Setting the dogs up for success.

In January, 2015, four people came together to implement Australia’s first playgroup program for shelter dogs. This program reflects the same standards, strategies and results as the playgroups in the United States. It was implemented at Geelong Animal Welfare Society (GAWS), Melbourne, Australia.

These people are:

Matthew Valentino (Playgroup Specialist, New York)

Mia Shaw (GAWS Shelter Manager)

Simon Bailey (GAWS Playgroup Manager)

Mia from The PAW Project


What is playgroup for shelter dogs?

Playgroup is a managed enclosed space that allows shelter dogs to play and exercise while teaching dogs appropriate behaviour.

The benefits of playgroup.

  • Saves lives – dogs that are killed at shelters for reactivity or are mentally shutdown, successfully progress through playgroup.
  • Saves time and money – dogs can be more effective at adjusting inappropriate dog behaviours than people.
  • Duty of Care – optimises dogs physical and mental health while in the care of the shelter.
  • Safer communities – dogs are adopted into the community having had appropriate dog on dog contact.
  • Increases adoptions – playgroup occurs prior to opening the shelter to the public and the dogs are calmer and happier during adoption hours.
  • Improved infection control – cleaning of the pen is coordinated with the dog attending playgroup which optimises cleaning and drying of the space.
  • Accurate dog profiles – profiling a dog for marketing in playgroup is more effective to the dogs true personality. This enables improved matches for adoption and abolishes temperament testing.
  • Reduces stress – playgroup reduces stress for the dogs as it meets their physical and mental needs. This enables the dog to be more receptive to training in the shelter environment.
  • Pet retention – dogs in the community can utilise the playgroup program for social skills or behaviour adjustment, decreasing the chances of that dog being surrendered to the shelter.
  • Happier staff – happier dogs = happier staff = decrease staff turnover = saves the shelter money.

Playgroup sessions are conducted every morning, seven days a week.

Each playgroup space is led by a Team Leader and an assistant and require runners to retrieve dogs for the session.

This project was inspired by Aimee Sadler’s Dogs Playing For Life(TM).

Aimee Sadler is the Director of Training & Behavior for the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation as well as the founder of Playing for Life! Aimee’s program has helped Longmont Humane Society and the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation to maintain canine live release rates exceeding 95% as open admission shelters.

Aimee has received many awards for her successful program, including The Henry Bergh Leadership Award in 2011 from the No Kill Advocacy Center.

Mia McKenzie met Aimee Sadler at the 2012 No Kill Conference in Washington DC, where Mia attended Aimee’s seminar called “Saving 98% Of Dogs In Shelters” and have remained friends since.

Aimee has recently released the highly anticipated Dogs Playing For Life(TM) Manual. Click on the Dogs Playing For Life(TM) logo if you would like to read and learn about playgroup for shelter dogs.



Playgroup finished before 10am

Playgroup enables accurate profiling

One benefit of playgroup: Content dogs

Click on Geelong Animal Welfare Society to view up to date video footage on their Playgroup Program called the K9 Social Club.