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I would like to explain the ‘why’ of what we do.

We started implementing some changes over the past couple of years that we have been communicating through our newsletters. We are changing policies and practices because the dogs come first in our priorities. Their experience at our facility has an influence on their development and outlook on life and we want to do everything we can to give them a good experience and optimistic outlook.

Let me explain a few things about dogs. First, if anyone ever told you anything about alpha and dominance, forget all that, the alpha-myth was dispelled 20 years ago. Second, not all dogs are social and not all dogs play with each other.

Puppies are most likely to be social and willing to interact and they don’t usually get put off or upset by rude or inappropriate behaviors from the other dogs. We call this dog social. Just think of little kids who easily make friends in the neighborhood or in kindergarten. As teenagers, we get much more picky about who we hang out with. As dogs get older most of them will become less social and what we call dog tolerant or dog selective. Dog tolerant dogs are friendly or indifferent about other dogs and will tolerate most rude behaviors from other dogs. Dog selective dogs are more leery of new dogs and tend to play or interact with a small, select number of dogs, such as dogs they have known for a long time. A small number of dogs will become dog-aggressive. These dogs do not enjoy or tolerate other dogs for various reasons and are not a good fit for daycare. Breed, age and the kind of experiences the dog had all play a role in this.

Nearly all dogs enjoy some form of social interaction, and for puppies play is important to learn motor and social skills. Most dogs prefer to play with dogs they know, the less confident and older the dog is, the more important this is. Being put in a space full of unknown dogs increases levels of stress hormones and at that point dogs can make poor choices because they react and the risk of a tiff or fight breaking out is higher. This is one of the drawbacks of dog parks, that is, unmoderated exposure to a wider variety of unfamiliar dogs. It always helps to compare this to our own experiences, so think of all of a sudden, without warning, being dropped off at Disney World or Times Square on New Year’s Eve. As children, we might find that stressful at first but then fun and exciting. As adults, many of us will not be happy or comfortable to be suddenly placed in that setting.

Dogs are social creatures, but in a natural state, dogs would bond with related dogs in a family-like grouping (‘the pack’), and they would not be friendly with unfamiliar dogs. We as humans have a certain influence over how dogs respond to unknown dogs as we reward certain behavior. Often we mistake a dog’s desire to please for actual enthusiasm, tolerance for enjoyment.

There is a growing movement among progressive dog care professionals focused on the wellbeing of the dogs they care for. In veterinary care there is the Fear Free handling experience, to make veterinary care less scary and traumatizing for dogs. In dog daycare there is Enrichment Based Daycare, sometimes called Daycare 2.0. Instead of daylong romping and playing, it offers a much more structured experience that balances physical and mental exercise along with rest periods to make sure the dogs have a good experience that doesn’t cause excess stress levels. Remember that not all stress is bad. Stress can also be caused by something we are very excited about. However, as care providers, we have to control that level of excitement to help dogs have positive experiences and maintain open mindedness.

In the last couple of years, we have invested heavily in enrichment equipment, tools and training for our staff. We have seen a nearly universally positive response from the dogs. We wanted to implement enrichment based daycare sooner, but this type of care requires more staffing, which we couldn’t find in 2021, but things have greatly improved since then and we are ready now to make the change.

We know that our clients like our facility because we are present around the clock and we do not kennel the dogs at night. The idea of their dog being locked up all alone in an empty building is a very uncomfortable thought. It’s fun to have the dogs for a sleepover, everyone finding a comfy spot. That’s what I wanted for my own dogs, so that is why we designed the ranch the way we did. But this is only half of the equation.

As we described above, to have the dogs actually be comfortable in this environment, they need to know the other dogs and the handlers. We also need to know the dogs ourselves, to see if there are changes in behavior and sociability. Sometimes, as dogs get older and don’t enjoy the company of other dogs as much, we will recommend a sitter. This dog will be most comfortable staying at home.

We also know that playing and romping all day without structure, can lead to stress hormone levels going up and up. Whereas we used to say that a tired dog is a good dog, now we find that a physically exhausted dog makes poor choices.

So moving forward, our daycare and lodging services will change. We will inform everyone of the specific details, but we will have an enrichment based daycare, where there will be group play, but also enrichment play sessions, short training sessions and we will throughout the day encourage the dogs to take breaks and replenish their energy. Enrichment daycare will be membership based where we encourage everyone to pick specific days to visit so we can build stable playgroups. Overnight privileges will be awarded to daycare members, because we need dogs to regularly attend to have them comfortably stay overnight. We will have different membership levels each with its own privileges and perks.

One change will be implemented starting April 1st. Because we want to adhere to an enrichment schedule, we will have to make sure dogs arrive by 10 o’clock. Right now dogs arrive throughout the day. This means that we spend a large amount of time, introducing dogs into playgroups. You see, when a dog arrives, we can’t just put them in the playgroup. This would cause the other dogs to respond and surround this dog, which is very stressful. New dogs get introduced to one or two dog at a time, until they are ready to go into the group. This is very time consuming and we will have to set some limits to make sure this doesn’t hinder our enrichment activities. Therefore, all dogs have to arrive by 10AM, whether it is for daycare or lodging. Our lobby will be closed between 10AM and 2PM for pick up and drop off.

This will also affect our half day of daycare. Because the lobby is closed, half days can only be scheduled from 10AM to 2PM. No dogs can arrive after 10AM.

This does not affect grooming dogs, since they don’t have to be introduced into a playgroup. One word about grooming: we are still understaffed as far as grooming is concerned. Because of that, we want to give preference to daycare clients, because of our two week rule. Grooming appointments that involve any kind of clipping, have to be scheduled by phone and cannot be scheduled through Gingr. We do this to make sure we create a workable schedule for the groomers. Baths, nail trims or brush outs can be done by our groom techs and these appointments can still be scheduled through the Gingr app.

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Dirk Broersma
https://awalkintheparkoftoledo.com