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I would like to talk about the purpose of a business and of our business. Of course a business is there to make money. Bills need to be paid, staff needs to be paid, so without enough revenue, the doors will close very quickly. But there is another purpose, that makes us excited about our work, that gives our work meaning. For us, it is the love we have for the dogs. We want to make sure they are happy and healthy.

We have learned so much over the years about dog behavior, personality types dog specific behavior. Myself, I have been working with dogs for over twenty years. In upcoming newsletters I would like to share some of the things I learned. Of course we all have a dog and we think a dog is a dog, but our expectations are often not realistic and we seem to forget that dogs have emotions.

We all think dogs should behave a certain way and do certain things. And if they don’t, they’re a bad dog, an aggressive dog, and they have to be ‘fixed’. Some popular tv shows have really created the notion that behavior can be ‘fixed’, when in reality, behavior is suppressed and the underlying cause is not addressed. Dogs have to be friendly to everyone, they have to be comfortable in any situation, be there when we need them and settle down when we don’t need them. Is that fair?

A client was mortified, when out on a walk, a child came up unexpectedly and hugged their dog. The owner knew that the dog wasn’t comfortable around children. Dogs don’t particularly like to be hugged like humans do. For them there are none of the warm emotions a hug can create in humans. Instead, for them it is a rude behavior that is constricting them and can be very uncomfortable. If the dog had snapped or bit the child, the dog would have been blamed, even though he was expressing his discomforted. Of course we don’t want dogs to bite children, but the dog was put in a difficult situation. He doesn’t know we have laws about dog bites. He’s just a dog and understands the world from a dog’s perspective.

Another client was asked by a stranger if their grandchild could pet his dog. The owner knew his dog wasn’t comfortable around children, so he declined, but then was berated by this stranger. It’s okay to not allow your dog to be petted. You are your dog’s advocate. Do you want to be petted or touched by strangers?

Before we even try to address the underlying cause of the behavior, you have to be your dog’s advocate and don’t put him in situations that set him up for failure or that can have serious consequences for your dog and/or bystanders.

We at A Walk in the park take into account the emotions dogs might feel when they come to us and when we take care of them. When the Covid pandemic forced us to close the lobby, and we started curbside service we noticed that the dogs were off to a much better start. They were much more relaxed coming in than if they were all waiting in the lobby, next to their owner, with a bunch of other dogs and owners next to them,. How do you feel when you step into a crowded elevator? That was how the dogs were feeling. Therefore, curbside drop off is here to stay, simply because it benefits the dogs.

New dogs arriving in a playgroup causes high arousal. all the dogs want to know who this new dog is. Arousal and stress are related. Kids that are super excited about going to the amusement park experience stress, we call it ‘good stress’, but it is stress. The body releases stress hormones, which energize the body but also leads us to make poor decisions. Because we noticed this high arousal, we decided that dogs needed a time where they could calm down and not be exposed to this stress. We therefore decided to close the lobby between 10AM and 2PM and the results have been phenomenal, both for the dogs and the staff.

So while this might affect the convenience of our clients, we felt the benefits far outweighs the inconvenience. Please respect this period of time, we will not receive dogs or let them be picked up. If there is an emergency, there is an additional $50 service fee if you need to bring or pick up your dog during this block of time. If you are calling us during this time, please leave a voicemail. We will get back to you after 2PM

We also require regular attendance. You see, dogs have very little control over their lives. They are so dependent on us and we make the decisions for them as to what happens when, when they get fed, when they go outside, when we go somewhere like the park. Try to imagine what it would be like if you had no control over your own life. Now there are certain things we have to do, we have to go to work because we need an income, we have to put gas in the car or it will stall. But when it all becomes too much, we can take a break and take care of ourselves and do something that relaxes us or gives us joy. What do the dogs have?

We had a big issue with dogs that would only come occasionally. I will discuss stages of development that dogs go through in a future newsletter, since most people are not familiar with this. Your dog changes over time and his needs changes as he grows up. But dogs have little control over what happens when, including when they are coming to the ranch. If they only come once or twice a year, it can be quite scary for the dog, because they are not really familiar with us. And we are not really familiar with your dog, so it can be hard to tell if something is unusual about your dog’s behavior.

We require dogs to attend a minimum of twice a month. If it has been more than a month since your dog’s last visit, we need to schedule a half day to get your dog back into the swing of things. If it has been more than three months, we need a formal reassessment, which last 4 hours. If it has been more than 6 months, we need to start the sign up process as if you were a new client.

We have developed our own process to screen new clients and dogs for our program. We want to make sure that the new dog has a good start at our facility and that he enjoys the other dogs and his time on the ranch. But we also want to know prospective clients, to make sure that their needs and what we offer, are a good match. We want to know the dogs we care for and be able to cater to their needs. Some people just need someone to watch their dog on occasion when they are busy and are not really interested in how their dog is doing and our requirements are a bother to them. In that case, our philosophies don’t match, and that is okay. There are other facilities that could service their needs better.

Which brings me to the final topic of this newsletter: language and attitude. I believe everything affects everything and what happens to us as staff affects the dogs. Dogs are keen observers and know exactly what we are feeling. If we are stressed, it affects their behavior. Confrontational language and rude behaviors affect all of us. We are people, doing the best we can. We are passionate about what we do, we care. Language can be hurtful, and to protect my staff, we have a client code of conduct policy. We can discuss things, we do our best to make things right, but certain language we will not tolerate and we will end the relationship if there is no resolution.

Going back to our client onboarding process, a prospective client signed up, but then didn’t like the process, which is fine, we are not the right service for him. But instead of just ending it there, he felt the need to insult and berate us. That affects my staff, it affects how their day is going. We have great clients, and the amount of support I got in the last month after I suffered the loss of my lifer partner was absolutely heart warming. Everyone can have a bad day, but please be aware that we are people and we have feelings.

We do all these things so we can fulfill our purpose as A Walk in the Park. We are learning every day so our policies will change if we feel there is room for improvement. We also want to keep the dialogue going with our clients, so we understand their needs and what things look like from their perspective. We want the dogs to be comfortable and to be able to be themselves and we want owners to have a good relationship with their dogs. There is so much to learn. Stay curious, my friends!

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Dirk Broersma