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Almost-holiday greetings:

The holidays are lurking just around the corner. For most of us that means a whirlwind of planning and activities! And cooking, shopping, eating... but I'm getting ahead of myself!

When you are planning who's going where, making travel plans, getting ready for the flood of guests (or suitcases) don't forget to include your dog.

Now is the time to start thinking about your dog's holiday daycare and overnight stay needs. We want his holidays to be happy and safe, too!

Here are a few tips to help your dog have a pawsitively wonderful holidog season:

- Whether hosting or traveling, reserve your dog's spot as soon as you have your dates. To keep all the dogs safe and in a happy, harmonious groups we need to set capacity limits during the holidays. We will try to make exceptions in emergency cases but remember that the safety of the dogs is our number one priority.

- Make sure your dog will be up to date on his/her vaccines through the holidays. The last thing we want to do is turn away your dog because of expired or missing vaccinations. I

- Prepare your dog for your absence. If your dog will be staying with us and doesn't come regularly for daycare please make plans to bring her in for at least two daycare days in the weeks leading up to your overnight reservation. The longer the overnight stay, the more crucial this is; three or more daycare days, at least one the week prior to your dog lodging with us might be called for.

- If you free-feed your dog (the buffet is open all day), make a plan to transition your dog to scheduled meals. This will help him more easily adapt to life here at the Ranch. It can be hard for us to try to get a dog to eat meal after meal; some dogs have trouble enough eating because they are away from home - if you free feed your dog they will not be used to there being no food set out when they finally want to eat. Reduce stress on your dog by helping his or her body get on a routine.

- Update your Gingr profile. Make sure we have your current phone number, emergency contact information, current credit card information, current vet, current information on your dog's food and medication, Let us know any changes in your dog's physical needs or personal history. If you have a recent photo of your dog, please upload it to the app.

Start ticking these things off your holiday checklist and make this a stress-free and enjoyable holiday season for the whole family!

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The future of dog daycare

More and more Americans are choosing to make dogs a vital part of their families. As this number grows we are learning more every day about how dogs think, express and interact. What we are discovering is that a dog's emotional and mental needs are just as crucial as his physical needs, yet harder to pinpoint and define; we can tell when our canine companions are unhappy, but many of us are unsure what the missing element is.
As dedicated dog lovers and dog care specialists at A Walk in the Park knowing when, why, and how a dog is unhappy is at the heart of what we do. After all, it is our mission to better the lives of dogs and their human companions.

What we have found (and built our business around) is that most dogs need a certain amount of time in the company of other dogs to develop properly; they learn how to use their bodies, they get an outlet for play-acting their hereditary hunting and survival skills, and they learn the crucial social skills that help them feel safe in the company of others. This is what day long play day care is all about - dogs being dogs, under knowledgeable supervision.

But for many dogs that is not enough. Some dogs really need - not want, need - mental stimulation: interaction with people, challenging physical activities, puzzles to solve. No, not the New York Times but games that challenge their senses. A bored Border Collie will find his own fun, much to the potential dismay of the household cat! More than that though, an unhappy dog is more prone to illness and destructive habits.

Enter PlayCare and Enrichment day care.

PlayCare is a model for focused interactive play in small groups or one on one for dogs who need physical challenge to release unused energy. This energy, when untapped, can cause your dog difficulty in playing happily and safely in a group.

Enrichment is a more thoughtful form of interaction that goes deeper than ordinary obedience-training. Think of it this way, the goal of obedience training is to have the dog respond to rules or cues that you choose; the mechanism is for him to recognize what you want and to comply. It is about setting boundaries that we need for the dog's safety. These boundaries are necessary for a happy and safe household.

Enrichment exercise works from the other side of the partnership - the dog's needs. Enrichment games challenge your dog to think. We set a goal for behavior or mindset - say, laying down on a pad, or sitting attentively on a low platform, then reward the dog when his behavior comes close to our goals. The style is less rigid but relies more on the dog to figure out what behavior is going to get him that treat or the scratch behind his ears that feels so good. The best part is that from the dog's point of view he has figured out how to make you behave (give me treat, please!).

Look for upcoming programs and new day care offerings featuring play-focused day care and day care plus enrichment.

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Our vaccination and spay/neuter policies:

We love working with dogs. We want to stay up to date with all the latest insights in behavioral science and training techniques and give the dogs that stay with us the best care we can. But even though we enjoy the dogs that stay with us, it is also a serious responsibility. We need to strive to give every dog the best experience they can get from their stay with us.

One serious consideration is infectious disease: we take sanitation of our facility seriously. We also require that all dogs that come to us are vaccinated for distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, parvo and rabies. These are considered core vaccines that all vets will give to the dogs in their care. We also require that dogs get vaccinated against bordetella and canine influenza. These are considered social or lifestyle vaccines. Dogs that interact with other dogs in day care, dog parks etc. are at risk of passing this to each other. We also require dogs are vaccinated against leptospirosis. This is a disease that can be carried by infected wildlife. Our part of the country is at higher risk, so we require it. Even though attitudes have changed towards vaccinations, we have to make sure the dogs in our care are protected against these diseases. We also want dogs to have a fecal exam to make sure the dogs don't carry parasites.

Attitudes have also changed about spaying and neutering. A little history here: we have been urged to spay or neuter our dogs because of the number of unwanted dogs. There is a long history of unwanted dogs being destroyed because of overpopulation. Now some of that wisdom is being challenged and people are advocating for delaying these procedures or foregoing them altogether.

There is no easy answer here and everyone needs to do research and discuss their options with their vet. We have two links to some great and well-balanced articles that discuss the studies and insights so far. It is clear that a lot of research still needs to be done.

We need to make clear though, that we are responsible for all the dogs in our care. Your vet looks at this issue for developmental reasons, we look at behavior and everyone needs to understand that they have to make a choice here. If you want to wait with spaying or neutering your dog, we cannot accept your dog in our off-leash environment once they reach 7 months of age. One of the most important factors in keeping dogs safe in playgroups, is to keep their energy levels under control. Females coming into heat will seriously disrupt this, apart from the fact that we don't want any dogs to become pregnant here.

Dogs have a special scent organ to detect pheromones. A neutered male smells different from an intact male. In our experience, we find that the neutered males will sometimes target the intact males, especially when they are still in their adolescent stage of development.

Just some food for thought: with all this concern about vaccines and desexing dogs, it seems that the real elephant in the room is being ignored: the biggest risk to the future of our dogs is our obsession with purebred dogs. This has created a lack of genetic diversity and is the cause of a lot of the health problems our dogs are experiencing. This is a much more serious problem and hopefully helps put things in perspective.

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Our newsletters are intended to keep you informed on current developments at the 'ranch' and policy changes that are going to be implemented. We have our vaccine requirements in the Gingr app. They keep track and block requests for service if the vaccines are expired. We are adding the fecal exam requirement and spay/neuter requirement to the app. Please update required information, as these requirements will become active on November 1st.

There will also be some price increases coming up December 1st. To keep up with increasing labor cost and to be able to retain the talented people we have working for us now, lodging prices will become $47 for an overnight. There is also a slight increase in transport cost. The monthly subscription will be $34, the monthly pass will be $40. We want to encourage people who use the transport service to sign up for the transport subscription. You will need to put payment information in the Gingr app.

In our next newsletter, we will have more details about our enrichment program and the different tiers of service we will offer.

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Dirk Broersma