It's one of the first questions any potential customer asks us, and in my opinion, the most important thing we can do to ensure that stress levels are kept to a minimum. Exercise.
But I often wonder whether customers really think about the logistics of exercising 20 dogs every day. It's quite a challenge.
Dogs are born with a need to work. Most breeds came about with a particular use in mind, be it herding, hunting, or protection. This drive is always present, and it's strong. So this is why exercise and mental stimulation is important. A sedentary lifestyle is not good for their health or their mental state. Often, devoid of exercise, a dog will turn to destructive or 'naughty' behaviours, in order to satisfy their needs.
Mila showing off her natural herding instincts
Where the kennels are concerned, this need for exercise and stimulation becomes even more important. Each dog is away from their families, perhaps feeling a little worried, and although here each kennel is above the standard size and has it's own outside run, it is still a comparatively small space when they usually have a whole house to roam in. This is why, in many kennels, you are greeted by a barrage of manic barking and dogs pacing the floors. They're full of stress and pent up energy and it has to come out somehow. Of course, a kennels full of stressed out dogs is the last thing we want. Therefore we really need do to make their playtime count.
However, running a kennels and caring for so many dogs places some big constraints on us. In an ideal world we would have twice as many staff and a few acres of secure land, as well as a couple of extra hours in the day! But alas, we have to run a business and work with what we have - which at the moment is a kennels that is only half built. In the (hopefully near) future, there are plans for a secure outside play area and to fence and drain the woodlands so it can be walked through with the dogs, but at the present, we only have the daycare building and a small outside paddock to work with, and for insurance purposes, we can't exercise the dogs off the premises. So, faced with very limited exercise facilities, how do we do it?
Well, our big secret is... socialisation. We let the dogs exercise each other! This came about by necessity at first. Think about it - twenty dogs in fourteen kennels. If each kennel was exercised separately for one hour per day, that equals fourteen hours of work! and don't forget we also have to clean the kennels two or three times each day, feed the dogs twice, answer the phone and e-mails, and speak to our customers. It just wasn't possible.
Socialisation is an excellent way to exercise the dogs
So, we began to exercise some of the dogs together in groups, assessing their temperaments first using our own dogs to make sure that they were friendly. The dogs loved it. Meeting and greeting new friends is excellent mental stimulation, and once they are confident with each other, playing, chasing and wrestling is excellent exercise. This is an efficient use of our time, and means that the dogs get sufficient and stimulating exercise and go back to their kennels after a couple of hours, tired and satisfied.
Exercising most of the dogs together also means that any dogs who are not friendly with others, get more individual playtime, as we have more time spare to give them. These dogs are usually exercised on a different routine, or in the paddock, away from the other dogs. We make sure they get plenty of human company, we let them play with toys, play fetch, and wear them out that way.
Some dogs prefer to sit on the sofa rather than run around or wrestle!
Each dog's exercise needs are different. Some are highly strung and energetic, and these types perhaps stay out longer or get brought out to exercise a few times a day. Others, especially old dogs, may not want to run around and burn off energy, but prefer to pootle round and have a sniff, and then sit on someone's knee having their ears scratched. We have to be sensitive to each dog's needs to ensure that their exercise time is pleasurable.
Another added benefit to exercising the dogs sufficiently, is that they all toilet whilst they are out. Actually, the first hour of playtime is often spent cleaning up everyone's poo! But as long as they're doing it whilst they're out, it means they're not doing it in the kennels and messing up their sleeping environment.
As a result of placing such importance on the issue of exercise, the kennels environment here at Woodland View is a pleasant one. Minimal barking, cleaner, more relaxed. The dog's stress is reduced, they eat better, they sleep better, they are happier - and happy dogs are the secret to a successful kennels!