Friday, March 31, 2006

Doggie Daycare

Dogs need interactions with other dogs to be mentally healthy. But, traditional dog kennels don't offer the necessary services. This causes problems...

Dog owners have had to fork out £47 million in vets' bills for injuries and illnesses picked up by their pooches while inside kennels, a survey shows.

Shocking conditions in Britain's kennels have left one in eight dogs needing treatment after their stay, resulting in an average bill of £156.56, according to the poll.

A fifth of dog owners (19 per cent) said their pets' kennels were dirty; another fifth (20 per cent) felt their hounds had not been exercised enough; and a quarter (26 per cent) said staff had not shown the mutts enough attention.

The poll by Direct Line Pet Insurance revealed that 46 per cent of Britain's 5.4 million dogs have had a stay in a boarding kennel - and 12 per cent of these had to be taken to the vet afterwards.

More than one in ten (12 per cent) contracted an illness and 4 per cent suffered an injury while inside.

Most owners who used kennels did so when they went on holiday (93 per cent), with 72 per cent saying they could not leave the pet with friends or family and 47 per cent saying they wanted their pet to be looked after by professionals.

When I was a kid, I remember going to the zoo to see the big cats. They were all in a room, pacing on a concrete slab surrounded by metal bars. I learned many years later, as an adult, that this kind of environment made the wild animals go insane. They couldn't breed, they had emotional problems, and they died young. Today, when we go to the zoo, we see habitats for the animals, they are given activities, and they are given outlets for their natural hunting and social needs. The old style zoo is mostly a thing of the past in modern, Western nations.

Similarly, I think the day of the traditional boarding kennel is coming to an end. Newer style boarding, which is run more like a doggie daycare, is going to become the norm. In doggie daycares the dogs interact and play, are supervised 100% of the time, and planned activities and training are offered. The dogs don’t spend as many hours locked in a pen, unless they are unruly or unsafe with the other dogs or staff.

On the other hand, some of the problems listed in the linked article above aren't preventable. If dogs play, they will get sports injuries just like we will. Some of these injuries are surely a result of couch potato dogs being given the exercise they lack at home. The cleanliness of the kennels is also something that has to be examined. To me, that means relatively disease free open areas, and regularly cleaned indoor areas. But, if the dogs are running around on dirt or grass, then they will get “dirty”, but that isn’t unhealthy for a dog. In addition, more play with dogs is good for them, not less play. The interactions with other dogs rubs off some of the rough spots in the dog’s playing and greeting behaviors, and it helps to prevent dysfunctional, stress related behavioral problems at home. Infections and diseases? Dogs will get sick if they have never been exposed to other dogs in a normal environment. The immune system is stronger if it is challenged from time to time, according to many of the new studies coming out about infectious diseases (do a study on the "hygeine theory" of disease). Lastly, doggie daycares are safer alternatives to off leash parks. You can’t control the mix of dogs that show up at an off leash park, whereas a professionally managed doggie daycare has staff to do just that.

I am the Head Trainer, doing group and private lessons at a doggie daycare called Paws To Play, in Scottsdale, AZ. You can see the benefits to the dogs when they get to work around other dogs. I even tell my private lesson customers to enroll their dogs at the doggie daycare there to supplement the training their dogs are getting at home. At the doggie daycare, dogs get human supervision, play time, training is offered to the customers if they want their dogs worked while they are away, feeding, exercise, and rest time. The dogs get to mix with a wide variety of other dogs, and you can learn quite a bit about your dog if you spend time watching your dog interact with other dogs. That kind of information can then be used to help deal with behavioral problems you are encountering at home. Soon, I will also be offering Agility and Rally classes, too, just to give the dogs additional activities and ways to exercise their pack needs.

There is no substitute for dogs interacting, exercising, eating and doing group tasks naturally with other dogs. It helps “balance” them, as Cesar Milan, the “Dog Whisperer” would say. And I agree. Yes, there are risks, but there are also compensating balances. On the other hand, it isn’t good for dogs to be locked up in cages or buildings for days on end, which is how most professional kennels manage the dogs they board there, and also how most people house their dogs when they are away at work. A properly run doggie daycare program will be good for your dog, and good for your relationship with your dog.

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