Social Enrichment Enhances the Lives of Shelter Dogs


If you’ve ever visited your local animal shelter, you know that the time a dog spends in the shelter environment can be stressful. Dogs are social animals who love interacting with people and other dogs, so spending the majority of their time alone in a bare kennel can be rough. The Center for Shelter Dogs at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine has some great advice for shelters on how to enrich a shelter dog’s life through play and social interaction. Does the shelter where you work or volunteer have these activities in place?


Playing with Other Dogs: The Center calls this “Doggie Social Hour” and recommends that one or two doggie playgroups per day be implemented, preferably after feeding and while their kennels are being cleaned. Doggie play time increases the shelter dogs’ social skills and provides them with some fun and freedom during the day.


Playing with People: Dogs love to play with people as much as they like playing with other dogs. The Center recommends that a dog’s play style be assessed before implementing play sessions. Appropriate games based on a dog’s play preferences can include chasing, retrieving, tugging, and hide and seek using their sense of smell.


Spending Time with People: Some quiet one-on-one time may be just what a shy, sensitive shelter dog needs. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. A volunteer or staff member can sit quietly with a dog in a kennel or room, the dog can spend time in the staff office area or break room, and the dog can be taken on a long walk around the grounds.


Alone-Time Play: Just because the majority of a shelter dog’s day is spent alone in his kennel, it doesn’t mean that his environment can’t be enriched while he’s by himself. The Center suggests that shelter dogs be provided with food-dispensing toys, and frozen or chew-type treats given out during snack time.


Interested in learning more? Check out the Center for Shelter Dogs website for more detailed information on environmental enrichment.




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