In this instalment of ‘Behind the scenes at DD’ we are going to take a look at playtime.
Whenever we advertise for staff on Facebook, we always get some bloody muppet saying ‘Oh I’d love to work there, it must be nice to walk all those dogs, and roll in the grass playing with them all day’.
Trust me, those folks never get asked for interview.......
The truth is, playtime is a time of fun and frolics FOR THE DOGS but for us, it’s an incredibly managed part of our day and is handled very very carefully to ensure there is no trouble.
I always tell potential clients that we basically run a ‘playground with knives’ involving up to 35 different beings who can all run 30 miles an hour with ease and who have very sharp teeth. Thus, we need to be absolutely on our game for the morning walk, especially.
No way could we run and catch a dog who’s behaving like an a$$hole (come on, have you seen me? Every time I speed up my belly beats my eyebrows to death!).......and to be honest, very very few people could.
And no one should.
Because at this stage in our human development we should know enough to control such situations using our brains.
At 9.30 in the morning, all of the new arrivals will be in and by 9.45 we close entry to anyone not in by then, so if you’re late because you stopped off at Starbucks, too bad, you lost your chance.
We have to start morning runs by then you see, and we never EVER open the gates once any of the dogs are out for exercise, as it only takes one to slip through-and trust me some of them are slippery little suckers- and then a tragedy would occur.
We have never had this happen and don’t plan to!
We carefully evaluate the mood of the new arrivals...even dogs we have known for years can be ‘off’ or too frisky or not up to a massive jaunt...just like us, they have different moods and feelings and some days might not fit a group that we had planned for them.
For instance, Big Max would rarely be a fit for Charlie in a group, Big Jake is always a bit wary of Hoss (well, he IS a bit of a douche, Hoss, after all😂) and Reese doesn’t suffer fools gladly.......none of them would fight but they are still not a fit personality wise, so we orchestrate a group where each of them feels comfortable and has friends they are comfortable with.
Just like you go to a cocktail party and see some guy pontificating on the joy of steam trains and go as far away as possible, so your dog has relationship preferences.
Social coupling for dogs is rarely based on size, although most daycare and boarding facilities organize groups this way.
I always scratch my head at that......so like, because I’m fat, I can’t have a best friend whos 97 pounds wringing wet for fear I’ll squash her? Ridiculous!
Rarely do dogs disagree over size, in the main, their issues are personality related and so that’s how we choose the groups.
We never put slow, painful seniors with ridiculously fast puppies with no social graces. When I’m feeling creaky I want to bark at most people zooming past me with no thought to my spatial needs, and dogs are no different.
We never put bossy, yappy dogs with super sensitive, easily dominated big dogs, it wouldn’t end well for the big dog, would it?
We never put very young puppies who are still finding their way in the world with dogs who have few social graces. Instead we find a mentor dog, someone older, balanced, kind and calm, and put the puppy in that playgroup.
Just as with children, where you carefully pick little Johnny’s playmates, and swerve playtime with little Michael (whose parents think he can do no wrong but you just KNOW he’s the next Jeffrey Dahmer), our dogs can pick up bad habits from their playmates. And if they play with them often enough, those annoying habits become ingrained behaviors.
So that’s why we work so diligently to pair the right dog with the right dog, ensuring this is going to be a fun, productive and shaping experience for your pup.
Looks easy on the photos doesn’t it?
We make it look that way because we are simply magnificent at this!🤣
So, back to how it all pans out......all the dogs are in for the day, gates are shut and late arrivals have been flipped the finger and told to bugger off (I was just going to put a laughing emoji and then realized I’ve actually done that too many times for it to be a joke, Kris and Jeannie are SO much better behaved than I .......) all the new arrivals are out in the field or on one side of the yard, depending on their ability to mix from the get-go, and now it’s time to start bringing dogs out.
One of the reasons we insist on dogs being in on time, is that we will never ever bring one dog into a group of many.
If your dog is joining us for that day, he is going to come in, go through to the big field and have a supervised sniff around with the other newbies while we continue to bring dogs through the gate.
Once everyone’s in and the driveway is empty, we then decide who is going where; some will go down to Dingly Dell, others will be in the field.
It all depends on mobility, drive (the pointers, brittany spaniels, labs and hounds love the Dell because of all the sh*t they can hunt and try to kill) and play needs. The ones who love to run and run and run like the wind tend to use the field more.
Dogs who were already here are let out very slowly room by room and integrated into their respective playgroup........and then.......they’re OFF!!
Out into the open, the morning run is the best time to see and experience the beauty of a dog being a dog.
The wide arc run of Remy Eggers, who hits the field at a million miles an hour in a wide sweep counter clockwise skimming all four corners is a thing of beauty.
Or there’s the delightful KC Lowrie, who shuffles out at a very respectable pace for her almost 12 years, sniffs the air, has half a go at keeping up with the young ‘uns whom she adores to be with, then settles down to a ladylike plod around the perimeter.
Or how about Prince the pointer, who comes in, takes off into the woods, tries to climb trees, dig swimming pools and we don’t see him again -well, maybe just his tail and nether regions as he flies past- until the 90 minutes is up and everyone’s piling back inside.
It truly is a delightful time of day.
We humans keep moving mostly, but even that is a very choreographed affair.
When we have new dogs who are human-fearful in the pack, our movements are slow and deliberate. Fearful dogs need time to assess new situations, they have to be calm to process information coming at them. If we were to crouch down and get on their level like you see so many people do with fearful dogs, that has taken away a very valuable opportunity for the dog to really ‘see’ you.
Fearful dogs prefer a good 12 foot distance while they observe you and really read your body language, then, if it is they who close that gap and not the other way round, you have greatly short circuited the whole trust building process.
Uber confident dogs require us to be more masterful in our movements....shoulders back, head and eyes forward, sure footed and deliberate in our steps. This simple measure lets the dog know that we are confident, able to lead and the added height of shoulders back sends a very subtle but powerful message that all the dogs see and understand.
Dogs are incredibly visual, they are always looking for cues, and this is a big one in a pack situation.
We walk around the field, into the woods, up to Lookout mountain, where the family of chipmunks who live under the shed provide hours of amusement, always counting our pack numbers as we go, to make sure we know where everyone is.
The greatest gift of the morning run is the near silence, broken only by the rich panting sounds of happy dogs, eager to see what’s round the corner.
Ninety minutes of fun and frolics (less for the oldies, the less able, or during the excruciating heat of the summer) and then it’s off to nap on a couch or chair inside after a long cool drink at the watering hole.
Rest is just as important as exercise, so we insist on a good couple of hours before the next session at lunchtime, which is a little shorter in duration and maybe a little more sedate. Most of the time......
I hope this gives you an idea of what we do and how we do it.
If you have any questions, or are wondering if your dog might be able to join our program, please feel free to comment below, or even better, email us direct and we will discuss this with you.