Thursday, February 24, 2011

Not Your Average Play Group

By Alexandra League, HSSV Volunteer

Picture the scene at some neighborhood dog park. Do you see people huddled together, gabbing about Jennifer Aniston's haircut (three inches!), on their cell phones or simply disengaged from their dog's play? If you are the owner of bully breed dogs, like American Pit Bull Terriers and American Bulldogs, you likely approach dog parks differently. Why? According to Certified Pet Dog Trainer Marthina McCray, your dog's bully play style combined with the potential poor manners of other dogs (jumping, excessively mouthy, etc.) could lead to a bad experience at the dog park. McCray, who is also the owner of Dog Training for People, and the Founder of Our Pack, Inc., says in most cases, dog parks aren't the best option for socializing your bully play style dog. A better option for your pup is to socialize them in a controlled play group of two to four well-matched playmates. This can set you and your dog up for a positive experience.

I learned that Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV) has partnered with Our Pack, Inc. to facilitate a dedicated Bully Play Group at HSSV's private dog park and had the chance to visit the group recently – check out the video below. The play group is all about active participation of owners to set these great dogs up for successful socialization (you won't see anyone on a cell phone!) and is open not just to pit bulls, but to all dogs who have bully play styles according to Michelle Suarez of HSSV's Behavior and Training Department. "HSSV and Our Pack are there to help the owners learn how to read their dogs' body language and how to safely manage their own dog to have a positive experience," Michelle told me. "Ultimately the owners become more in tune with their dogs' body language and are able to step in when their dog needs a break."

During my visit, I also met Caroline, who recently adopted a three-legged pit bull named Izabella (formerly Sweat Pea) from HSSV. Caroline shared, "I love watching Izabella run wild with the other (four-legged) doggies; it makes me happy to see her so happy, and it makes me really, really happy to see her nap for four or five hours after play group!"

HSSV and Our Pack staff carefully match playmates based on play style, temperament and age. The group meets Wednesdays and Sundays at 1PM. If you're interested in joining the fun, email HSSV's behavior department for more information at:

Learn more about becoming a member of the HSSV dog park online or in the Whole Pets store at HSSV's Animal Community Center.

The video below is from my visit to the Bully Play Group.


  1. Thanks so much for making the point that you won't see people on cell phones. It's about owners monitoring their dog's play regardless of breed (in this case different breeds, Boxer, Am Bulls, Pit Bulls etc)or play style. Labs, Boxers etc can have goofy play styles and it's great when owners are paying attention and know what's appropriate.
    Love the video!! Thanks!

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  3. That's a really great point to make - it really isn't about breed so much as it is about the owner's responsibility and monitoring of their dog's play!