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When Otis first came to our facility in June of last year, he was a sweet but shy dog. He seemed a bit uncomfortable when you approached him and seemed overwhelmed. Until he found a toy he really liked, a ball with a rope attached to it. He would grab the rope and shake the ball and was the happiest dog in the world. That started to change his demeanor, he became much more confident. Finding that activity he liked helped him thrive on the ranch and he has had fun ever since. He has become the life of the party!

There are plenty of dogs that are confident and social enough, that they have no problem finding new friends and enjoying playtime in daycare, especially when they are young. But some dogs need help, for whatever reason they are not confident and they don’t feel safe. Often owners will feel concerned and some will be disappointed. It could be the dog’s personality, early experiences, lack of socialization or a bad experience. Dogs can’t talk and have to understand us and other dogs by reading body language and interpret that to experiences they had before. Dogs don’t have a lot of choice in their daily lives as to what happens next and that can add to a sense of insecurity. So we must try to put them at ease and help them build confidence by giving them good experiences.

To make sure dogs are a good fit and to make sure we are able to help them , we have an extensive onboarding process. We start with an owner interview, to make sure we get to know them and what their expectations are and what they hope to get out of daycare. Our philosophies have to match. For example, we do not believe in punishment based training, as this can increase anxiety in dogs. Anxiety can cause dogs to make bad decisions and you don’t want that in an off-leash environment. There are much better and humane training techniques now that won’t damage your relationship with your dog like punishment based training does.

We separate dogs in different playgroups. First of all, if all the dogs were in one group, this group would be too big, which would make a lot of dogs uncomfortable. We separate dogs that are small and/or timid, medium sized and/or adolescent and large and mature dogs, to make sure everybody is in a group that is the right fit for them. Small dogs need to feel safe by knowing that they are not going to be run over and hurt by a big dog. Mature dogs shouldn’t have to put up with adolescent behavior. Young dogs need to have playmates that are just as energetic. We have a high staff to dog ratio and each dog is supervised by an extensively trained handler. Having a skilled handler in the group helps the dogs feel safe.

Dogs need personal space, just like we do. Too many dogs in a cramped space makes all of them feel anxious and over time will create a negative experience with being in a playgroup and being around other dogs. We have large yards where dogs can run and where they can find a quiet spot if they want to relax for a moment. We also have large rooms inside to play, all separate from the other playgroups. And even in the winter we we still run outside for a bit, to get some exercise and get some fresh air.

And of course for the dogs that are staying overnight, we never separate them in kennels, ‘suites’ or ‘lounges’. They sleep together in bedrooms and a staff member stays with them overnight. You can imagine that being alone in a kennel overnight could be a very unsettling experience for a dog, especially if they are not familiar with the place. Familiarity with the facility is crucial, because dogs can only feel safe in a familiar environment. That is why we do have an attendance requirement, so the dog is comfortable with the ranch. It also helps us stay familiar with the dog’s habits and behavior. We will be able to see when the dog is behaving ‘out of character’. Just like us, dogs’ behavior and habits change as they get older. They might easily make friends when they are adolescents but as adults will only interact with dogs they know. By bringing them regularly to the ranch, the older dogs will know the other dogs.

As you can see, bringing dogs to daycare to have fun, takes an effort, it doesn’t just happen automatically. But if done correctly, it can definitely enrich to their lives, help build their confidence and make for a happier and more fulfilled dog. Please contact us if you have any questions by emailing us at:

Dirk Broersma