quickly took advantage of our pack social events to help McKinley learn how to be around dogs. With the knowledge gained during DPFL, we were able to share some insight into McKinley’s behavior and educate the owner on what was appropriate play and how to advocate for her dog. McKinley was able to let her guard down and enjoy her time with all the other dogs, as well.

Thank you!