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At the beginning of January we informed everyone that a couple of dogs had been diagnosed with canine cough. We received report of only a handful of dogs being affected. Of those, most of them were young dogs. This tells me it was not a very strong bug. We haven't heard of any new cases. We ask everyone to report anything unusual to us, so we can get an accurate picture of what is going on. Right now it seems the episode is over, but remember that something can come around anytime. If your dog is affected by this, wait at least 10 days after symptoms have subsided, before you have him around other dogs again.

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A New Kind of Daycare

We want to implement a number of changes to our daycare and lodging program this year. Last year, we visited a conference in Colorado Springs on the future of dog daycare and we learned a lot about enrichment for dogs. We will begin to offer an enrichment program this spring. What is canine enrichment? Enrichment means that the dogs get a chance to engage in meaningful and fun 'species specific' behavior. They will do things that come naturally to them, challenge them and which they enjoy. For example, dogs survived by hunting for food, using their sense of smell, sight, and their skill to chase and catch prey. Or find whatever treasure they ran into! It's clear that they did not evolve to sit in front of a bowl, waiting for food to be dropped into it. Therefore, spreading and hiding some food, where the dogs can use their sense of smell to find it, is an enriching activity which challenges him mentally.

There are six categories of enrichment: sensory, feeding, toys/puzzles, environment, social and training. Play in daycare is a form of social enrichment. But we feel we can break this activity up with other activities for a more balanced day for the dogs. Breaking up play sessions with other activities, like agility, scent games, training exercises, puzzles and games, makes for a more balanced day that stimulates both physically AND mentally. For some dogs, an all day play till you drop day leaves them physically exhausted but mentally anxious. We can do better than that.

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Why We Are Here

Our mission statement is to 'improve the dogs' skills to navigate a world they share with humans and other dogs'. Dogs learn through experience and by making associations. For different reasons they develop different skills and different outlooks on life, some dogs are more outgoing and optimistic, other dogs are more cautious and pessimistic. When dogs are apprehensive about a situation, it creates stress. Actually, when they are very excited, it creates stress too. Not all stress is bad. But when dogs are under stress for too long, their tolerance and coping skills decline. Our priority in supervising off leash play, is to monitor stress levels and make sure that the dogs take breaks.

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Dogs of all colors

It has been common practice in shelters and daycares, to give a dog's social skills and tolerance level a color code. This is not a judgement of the dog, there are no 'bad' dogs here, it is just that some dogs are more tolerant about being touched, or meeting kids or sharing a toy etc. The dogs that are tolerant and handle new situations well, are colored green; the dogs that are little apprehensive are colored yellow and the dogs that really cannot handle these situations are colored red. Of course behavior can changes from time to time, everyone can have a bad day, so we are talking about observations over an extended period of time.

We use this color coding scheme for the dogs that come to our facility. As said before, it is not to judge the dogs, but instead it helps us identify what the dogs are comfortable with. We define green dogs as dogs that are social with other dogs and people, that enjoy the company of other dogs, that play appropriately with other dogs and enjoy that play, that can regulate themselves and know when to take breaks, that can calm themselves down and will eat eat during mealtimes. We kennel the dogs for feeding, so they don't eat each other's food and so they have a moment to digest their food before they are active again. Sometimes dogs will not eat, their arousal level is up. If they will not eat for a whole day, it means they can't calm themselves down and they might not be green dogs.
To be considered green, dogs also need to know and respond to a number of basic cues: they need to know their name, the need to know 'come', 'sit', 'wait', and 'leave it'. And to be able to take part in off leash play, dogs need to be healthy. Illness or injury can lower their tolerance level to our high energy environment.

Opposite green dogs, are red dogs. We define a red dog as a dog that is a danger to himself or to others (dogs or humans). Obviously, they cannot be in an off leash environment. Some of these dogs are reactive, meaning, they are so uncomfortable being with other dogs, that they use aggression to make the thing they fear so much go away. We can help lessen this reaction with a special reactivity class we offer, but these dogs might never be comfortable in a playgroup. If you are afraid of spiders, the last thing you want, is being in a room full of spiders.
It is also possible that dogs are so stressed that they will make themselves sick. They are not a threat to the other dogs, but they are still marked as red.

The Dogs In Between

Everything between green and red, is marked as yellow. These are dogs that are not quite covering the definition of a 'green; dog. It could be that they don't know or respond well to cues. It could be that they are a little apprehensive. It could be that they are easily aroused and not particularly concerned about whether the other dogs are enjoying their play as much as they do. It could be that they had a bad experience with another dog and are now apprehensive of any dog that looks like that particular dog.

Play Therapy

A lot of the dogs that are considered 'yellow', would be dismissed from a regular doggie daycare. We have always had a soft spot for the dogs that need a little extra help and have always worked hard to try and integrate them in the playgroups. Now we want to set up a special program, that combines training, play and also homework for the owners for when the dogs are not with us, to try to overcome those issues and turn these dogs from yellow to green. Our program has limited space, we have two half day slots and one full day slot available on weekdays. We will discuss with clients if we feel their dog needs the extra help and suggest they sign up for our half day school or full day school. When dogs come for the day school, they will play training games, do enrichment activities and if and when they are ready, we will place them in a special small size group, so they are comfortable and make positive associations. Of course this can only happen when the dogs are ready and don't seem overwhelmed or too stressed.

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It's All About the Dogs

We want all the dogs that visit the ranch to have a wonderful experience and walk away happy. Remember that dogs learn by making associations, and any negative interactions can change a dog's outlook. Because of this, we have a couple of rules to keep everyone safe and happy:

We ask that everyone respect the other dog's space. Never let your dog run up to another dog that is leashed. The other dog cannot get away, because he is on a leash, and might get very uncomfortable. We require that everyone brings their dog on a regular leash, on a regular collar, harness or head halter, that has a quick snap release. Dogs are playing without collars and we have to be able to quickly take collars and harnesses off. Retractable leashes are not allowed, since dogs are hard to control on them. We also don't want dogs on martingale collars, some of these are so tight that it is an unpleasant experience for the dog when we have to pull them over their head. We absolutely do not allow shock collars, choke chains and prong collars. These tools can create reactivity in dogs and we believe that using them is unethical and goes against everything we believe in. Please refrain from using them.

When the lobby is full, please wait outside for your turn. Schedule some extra time when you are dropping off your dog, we have to check all the dogs in and the staff has to go down a checklist to make sure we have all the right information. It takes a little bit of time to do that.

All dogs that are being fed on the ranch eat their own food. We don't want to switch food, sometimes it can upset a dog's stomach. We need everyone to portion out the food. This helps us with preparing the food, it prevents cross contamination for dogs with allergies, since we don't have to use scoops, it saves us time so we can spend more time with the dogs instead of measuring out portions! Please portion out each meal and put them in Ziploc bags, so we don't have to keep track of containers, which need to be washed and then easily get lost or mixed up. As always, we ask everyone not to bring toys, bedding, bowls etc. Just food, leash and collar and any medications your dog is using. If your dog is on medication, please bring it in the original packaging and provide clear instructions: what is the medication for, how and when do we administer it.

Play, Play, Play

We have dogs of all shapes and sizes visit the ranch. What you might not be aware of, is that all these dogs have different playstyles and preferences. Puppies and adolescent dogs play differently than adult dogs. Small dogs cannot play safely with big dogs. Different breeds of dogs play differently, because of what they were bred to do. Of special consideration are puppies and adolescent dogs. Their personalities are still developing and they are especially sensitive to experiences. Moving forward, we will institute special days for certain playgroups. It is not possible to have 20 different playgroups, so to make sure that every dog has the best experience, we would like to create specific play groups on specific days. we will provide more information in our next newsletter.

To make sure we do create good play groups, we would like to get all reservations for daycare in by 6pm the previous day. We then have the time to place dogs in the best possible group. Dogs that are only lodging now and then, might need to be reevaluated. If we haven't seen a particular dog for more than three months, we will have to schedule an evaluation. This consists of two 4 hour periods which we schedule on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday.

We want all the dogs to be safe and happy. We want them to have the best possible experience, because anything less can have consequences for their outlook on the world and on their behavior. Some of the changes might be less convenient for the owners, but they are so important for the wellbeing of the dogs, and that is a priority for us.

Dirk Broersma