The Dog Gurus can still remember one of the first American Boarding Kennel Association (ABKA) conventions Robin attended. She had been invited to speak about running a dog daycare and was sitting at a convention dinner with Susan Briggs and a few other ABKA members. At one point during dinner, someone asked for a show of hands of all those boarding facilities who offered off-leash play. We were in a room of several hundred people, and only about four of us raised our hands: Robin, Susan and two other people who were also sitting at their table. Twenty years ago, daycare was virtually unheard of and pet care facility owners rarely took dogs from different families and put them together. It was considered foolish and dangerous. (And let’s be honest…it can be dangerous and foolish if the right measures are not taken…those pet care operators weren’t wrong about that part!)
Fast forward a couple decades later and we find the pendulum has swung to the opposite direction. Not only are dog daycares and playgroups a common service in pet care facilities, they are often a big demand by the public. Dog parks have sprouted up everywhere and what seems foolish now is having a dog that can’t play off-leash. There is a tendency to think dogs are natural friends who will all get along together and it’s almost seen as a stigma to a dog owner to have a dog that can’t go to daycare.
Somewhere along the line, society, at least here in America, has completely embraced the concept of off-leash play. So much so, that it became expected for dogs to play off-leash. It became fashionable for dogs to go to daycare. It became a necessity for a dog owner to take their dog to the dog park. And if you couldn’t do those things, you were told to fix your dog, socialize your dog more, or spend money to train your dog. If that didn’t work, you were ashamed of your dog.
And you know who is suffering because of all this? Everyone. The dogs are suffering because many of them are put in situations where they are not happy. The owners are suffering because they are dealing with emotions of guilt and shame as they try to fix a problem that really isn’t a problem at all. And pet care centers who run excellent playgroups are suffering because every time they dismiss a dog who is not a good fit for their center they get a barrage of angry owners who think the pet center is biased or unfair.
The Dog Gurus want to help get the pendulum back in the center and we hope our members will help. We want to provide you with some great resources that you can use to educate owners about the environment of off-leash play. We’re working on a FAQ page covering dog socialization and off-leash play evaluations and overview of a good off-leash play environment and dog fit criteria. You can include these in your information packets, on your website, or give to owners when they have an evaluation. We will be providing these resources starting in August. So be sure to check your member only resources link to find them once they are available. (Oh yes…and of course if you’re not a member, this would be a great time to join).
In the meantime, please read a recent blog Robin wrote about this topic and don’t miss the comments left by dog owners. (check your members resource page as well…we’re providing our members a special PDF version of the blog to use in your facility).
The blog comments are encouraging because there are many dog owners who want the valuable information you are providing them during your evaluations. You will feel supported by the other daycare owners who understand the value of selecting only certain dogs for playgroup. But you will also see why the education is needed. So many dog owners are trying to do what society is telling them is right and you can help to set the record straight.
We strongly believe life can be better for all dogs when we work together to raise the bar of safety in off-leash play. That is our vision and our goal. We hope you’ll join us.