The grant funds were used to send me (Heartland Animal Shelter’s shelter and dog program manager) to the Dogs Playing for Life mentorship program at Austin Pets Alive! in Austin, Texas.
The grant allowed me to get formal, immersive training in running playgroups. Rather than rely on trial and error and my own experiences, I benefited from a master class of seasoned professionals. The two leads for the DPFL program were so knowledgeable and helpful and gave me the confidence to handle introducing new dogs to each other rather than relying on the same helper dogs or pairs of friends and potentially burning those dogs out. The grant has allowed me to expand the playgroups I conduct to include every single big dog in our care; they all have at least one friend. Since my mentorship program, I have also trained a number of volunteers to run these groups on their shifts, and a formal training and documenting process will be put in to place in the coming month!
The grant helped and helps all of the dogs in our care on site. We have about 20 big dogs at any given time, and all of them have been able to have at least one friend and are socialized to other dogs at least once a day now.
When I returned from the training in November, I was determined to get our longest-term dog, Blade (first photo), into a playgroup. For his entire tenure at the shelter, he had never interacted with another dog because we believed him to be too reactive. During the training, I could not stop thinking about how wrong that was, but I knew I had to introduce him to just the right kind of dog. Because of the DPFL training, I was able to identify the perfect “helper” dog for Blade. The week I returned, I had a friend from another shelter who had also gone through DPFL training come in and help me. The experience was magical: Blade’s tail was wagging and, despite his age (12), he was prancing like a young pup! After Blade had played for 10 minutes with the first helper dog, I brought in another. Seeing Blade play with not one but two dogs, after such a long period of social isolation, was wonderful to behold.