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I assume I would experience the world differently. Smells would be much more important, since dogs can smell 1,000 to 10,000 better than we can. So using my sense of smell would tell me a lot about what is going on around me. Everything would look different too. Since I can only see shades of blue and yellow, everything would be much more monochrome.

And I won't be able to formulate my thoughts, since I have no words or language. I assume I would feel emotions about everything around me: things that are of interest or that are exciting, things that I’m indifferent to, and things that make me fearful or cautious.

Dogs are keen observers. They can see, hear and most of all smell what dogs -and people- around them are feeling, and they use those cues to make up their own mind about the situation they find themselves in.

For dogs, anything that is unfamiliar, will make them cautious. Now a young puppy might be more open to meeting new friends, but they too go through what is called the fear impact period, where they all of a sudden can get very afraid of something that startles them.

As dogs get older, they get set in their ways, not unlike people do. They got used to certain routines and can get uncomfortable when that gets thrown off. Unexpected visitors in the house, a road crew that runs equipment in front of the house, the family moving to a new home; these are all things that can be upsetting for a dog.

Dogs don’t have a lot of choice in their life: they have no choice in when they are being fed and what they are eating, when they are being walked, where they spend their day and night. Imagine what it would be like to have so little control over what happens to you.

Now put all of this together. A dog who is an adult now, set in his ways being at home with his owners, having regular walks, maybe meeting the neighbor’s dog from time to time. It’s all familiar and the dog is comfortable in this environment. Now it’s summer and the family has travel plans. The dog needs to be put up somewhere, but of course nobody can communicate this with the dogs in advance. The dog gets dropped off at the boarding facility, where it might not have been for a year, so the place is unfamiliar to the dog, it throws off his routine, he is with strange people and dogs. You can imagine that this causes stress for the dogs.

We want the ranch to be fun for the dogs, we give them friends to hang out with, a chance to play or relax, they have human supervisors with them at all times who give them attention and they have company at night. But that doesn’t matter if the environment is unfamiliar. This will cause stress in that dog, stress that the other dogs pick up on, and affect their behavior.

For the dogs to have fun, they need to be familiar and comfortable with the environment. We want to see those dogs regularly, at least twice a month, so we know them and they know us.

We evaluate all dogs that join our programs, but that evaluation is only a snapshot of that moment. Dogs get older, their preferences change, and because of different experiences they have, their behavior can change. If we haven’t seen a dog for over a month, we would like to see them for a half day. If we haven’t seen them for over 3 months, we have to do a more formal reassessment and if we haven’t seen them for 6 months or more, we will have to do the evaluation process over again. This is to make sure we know the dogs and they know us.

Why we do things the way we do:

As a dog care business, we really have two clients, the owner and the dog. Their needs don’t always overlap and we have to make sure that we set the dogs up for success. Here are some of our protocols and why we adopted these:

  • We have a 10AM cut off time for arriving dogs. We have dogs staying with us around the clock and a lot of dogs arriving in the morning. They are excited and play and as the day goes on, they get calmer and in the afternoon a lot of them are ready to relax. We feed around 3:30-4PM, so dogs have plenty of time to go to the bathroom, before we settle in for the night. A dog arriving later will be very excited, because here are all his friends and he’s ready to play! But the other dogs played all morning already, and are not so keen on having a new arrival get everyone riled up. Also, when they are this excited, they probably won’t eat their dinner. So for the wellbeing of the dogs, and to keep all of them happy, we don’t accept dogs after 10AM

  • Our lobby is closed between 10AM till 2PM, so we can give all our attention to the dogs. We give them attention, play games, do training exercises, all uninterrupted because we don’t have to answer the door.

  • We require reservations to be made by 8PM the night before. To keep dogs safe, we have to match them with the right playmates. When considering who to place together, we have to look at size, age, playstyle, personality, so all the dogs have a good time and don’t overrun, overwhelm or intimidate other dogs. We have to go over those groups the night before the daycare day. It's impossible to keep groups balanced if unexpected guests keep arriving and we have to rearrange the groups, it’s just not doable. We also want to know how many dogs are attending, so we can staff for this.

  • On a related note, it is important that we know when dogs are arriving and leaving, so we know who is here when. When leaving a reservation request by voicemail or email, make sure to put accurate times in. If your drop off time or pick up time changes, let us know as soon as possible. If we know who is here when, we can plan what gets done when.

  • All food needs to be preportioned and packaged in disposable packaging. This is important, because not only does it help us to get the feeding done efficiently, it also helps us avoid mistakes. We know for sure we have the right amount of food. But it is important that everyone portions per meal! We had some instances where food was portioned per day, which caused problems. Also, to be able to do the feeding efficiently, we store everything in bins that sit on a shelf above the prep table. Please don’t bag your food in big, bulky bags! We can’t fit it in the bins. As a matter of fact, we prefer you don’t use any bags that you need returned, because that creates another thing we have to keep track of and we are not set up for that anymore (The same goes for collars and leashes. We do not have a system to keep track of items like that, and since we have a different crew working the afternoon shift, there is a good chance that things get lost. If a different person is picking up your dog, provide them with a slip lead they can keep in their car).

  • To keep dogs healthy, we have vaccine requirements. When we have dogs play together, there is the risk that they pass along pathogens. Vaccines protect the dogs against disease or lessen the symptoms if they do get sick. Two diseases are of particular concern: canine influenza and leptospirosis. We heard reports of dog care facilities all over the country reporting dogs getting respiratory illness. Many of them had a hard time getting over this. We are not sure what the cause was, but some suspect it was canine influenza.

  • Leptospirosis is spread by wildlife. It’s zoonotic and people can get sick too. Leptospirosis can lead to renal failure. Leptospirosis thrives in wet climates, like ours in Northwest Ohio. We require dogs to be vaccinated against leptospirosis. Some dogs have a strong reaction against this vaccine. We always recommend discussing the benefits and risks of vaccines with your veterinarian. Of course we don’t want to give dogs vaccines that they have a bad reaction to. But if your dog isn’t vaccinated, you will have to make changes in his routine to protect him. Coming to the ranch might not be safe, both for your dog, but also for our staff.

  • We require fecal test results every six months. This might differ from what your veterinarian recommends. However, in an off leash environment we need to make sure that dogs do not pass parasites to each other. Getting test results every six months gives us a better picture of what is going on.
  • All dogs coming to the ranch need to be on a quality flea preventative. Fleas could spread quickly from dog to dog in this environment. Also, fleas can carry tapeworm eggs, so they can give dogs worms. Dogs also need to be on heartworm preventative. Heartworm is spread by mosquitoes, so dogs will not pass it to each other. However, this is a serious condition and dogs need to be protected.

  • If dogs get sick, they have to be symptom free for 30 days before they can come back. We want to make sure the dogs are recovered and up for off leash play. We also want to make sure that they are not shedding any pathogens anymore. This way we can keep everyone safe.

  • Our 14 day rule is intended to keep conditions like canine cough from spreading from one facility to the next. Dogs can pick this up anywhere they meet other dogs, but are more likely to get this if they are in a place where a lot of dogs come, like another daycare, lodging or training facility, groomer or dog park. Therefore, if your dog has been to any of those places, we ask that you wait 14 days before you come to our facility. We all have to count on each other to do the right thing, to keep all of our dogs healthy.

A Walk in the Park is growing, learning and evolving. If we find a way of doing things better, more efficiently or in a way that improves the quality of the experience for the dogs, we will implement it. We post these changes in our newsletters. Please stay informed of these changes. Some of them might be less convenient for the owners, but they are a huge improvement for the dogs. If there is an issue, if we failed to meet your expectations, if something went wrong, we will take that seriously and try to correct it. But we will not argue about the policies, they are what they are. Please don’t argue with the staff about them, they are just executing what I told them to do and they are working hard and are very dedicated.

Despite all of our protocols and care, things can still happen. Dogs can get sick, despite being vaccinated. Dogs play with their mouths and feet, they can get scraped and cut when playing, especially if they have a thin coat. We often recommend dogs with single coats where a shirt, especially if they are young and boisterous.

Sometimes dogs act differently than what we are used to from them. We spoke in our last newsletter about trigger stacking. It’s when a number of stressful events raise the stress hormone level in the dog’s blood and they are more on edge and less tolerant. Picture yourself oversleeping, spilling your coffee on your shirt, having trouble starting your car and then getting stuck in traffic. By the time you get to work -late- you are very stressed. The dogs can also experience a sequence of events that seriously affect their behavior.

If something happens, a dog gets sick or hurt, we will contact you as soon as possible. We work with animals who can’t tell us how they are feeling and can sometimes act unpredictable. Please make sure you read our service agreement. We wrote this to make clear from the start what your responsibilities are. Please share with us anything that you notice is out of the ordinary behavior for your dog. The care for your dog must be a partnership between you and our team.

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Dirk Broersma