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  • Dana VanSickle, KPA CTP

Ball Pit for Shelter Dogs

Who remembers jumping into the Ball Pit at Chuck E Cheese? There’s just something about falling into a rainbow that makes everyone happy. I think the same is true for our dogs.


If you are a member of the best Facebook Canine Enrichment Community, then you have probably seen the magic of the ball pit. Dogs rolling in the pit, and some even bouncing hard enough to cause a ball 'splosion. It’s hard not pee your pants a little watching these dogs geek out.


Creating a similarly enriching experience for the shelter dogs I work was a dream of mine. I live for that moment when a shelter dog – who experiences an untold amount of stress every day – turns into the happiest dog in the world. If only momentary, those experiences go a long way in keeping my well-deserving shelter buddies sane.



Here are some ways to use a Ball Pit to help shelter dogs:


First, you can acquire supplies by asking for donations. Every ball pit requires at least one small baby pool and at least 400 balls. Fill up the pit for larger dogs and reduce the depth for smaller dogs by tossing some balls out. Our communities love doing good deeds for dogs in need, so don’t be afraid to ask for help getting started!


Introducing dogs to the ball pit requires an open mind. Most of my shelter friends needed a little coaxing before they would step a paw inside the pit. My bravest friend was actually a 9-week old puppy who seemed bent on conquering the world. All other dogs grew to like the ball pit with the help of some high-value food. You will want to let your dogs learn on their own terms that the ball pit is in fact safe and fun.


Games for Success:

  • Looking at or sniffing the pit: Just the sight and smell of the pit can be stimulating.

  • Walking into the pit (or, for the shortstack friends, climbing into it): Builds confidence.

  • Bouncing into the pit: Fun for confident, adventurous pups.

  • Rolling in the pit: For the playful, carefree dog that gets jazzed over flying balls.

  • Ball stealing: Dogs that love to chase, carry and chomp on a good ball will get a kick out of this.

  • Pit hopping: We all know that one dog with major hops! Jumping over the pit can be a pretty thrilling (and jaw-dropping) thing.

  • Obstacle course: Use the ball pit in an obstacle course (which makes for great promotional material).

  • Snuffle pit: Have you heard of snuffle mats? Well, you can create a similar scenting experience with the ball pit. Toss some treats inside the pit, and some on top to start.



Avoid these rookie mistakes:

  • Never force a dog into the pit: You may inadvertently scare your dog, which may render your ball pit useless and/or deepen fears. Remember that it is okay for a dog to decide the pit is not for them.

  • Get creative about coaxing: Some of my dogs followed a lure into the pit. With others, I had to get creative by tipping the pit so to create a shorter step in. A few times I even found myself crawling into the pit with my dogs. Whatever they need in order to see that it is safe to try.

  • Remember to trade out balls: Avoid pulling a ball right out of a dog’s mouth. Instead, trade the ball for something of higher value.

  • Sanitize your pit after use: Be sure to come up with a cleaning protocol for the ball pit that adheres to your shelter’s guidelines.


We had the best time trying out the ball pit with shelter dogs. Some hopped, some rolled, some daintily passed through. Each dog found a way to make the pit their own. For dogs that spend the majority of their day confined to a loud kennel, getting time out to play and act like a dog is lifesaving. Don't miss out on this easy way to enrich the lives of your shelter friends. Set up your shelter dog ball pit today!



Every shelter should have a ball pit so every shelter dog can have a ball!