DPFL Programs

Dogs Playing for Life™ is an enrichment program for shelter dogs featuring playgroups. Throughout my work as a professional trainer, now transitioned to full time animal welfare advocate and the development of training and behavior programs that save lives, I have consistently promoted the use of “all tools and techniques to support animals to reward-able behavior”. This has culminated in maximum life-saving while placing suitable companion animals into our communities. As a result of this approach, focusing on the principles of learning rather than any particular method, DPFL has been deemed “the most progressive behavior program in sheltering” by Dr. Pamela Reid,the head of the Anti Cruelty Behavior Team of the ASPCA. Ultimately, shelters implementing Dogs Playing for Life™ (DPFL) programs are saving more lives and supporting adoptions better! Our team currently travels the country teaching shelters how to implement daily play groups for the dogs in their care. Additionally, the DPFL program provides opportunities for shelters to learn more about the various DPFL training programs through internships and presentations at animal welfare and professional training and behavior conferences, such as HSUS’ Animal Care Expo, the International Association of Canine Professionals, No More Homeless Pets, No Kill and Masters in Behavior. We have worked with over 50 shelters in the US and Canada, all reporting positive outcomes from the addition of DPFL programs. Two open admission shelters that have implemented the full Dogs Playing for Life™ enrichment program are maintaining a canine live release of over 95%!
All Phases of the DPFL program stress playgroups as the foundation for success. All Phases are designed to build upon one another; to stimulate interest in advancing skill sets and to promote a comprehensive approach to training that embraces all tools and techniques. Each Phase will support the participating group(s), no matter their current level of life saving; to decrease euthanasia, to provide better quality of life, to enhance assessment skills and to promote better adoption matches. All Phases encourage volunteer participation and training since no shelter has enough resources to provide adequate staff to attend to their animals emotional and behavioral needs effectively and efficiently. Due to our successful, measured and comprehensive approach we have cultivated a new level of dedication and passion for training in volunteers all over the country, some even advancing to become professional dog trainers!

PHASE FRAMEWORK

Legend: Play Groups = PG, Kennel Routines = KR, Leash Manners = LM, On-Leash Reactivity = OLR, Dogs Playing for Life™ Training & Behavior Program = PFL

PFL Chart

(Click on the chart to enlarge image)

Phase 1 – Implementing daily play groups

3 day seminar – Dogs Playing for Life™ power point presentation and hands-on play groups at hosting shelter (encouraged to invite regional groups to attend day 1). Other participating shelters are entitled to a day of hands-on play group training at their facility after attending the initial presentation. The goal of this phase is to rotate the entire population of dogs through play groups to; assess dog-dog social skills, establish a foundational and playful group of dogs, establish which dogs will need further support with canine socialization, more accurately assess dog aggression and enhance adoption matching. Staff and volunteers are taught how to run successful play groups to provide a better quality of life for their sheltered dogs.

  • Currently introduced to over 100 shelters nationally and in Canada
  • Completion of Phase 1 will provide shelters the opportunity to better attend to dogs displaying high arousal, generalized fear, barrier reactivity and dog-dog issues.

Phase 2 – Teaching staff and volunteers how to train shelter dogs kennel routines and basic leash manners.

3 day seminar – “VIP Volunteer Trainers” and “Fancy Footwork” power point presentations, focusing on strong volunteer participation. The principles of learning are introduced, encouraging shelters to embrace a comprehensive approach to training and treating dogs as individuals, who may need different levels of support. Basic handling techniques are taught to staff and volunteers so they can teach the shelter dogs mannerly behaviors that are appealing to adopters, attractive to volunteers and help to mentally stimulate the dogs in order to prevent behavioral deterioration while sheltered.

  • These trainings have occurred at a few shelters around the country that have demonstrated completion of Phase 1, culminating in daily play groups run by staff and/or volunteers.
  • Completion of Phase 2 will provide shelters the opportunity to better attend to dogs displaying high arousal, generalized fear, barrier reactivity, dog-dog issues, poor leash manners and wariness of strangers.

Phase 3 – Teaching staff and Volunteers to modify On-Leash Reactivity

3 day seminar – “Monsters on a Leash to Go Anywhere Good Citizens – Training that Saves Lives” power point presentations focusing on strong volunteer participation. The principles of learning are reiterated, encouraging shelters to understand that adhering to a positive-only approach fails many dogs.

  • This level of training has been provided to three shelters to date.
  • Completion of Phase 3 will provide shelters the opportunity to better attend to dogs displaying high arousal, generalized fear, barrier reactivity, dog-dog issues, poor leash manners, wariness of strangers and redirected or displaced aggression when on leash.

Phase 4 – Advanced/Complete Dogs Playing for Life™ training program

5 day seminar plus required 5 day internship – “Jekyll or Hyde? – Understanding Defensive and Offensive Aggression” power point presentation geared towards shelters with training and/or behavior staff. The principles of learning are reiterated, encouraging shelters to understand that adhering to a positive-only approach fails many dogs. These trainings are reserved for behaviorally resourced shelters that intend to achieve the highest level of life-saving in the sheltering community by attending successfully to dogs that would typically be deemed un-adoptable due to behavior concerns.

  • This level of training has been provided to three shelters to date and two more have committed to progressing through all DPFL trainings to attain this top tier of behavior programming.
  • Completion of Phase 4 will provide shelters the opportunity to better attend to dogs displaying high arousal, generalized fear, barrier reactivity, dog-dog issues, poor leash manners, wariness of strangers, redirected or displaced aggression when on leash, defensive aggression and proper identification of offensive aggression.
  • Phase 4 trainings are a “teaser” for shelters to qualify for quarterly support from PetSafe and the ability to host internships for Dogs Playing for Life™ programming.

  • Product support

We have currently introduced Phase 1 to over 100 shelters in the US and Canada! Each seminar and training provides us the opportunity to introduce and promote PetSafe products to shelters and their adopters.

  • Internship scholarships

While we currently host interns at our Phase 4 shelters, we are not able to provide scholarships. Many more people, shelter staff as well as dedicated volunteers, want to come learn from us but do not have the funds to do so. Providing assistance to more individuals in their passion for helping to train shelter dogs is an integral component to supporting more shelters and animals, as well as communities.

  • Adoption Follow-up Support and Sponsorship

There can be exciting opportunities to sponsor the adoption of individual animals that received the needed support the DPFL programs provided to become available for adoption. From our advanced work with behavior issues we know that what we see in the shelter does not necessarily reflect how that animal will behave in a home. Many animals do not cope well with being kenneled and their behavior can reflect their distress. Our goal is always to place loving and safe companion animals into our communities, so there are times when added support (such as complimentary adoption follow-up training) is what can make the difference between remaining in the home and being returned.

  • Training Department Sponsorship

Other animal welfare groups and corporate sponsors support the jump-start of programming to help shelters achieve their next level of life-saving work. For example, Best Friends Animal Society and PetSmart Charities partnered to support the San Antonio Pets Alive! initiative that is modeling the Austin Pets Alive! Program which has achieved a city-wide live release rate of 93%! Sponsoring DPFL training & behavior staff positions could be awarded to worthy shelters that have demonstrated the completion of any or all of the DPFL Phases.

  • Performance Awards

As our work expands and the DPFL program continues to advance, incentives for increased life-saving, adoption performance, adoption retention and community support, can be granted to organizations that have demonstrated measured accomplishments. For example, groups such as Maddie’s Fund and the ASPCA create “challenges” for shelters that culminate in substantial grants. Such “challenges” could be lined out to shelters implementing all phases of DPFL.

  • Regional Dogs Playing for Life™ Training Centers

Animal transport programs have emerged around the country to help distribute homeless pets to facilities that are more appropriately resourced to meet their needs and support their adoptions. Ideally, through spay neuter programming and overall pet-ownership education, we will put ourselves out of the sheltering business one day! While there will always be a need for temporary housing of lost, surrendered or displaced pets, as animal welfare evolves, the need will continue to decrease for long-term housing of unwanted animals in shelters. There will be a time when finding homes for easily “adoptable” animals will no longer be such a challenge. Regardless, there will always be a need to support some animals prior to being available for adoption and those that are already loved and owned. My vision is for regional DPFL training centers that will provide “board and train” for their areas adoption centers and their pet-owning public. Resources for behavior departments will not be necessary at local shelters in the future; they will be redistributed to training centers. Sponsored DPFL centers would achieve the highest level of success through the comprehensive and progressive approach to training. These centers would support shelters and become the community leaders in pet education simultaneously.

Our Dogs Playing for Life™ shelter training programs are one of the most powerful examples of progressive sheltering. The future role of more shelters will be to wholly protect the animals in our care, support thembetter while sheltered to be mannerly companion animals and ultimately loved in their new forever homes. With more animal welfare industry (as well as corporate) support, it is my hope that we can expand the measured life-saving results of the Dogs Playing for Life™ enrichment programs and teams to serve more shelters, families and pets everywhere.

Aimee Sadler

Founder, Dogs Playing for Life

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