Dog Day-trips: A Better Way to Pass the Day

Casey, a Standard Poodle, was sitting at home during the day, growing bored and restless. After a while, he started to act out. His owner, Kimberley Montgomery, works full-time, so she contacted a dog day-trip company called Paws 2 Go. Now, says Montgomery, “Casey goes on a walk every weekday with the wonderful girls of Paws 2 Go and he adores them all! He is always eager to go see his furry friends and his human ones too.” At the end of the day, Montgomery often finds him “stretched out on the foyer floor,” happily resting after his busy day.

Montgomery and many other pet owners are discovering the benefits of companies that offer dog day-trips. Sometimes the excursions are simple park visits, while other trips may take your dog on beach getaways, island jaunts and more. The common factor is that dogs go out supervised and safe, with the basic goals being activity, social stimulation and fun for your four-legged pal.

Day Trips All Year Long
Depending on the season, Casey’s fun-filled day trips can vary. “In the winter, the dogs hike through the woods, run, jump, and roll in the snow, while in the summer, they hike through the creeks, swim, chase sticks and have a great time with the other dogs,” says Maria Kechichian of the Toronto-based Paws 2 Go.

At Club Happy Dog in Pacific Palisades, Calif., “pooches are picked up from home to enjoy jaunts to local mountain trails, lakes for duck chases and swims, parks for romps and runs, or beaches for splashing in the tides and digging to China,” says owner Donni Adams. “Compared to a cruise around the block with a dog walker, each outing includes exciting destinations over a longer timespan plus safe play with regular canine friends.”

Dog day-trip services are located all over the globe now, so your location can help to determine the types of trips. For example, the canine clients of Houndog: Daycare and Daytrips -- based in Brisbane, Australia -- might go to islands, wetlands, nature reserves and even on bush walks, according to owners Angela and Leah O’Meara. Their dogs go “to some of the most exciting, scenic, dog-friendly spots around.”

How the Services Work
Although each business operates differently, many offer door-to-door service. At Club Happy Dog, the team operates a fleet of canine-ready vans and SUVs. “Clients are encouraged to help with the first pickup to reassure their dog,” says Adams. “After that, it’s wise to stay out of their path because the dogs can’t barrel in fast enough to get wherever they’re going that day!”

In most cases, you don’t accompany your dog. At Paws 2 Go, a free consultation for you and your dog is offered before you sign up. “We require a collar, leash (non-retractable) and, most of the time, a house key if the owner will not be home for the pickup and drop-offs,” says Kechichian. “We provide water on the outings so that the dogs remain hydrated throughout the day.”

At Club Happy Dog, canines must be at least 4 1/2 months old, fixed if over 6 months old, healthy, current on vaccines, on a flea/tick prevention program, and “friendly with other dogs and people.” The O’Mearas echo that last point, since their Houndog canine clients must be friendly and social.

Expect to pay between $35 and $60 per dog for a day trip. Some places offer discounts if the owner has more than one dog participating.

Benefits of Dog Day-trips
In addition to improving social skills, your dog will likely gain the following by going on day trips:

  • Exercise Our “No. 1 priority is to exercise the dogs,” say the O’Mearas. Adds Kechichian: “We specialize in providing your dog with an exercise routine that is uniquely structured to create balance and harmony in your dog and, consequently, within your household.”
  • Behavioral Training Adams points out that shy dogs can “gain the confidence and assurance for learning to play with others.” Kechichian believes that the dogs she works with receive training to “behave respectfully with other dogs, big and small, thereby eliminating any future behavioral issues.”
  • Education Since each and every experience is unique, dogs are exposed to new companions, places, sights and smells with every trip.

Most important, your dog will probably have the time of his or her life. For example, Marla Ceresne Black, a Paws 2 Go customer, says her dog “Sami waits by the window every Tuesday and Thursday, waiting to be picked up, and can’t wait to get out the door!” The outings have, she says, “enhanced my dog’s happiness.”

A Boarding Kennel Checklist

Playing with friends, watching TV, lounging on a comfy cot and eating well were all on Jinx’s “to do” list. Jinx, a beautiful Norwegian Elkhound, enjoyed these activities and more at a boarding kennel while his owners were on vacation. Their good planning turned the oft-dreaded kennel situation into a doggy vaycay.

Jinx’s human mom, Lisa Peterson, chief spokesperson for the American Kennel Club, knew precisely how to plan for her dogs’ boarding. A little diligence on your part can help your dog enjoy his or her kennel experience too, agrees Nikki Ianni of the Humane Society of the United States. Here are their tips on finding dog boarding facilities -- and what to do once the big day arrives.

How to Find a Good Boarding Kennel
A simple online or phone book search for a boarding kennel provides no assurance of quality. Since the health of your dog is at stake, it’s best to rely upon trusted word of mouth.

Another reliable resource is the Pet Care Services Association, a Colorado-based nonprofit “dedicated to the betterment of the Boarding Kennels Industry.” Member facilities agree to uphold the PCSA Bill of Rights for Boarded Pets and the PCSA Code of Ethical Conduct. Both of these statements provide owners with a pledge of quality care for your pet.

Your veterinarian might also be a tremendous resource. “Boarding kennels often work with vets in the area,” explains Peterson. This tactic is doubly useful, since your vet can recommend not only a kennel, but also any vaccinations your dog requires before the stay.

What to Do When Researching a Kennel
Once you’ve selected one or more kennels, be sure to visit them in person. The Humane Society urges you note the following:

  • Cleanliness
  • Amount of light and ventilation
  • Temperature
  • Spaciousness
  • Expertise and consideration of staff
  • Available services

If the facility has cats, make sure they’re housed away from dogs. And even if the business caters exclusively to dogs, Peterson advises to ask if they’re kept in separate areas based on age. “Geriatric dogs, in particular, tend to be more sensitive, requiring their own quiet area,” says Peterson.

Preparation Before Your Dog’s Stay
Both Peterson and the Humane Society recommend arranging a “test visit” to the kennel. “This is a half- or whole-day visit, just to see how your dog reacts there and without you,” explains Peterson. “Issues such as separation anxiety can crop up at this time.” That’s important, as some dogs simply don’t handle boarding well: They stop eating, bark incessantly, pant or exhibit other signs of stress. In those extreme cases, you’re better off hiring a pet sitter.

Assuming your dog is fine after the test run, you can begin other preparations. At this point, you should have already ensured your dog has had your vet’s OK, as well as the necessary vaccinations. If your dog is “a bit stinky and dirty,” Peterson says it’s best to bathe your pet beforehand (although many boarding kennels can take care of cleaning and grooming).

Also determine what goodies to leave with your pet. Some owners provide the kennel with the dog’s kibble, while others rely upon the food the kennel provides. Even if you opt for the latter option, advises Peterson, “It helps to bring some of your dog’s regular food, so that your pet can easily transition from it to the new diet.” Also pack your dog’s favorite things, such as his bed and toys that require little to no supervision.

On the Big Day and throughout Your Dog’s Visit
When you drop off your dog, try not to get too upset. “A lot of owners cry or otherwise make a scene in front of the dog, which could affect how your pet feels about the situation,” cautions Peterson. “Instead, make it a happy thing.” Good kennels usually have one or more cheery staff members on hand to welcome your dog.

Many kennels permit you to keep in touch with your pet throughout the stay -- from daily calls to 24/7 webcam monitoring. After the visit, when you’re ready to pick up your dog, boarding kennels often provide a “report card” discussing how he fared. This can help you focus on any problem areas before next year’s vacation -- and the need for doggy boarding -- comes along.

Save a Life With the Right Dog Car Restraint

Did you know that an unrestrained 80-pound dog in a car crash at only 30 mph would exert approximately 2,400 pounds of force? “It can turn the dog into a missile that could seriously hurt not only him, but also you and your passengers,” says Nancy White, a spokeswoman for AAA, which partners with pet manufacturer Kurgo in an annual survey about dogs in vehicles.

This is just one of many reasons why dogs and driving don’t often go together -- unless you take appropriate precautions before hitting the road, including the proper dog car restraint.

Dogs in Cars: The Rules About Dog Car Restraints
Federal laws don’t really cover issues that pertain to pets and vehicles, says White. And states are usually not able to properly enforce regulations -- if they even exist. As a result, dogs in cars are frequently a free-for-all, with 84 percent of survey respondents in 2011 saying they bring their pets on trips but do not use a restraint. The No. 1 reason why? “My dog is calm and I do not think he/she needs a restraint.” Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed admitted they never even considered getting a restraint.

As a result, many of us have seen disasters waiting to happen: The dog hanging outside of a rolled-down car window, a pup running from side to side in the backseat, a lap dog snoozing in the driver’s lap, and unrestrained dogs moving around in the back of a pickup truck. “A friend’s dog actually jumped out of an open car window while the vehicle was moving,” says Heather Hunter, public relations manager for AAA. “The owner chased the dog down in traffic,” says Hunter. Thankfully, both the owner and the pet reunited unscathed, but they took terrible risks.

Dogs Can Distract Drivers
When we think of distracted drivers, most of us consider cell phone usage, notes White. As a result, lawmakers have taken steps to curb calls and texts in cars. But what about people who drive with dogs? Last summer’s AAA/Kurgo survey found that respondents engage in the following activities:

  • 52 percent pet their dog as they drive
  • 23 percent use their hands/arms to restrict the dog’s movement or to hold the dog in place when braking
  • 19 percent use their hands/arms to keep their dog from climbing from the back seat to the front seat
  • 18 percent reach into the back seat to interact with the dog
  • 17 percent allow the dog to sit in their laps or to otherwise be held while driving

“For every two seconds that you take your eyes off the road, your chances of experiencing a crash double,” says White.

Car Trips: Use Dog Car Restraints and Travel Safely

Certainly, it’s OK to bring your dog along on trips. That’s a necessity in some cases, such as veterinary visits. But you needn’t leave your dog behind on fun adventures if you take these steps:

  • Restrain your dog in vehicles. “Safeguard your dog just as you would a child,” says White. “They should ride restrained in the back seat.”
  • Research proper dog car restraints. The restraint is your choice, based on your particular dog. Hunter, who has two Labrador Retrievers, advises that smaller dogs be placed in a crate. (Crates require a lot of room, so larger ones often won’t fit well in vehicles.) Other restraints include harnesses, seat belts and vehicle seats that are designed for dogs. Check with your veterinarian and local pet store to see which one might be best for your dog. White says harnesses can make it easier to get heavy dogs into the car.
  • Limit window access. If you must roll down the window(s), do so just a crack so that your dog cannot stick any part of its body, even the tip of its snout, through the window. “I know it sounds un-fun, but restrained dogs should not be right at the window,” says White.

“We take our dogs with us a lot when we travel,” says Hunter, “but we always use harnesses for them.” When other AAA staff with dogs (and many have beloved canines at home) read the survey results and saw some of the data about crashes, they too purchased dog car restraints. And if you have a car-happy kitty, note that many companies make restraints for cats too.


Send Your Kid to Dog Training Camp

Have you considered sending your child or other young relative to a dog training summer camp? If not, camp attendee Justin might sway your decision. He attended Camp ARF in California last year and had a blast playing with, training and otherwise helping his assigned dog, a homeless stray named Bali that was up for adoption. Justin had the time of his life, and a week after camp ended, Bali -- a little one-eyed Chihuahua that no one previously wanted to adopt -- found his forever home.

“Shortly after the program ended, Justin came back to visit us and announced that he wanted to learn more about training dogs,” says Bobbe Bartlett, development director at Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation, which runs Camp ARF. “The camp helps so many.”

Kid-friendly dog training camps and classes are popping up all over the country, so Justin’s positive review is one of thousands. Here’s what you can expect from such camps.

Dog Training Camps -- by Day and Night
Depending on the camp, either day sessions or overnight stays are offered. At Camp ARF, attendees spend the day at the camp in Walnut Creek, Calif., and then go home every evening. At some other camps, such as Summer Camp for Kids and Dogs at Shadow Hill Farm and Kennel in Jackson Springs, N.C., kids participate in three-day overnight visits, which can be extended. The cost at either type of camp is comparable to other summer programs for kids.

“Some kids stay for one or more weeks,” says Jane Hammett Bright, owner and operator of Shadow Hill. “I offer a reduced rate if they want to stay for extra weeks. Some kids do dog shows on the weekends and come back or stay over.”

From Doggy Dancing to Veterinary Training
Activities widely vary at dog training camps, again depending on the particular camp and the target age level. Camp ARF currently offers summer camps for multiple age groups, says Bartlett. For example, a special Vet Camp gives fourth- and fifth-graders a thorough look at what it takes to be a veterinarian. “Students observe a live spay/neuter surgery in ARF’s clinic, work in teams on real-life animal case studies, analyze X-rays, examine slides under the microscope, practice suture and injection techniques, and perform basic pet first aid,” says Bartlett.

Justin went through Camp ARF’s Junior Dog Trainer program for young teens. “Each camper was assigned their own ARF dog for the week and learned about reward-based dog training, why it is so important for pet dogs and how to get the best results,” says Bartlett. “At the end of the week, campers showed off their hard work at our graduation talent show. Most importantly, the participants gave these dogs a paw up on finding their forever home!”

Dog Training Camp: A Week Your Child Will Never Forget
At Shadow Hill, participants wake up at 6 a.m. to a delicious breakfast. “Our meals are incredible, with fresh-off-the-farm ingredients and no processed foods,” says Hammett Bright. “A lot of kids come home and their parents are shocked at how fit, toned and healthy their children look. Staying busy, getting enough rest and eating right is the reason.”

Shadow Hill campers can bring their own dogs, which they take to agility training at 6:30 a.m. From then on, a typical day might include tracking or herding training, a refreshing swim to give the dogs and kids a break, and nighttime games designed to promote further learning and good social interaction. A few tips:

  • Dog training camps for kids are very popular, so be sure to make arrangements well in advance.
  • Take time to thoroughly read each camp’s website or written materials to understand the rules and regulations.
  • If your child can bring the family dog, its temperament “is the most important factor,” according to Hammett Bright. “Your dog has to be friendly. He or she can be shy, but not aggressive toward strangers.” In fact, shy dogs tend to leave the camp “much happier and confident,” she says.
Dog training camps can provide a good time for all, but they might also set your child off on a lifelong rewarding career or hobby. A future veterinarian could emerge from Camp ARF, and several dog training champions have emerged from Shadow Hill. “We had a kid from Singapore who stayed for two weeks,” says Hammett Bright. “We’ve now learned that he has a champion dog for his age group in Singapore, so we are very proud about how our camp can make a positive difference in the lives of both kids and dogs.”

How to Plan a First-class Puppy Playgroup

You are your puppy’s best friend, but he wants and needs doggy buddies too. It’s perfectly natural and appeals to his pack instinct. And so a puppy playgroup is the perfect place for this socialization to take place.

Your puppy’s social development from 6 to 14 weeks of age is critical for his growth as a well-rounded, happy dog, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). During this time, positive experiences with other dogs can reduce the likelihood of fearful behaviors, such as aggression and phobias later in your dog’s life.

Find Play Opportunities
So, how do you go about finding the perfect puppy playgroup? “I love this topic. I counsel clients with puppies about how to find a good play match, or two or three, for their puppy,” says Amy Robinson of Florida-based Amy Robinson Dog Training. “You need look no further than your neighborhood or your local dog park to find playmates for your puppy. You’re bound to find other young dogs playing with each other.”

“Observe their body language. You’ll see the dominant dogs put their heads over another dog’s back. You’ll see submissive dogs flip onto their backs, and you’ll see other dogs mouthing each other and running side by side. These are the type of playmates you want for your pup, offering the real give-and-take of play.”

Robinson also says to not rule out friends and neighbors who have a kindly, patient adult dog. Adult dogs can help teach social skills and the give-and-take of play to a younger dog.

Look for Organized Puppy Playgroups
If you want your pet to join a more organized playgroup, look for a group that meets indoors and includes puppies of a similar size and age, advises Dr. Emily Patterson-Kane, an animal psychologist at the AVMA. Check with your veterinarian for recommendations. “Veterinarians have some training and oversight that can give you more confidence in making this decision,” says Patterson-Kane. “I also encourage anyone interested in joining or starting a playgroup to first educate themselves about socialization, immunization and dog behavior.” The AVMA offers guidelines and advice.

Not sure where to start? Check out these resources for finding or starting a puppy playgroup:

  • Your veterinarian’s office
  • Your neighborhood or local dog park
  • Dog training schools and clubs
  • Humane associations
  • Breed clubs
  • Doggie day cares and pet resorts
  • PetSmart and other pet stores that offer training services
  • Your groomer’s shop
  • Facebook and Twitter

Whether you join a puppy playgroup or start your own, our experts advise you to be present, aware and involved. It’s your precious pup, so if it doesn’t feel right, you should find another group. In general, a professionally managed playgroup is more organized and safer than an informal gathering.

Look for a puppy playgroup that has no more than 15 dogs, so your pet doesn’t feel overwhelmed. Make sure interactions are supervised by a human group leader to make sure smaller dogs don’t get “pancaked” by larger dogs. Take into consideration your dog’s age and stamina. Young puppies will mentally and physically tire out more quickly than adolescent dogs. If your puppy is pooped, it’s time to pull the plug.

You can avoid many play-related injuries by simply keeping dogs on leashes until they can be trusted to safely interact with each other. And it’s critical that your dog and all the other puppies in the playgroup are vaccinated against disease and wormed according to a veterinarian’s schedule.

Your pup will really enjoy becoming part of a puppy playgroup. Connect with the right group by doing your homework first, and then let the fun begin!