Dogs that jump, dogs that hump, dogs that are reactive, dogs that are inactive, dogs that are stressed (and stress us out). Sound familiar?
What if you could create a pipeline of balanced, confident and relaxed dogs that are a perfect fit for your facility’s group play, lodging and spa programs? You can!
By adding a puppy program to your facility, you will be able to build your perfect client.
Risk vs Reward
There is a magical window for socialization in puppies from three weeks to 16 weeks of age. Their brains are biologically wired to absorb the world as it is thrown at them. As Terry Ryan puts it in her book Coaching People to Train Their Dogs, “The window of temporary open-mindedness is too important to ignore.”1
Puppies in this developmental stage assume everything that we show them and expect of them is normal. That loud noise, the funky texture, and your expectation of behavior are all accepted and even expected by adult dogs if they were exposed to it during this explosive learning stage in their lives.
Some vets, breeders and rescue groups still recommend restricting social interactions until the puppy has completed his full rounds of vaccinations, which generally puts him well outside of this key socialization period. Yes, there is a risk as diseases such as distemper, parvo, parainfluenza, etc. are real and have not yet been eradicated; however, we can reduce the risk through our operations and capitalize on the overwhelming benefits that early socialization provides.
According to the ASPCA, over six million pets enter the shelter system each year. Of that number, sadly almost one million are euthanized. It would be safe to say that a large portion of those that were not adoptable had unwanted or possibly dangerous behavioral issues which stemmed from a lack of socialization and training. With proper protocols, the potential risk is greatly overshadowed by the benefits.
Your facility is the perfect place for structured socialization! All the other of-age guests are required to have full and complete vaccinations, and your cleaning protocols are already in place to prevent transmission. I bet you have a few areas that you could separate off to create designated puppy zones.
Your puppies will need only three things to get started: a place to potty, a place to nap and a place to train. Setting up a simple X-pen yard for potty time helps you control elimination areas and reduce the possibility for fomite transmission points. A manager’s office or even a staff breakroom is a great place to set up a few crates for naptime. The activity and traffic levels are low in these areas, making cleaning, disinfecting, and maintaining a sterile environment for naps and training a snap.
As the puppy advances and is ready to explore and learn more, set up your operations for the puppies to be the first in the yards or in the training rooms after these areas have been routinely disinfected.
If you are the token facility pessimist like I tend to be, take an extra minute prior to each training session, potty walk and nap time to wipe the puppy’s paws thoroughly with a pet wipe. Have puppy-specific toys and equipment, and with a shift or two of barriers you can easily accommodate for segregation.
The goal is to set the puppy and your team up for success. Give parameters for qualified puppy candidates, such as expecting each of those enrolled to start the program between nine and 12 weeks of age. If they are outside of this time period, we find those pets are better suited to start more traditional training classes once all rounds of vaccines are completed.
At a minimum, each parent needs to commit to a 20-day course, dropping their pup off daily (Monday through Friday) for four consecutive weeks. The program is designed to track and grow puppies within their socialization bubble. The best candidates start at nine weeks and complete the full 40-day program. If they are outside of this stage in their lives, the program will not be as effective.
There are so many things in the world to share with these young minds, including sounds, textures, interactions (human and canine) and environment. Every day there should be structured interactions for each puppy, such as:
- Two short obedience sessions (5-10 minutes) covering manners and core cues
- An individual play session, which is just that—fun play with a new human
- Extra potty walks to encourage and support potty training
- Socialization with other dogs (This progresses from hearing and smelling a dog from a distance, to relaxing near the dog and then finally interacting over time with a dog.)
- Exposure to noises, weird textures, impulse control, nail trimming, coat brushing and more!
These activities do not require a seasoned trainer to complete. Even with a quick YouTube tutorial, there will be people on your team who can execute these core topics. The assigned team member reads the daily itinerary, works on the core behaviors outlined and initials when completed.
The magic of puppies at this time in their lives—no matter the breed—is that they will follow similar rates of advancement. For example, on day five, we work on “sit” without a lure, “down,” sitting at barriers, “place,” “leave it,” and can play and recall within a group of other puppies consistently without breed constrictions or homework completion.
At the end of our 20-day program, each puppy records and submits their “Novice Trick Dog” video which is from Kyra Sundance’s Do More With Your Dog.2 At the end of the 40-day program, they complete their “Intermediate Trick Dog” submission. This creates tangible results; a certificate in the pet parent’s hands and a video of performance of 15 to 30 “tricks.”
These graduates are solid pups, ready to smoothly integrate into our group-play program. They strut into the building like they own the place, but they do so in a calm and obedient manner. These puppies are easy to lodge, fall asleep during grooms and place their paws in our hands for nail trims. They become your dream clients!
The client and the dog are the real ones to benefit. The parent gains a relaxed and enjoyable family member that they can take with them to the home improvement store and out to brunch at the local dog-friendly restaurant, and the dog will never be a statistic for the ASPCA; they have been given the tools to become amazing canine citizens.
The lifetime value that puppy clients bring to your business and the lifetime of success that those puppies and their family achieve greatly outweigh the risks of starting a puppy program!