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

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

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

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?


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.

Further Reading