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A Day at Positive Playcare

For our cageless overnight boarders and any of our daycare clientele who are early risers, our Positive Playcare day begins promptly at 7AM. (Please ask about arrangements for earlier daycare drops.)

As the dogs arrive for the day the energy level in the room soars and the romping, running and wrestling begins. As each dog enters the room, they are typically greeted with a rousing chorus of bays, howls and barks. Dogs greet their old friends and sniff out new ones. Even our older dogs make the social rounds, although a bit more sedately.

In the early hours, chase games, King or Queen of the Slide, wrestling piles and five-dog tug of wars abound. Clusters of dogs gather to see who can out yap whom. For the quieter souls in the bunch, there are plenty of places to stay out of the fray, but for most of the morning, the middle of the play floor is awash in dog energy.

During this early period of the day, great care is taken to reinforce the positive bond between each individual dog and each individual Playcare Manager. Our Playcare Managers also make the social rounds. They make sure they greet, praise and pet every arrival. Connecting with each and every dog one on one is an essential part of their job.

Safe, happy dogs are our first concern! This is where supervision by our Playcare Manager comes in. Our Playcare Managers are carefully trained to help the dogs play energetically but without getting out of control.

Our methods are neither complex nor are they trade secrets. It is the consistency of the Playcare Managers' positive behavior that makes this system work. Part of that consistency is that the positive treatment starts long before we need to correct a dog. It is using positive methods whenever it is necessary to break up a playing pair, slow down a game of chase or encourage a major instigator to settle down. With a strong positive obedience bond in place with a dog, often all we need to do to stop or redirect that dog's behavior is to just call the dog by name in a warm voice, tell it to come and then lavish a good petting on the dog when they do.

We don't use dominance. Dominance does not work well in a cageless daycare setting. Dominance shuts down the dogs emotionally and they don't play freely. When dominance is used the benefits of a day in daycare are largely lost. On tougher-minded dogs, dominance can even set a dog on edge and lead to a break-out of aggressive behavior.

Positive Playcare is at work throughout the day. All day long we encounter a broad range of both good and not-so-good behaviors, probably just like you do at home. Dogs are, after all, creatures of impulse. Positive Playcare works to reinforce the good impulses, like appropriate play, and to dampen the not-so-good impulses. An example of a good impulse is when a dog that has a barking habit engages in play without barking. When we see that good impulse, we will reward the dog with petting and praise. An example of a not-so-good impulse is jumping up to seek attention. When a dog jumps up to seek a Playcare Manager's attention, the Manager will deprive the dog of the attention by turning away from the dog. Over time, because of consistency and duration, the dog turns to the behaviors we want because it gets them a positive response from us and away from the ones we don't want.

As the morning progresses, the energy level begins to fall off as the dogs tucker out. Dogs meander over to their favorite spots. Some hang out at the water buckets. Some lay in the plastic easy chairs, others perch atop a slide. Some lay in the sun spots the windows cast on the floor.

This is another important time for the Playcare Managers. Tired dogs are less impulsive. They are more able to return the Playcare Manager's one-on-one attention. Playcare Managers use this time to pet, praise and positively interact with individual dogs. The time the Playcare Manager invests in cultivating the positive bond with each and every dog in these quieted moments pays us huge dividends. It results in our dogs being happier, healthier, more manageable and gives them an incredible sense of comfort and belonging.

Late morning gives way to Nap time, our rest period from 12 noon to 2PM. By noon, if we have done our job well, the dogs are tuckered out and need some time to relax and recharge. We put on soothing music. Enya, Ray Charles, Placido Domingo, Harry Connick and Native American flute are the current favorites. Those dogs that prefer resting in crates are taken to the Nap room. For the dogs that don't crate, we use our moveable fencing system to break the room into smaller segments and distribute the dogs so that they rest more comfortably. The lights are dimmed and the members of the staff sit quietly in the playroom. If the presence of the staffer seems to make the dogs restive the staff will move to just outside the Playroom watching through a mirrored window or over the open top section of a dutch door.

After nap time, at 2 PM, the dogs go into high gear again. Without the nap they would be cranky. Having had the nap they are bursting again with energy. The play is nearly as intense as the opening of the day. Having tired themselves out in the morning, however, the afternoon intensity doesn't last as long. It is about an hour to an hour and a half.

When you pick up your dog from Positive Playcare, either daycare or boarding, you will be greeted by a happy, contented friend who has been mentally and physically stimulated and rewarded for appropriate behaviors throughout the day.

By 3:30 to 4PM, the level of activity tends to drift down. Dogs begin to slip away from the play in the middle of the room to their favorite friends and favorite spots or to the side of their favorite Playcare Manager. Once again the staff tries to use this time to connect with individual dogs and enrich their bond.

The Playcare Managers also keep an eye out for the dogs that still have unspent energy. It is our goal to make sure that each dog is happily tired and appropriately exercised for each dog's level of stamina. The Playcare Managers make a decision at this point in the day whether to up the tempo of the music and activity of the entire room, to play ball with a cadre of the most active or to set up a play pair or small play group that are encouraged to romp or wrestle in a smaller area off the main play floor.

The end of the day is greeted with as much enthusiasm as the first moments of the play day. Lots of dogs seem to grab a buddy for a last chance game of chase or wrestling match. They have a reserve of energy they seemed to have saved up just for these final moments. The departure of each dog is accompanied by chorus of howled-out goodbyes. Like us, the dogs watching their best friends leave are sorry to see them go.

The day in Positive Playcare almost always includes a huge burst of excitement and affection when the dog greets their parent in out lobby. It is part their way of saying "thank you for letting me have so much fun" and part pure joy at being reunited. And a little bit of happiness that their favorite spot to lie down at home is not too far away.

We hope, and we believe, that the greatest benefit from a day in Positive Playcare for both you and your dog actually comes long after your dog has left Your Dog's Best Friends. We believe it occurs in the quiet, warm, quality time that you and your happily tired best friend get to share at home that night.

Positive Playcare really does make a difference.