Pack Therapy/Healthy Play programme Information

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Pack Therapy / Healthy Play Programme

Welcome to Spirit Ridge's "Pack Therapy / Healthy Play" programme!  The popularity of this has continuously grown over the past year to the point that we are considering expanding our play therapy/healthy play days to Tuesdays and another (to be determined yet) weekday.    It seems that a day at Spirit Ridge with appropriately matched play mates, select quiet crate (nap) time, disciplined bathroom breaks and lots of fun supervised play time is good for them and they are better behaved and mannered when encountering other dogs and humans during walks.  Go figure!    

What are these sessions NOT?
These sessions are most definitely not intended to be "doggy daycare" sessions.  All too frequently I find that doggy daycare establishments are staffed by individuals who are not trainers or behavioural consultants.  As a result, there may be physical activity amongst the dogs but they do not have any structure in their play.  Moreover,  the supervisors are usually not trained to spot behaviours (such as bullying) that can leave a negative imprint in your dog's mind which could, over time, lead your dog to understand "play" as being synonymous with bullying OR becoming defensively aggressive, avoiding any kind of play altogether.

What can you expect from these sessions?
You can expect that your dog will be kept safe first and foremost.  Many of the dogs that come to these sessions are here because they need it.  Whether they are "shy", defensively aggressive with other dogs, lack confidence but not curiosity, they come to Spirit Ridge's pack therapy sessions to learn, first and foremost, to be a dog
A dog, not as us humans insist on treating them, but as their own kind treat them.  This is where learning "healthy" play is so critical.  Dogs communicate considerable information through healthy play and become more comfortable with their own kind.  The more in touch they are allowed to be with their own nature, the more content they are to follow our leadership and the more relaxed they are as they encounter other dogs on walks, in parks or simply around your neighbourhood.

Group picture from June 2016; From L to R (back) Stark (GSD), Melly (husky), Reuben (retriever X), Sage (GSD)
Middle row from L to R:  Ochi (our Malinois), Lily (all Canadian)
Front Row (L to R): Mister (all Canadian), Lulu (pug X) and Silka (all Canadian)

How are these sessions conducted?
For one, with EXTREME care.  Above all, safety precautions are observed.  When first starting out their visits to our play therapy sessions, they are carefully assessed before deciding on which dogs present are potential play mates.  In fact, if necessary, they may not physically interact with any dog initially.  They may be limited to observing and scenting the dogs that are playing by watching through their crate.  That crate is often placed in the very middle of the room so that they can't miss anything.  This is a two way street however, as the dogs playing will frequently come up to scent the crate and its occupant.  The objective of all this is for dogs to "know" each other even if they have not physically engaged yet.  The gradual and careful approach is the preferred approach.

As dogs get better at play - and some dogs will be good or get better at this - the groupings are increased to three, four or even all dogs present - if the situation and dogs allow that. The permanent "constant" in all these groupings is our own girl "Ochi" who is a master at healthy play and getting shy dogs to "have a go" with her!  Our newest addition at Spirit Ridge, Belgian sheepdog Ka-Pow (born July 6, 2016) is also learning not only how to 'properly' meet new dogs but also how to appropriately interact with older, mature dogs.  This will prepare him to assist our Ochi in our Play Therapy/Health Play programme.  An example of how we introduce our Ka-Pow to the other dogs (we typically work with clients' dogs the way we work with ours - we treat them the same) can be seen by clicking here.

In the picture below, "Ochi" (far right) joins "Migzy" and "Maci" in trying to get "Griffin" in one of our Play Therapy sessions.

Is this something that could help puppies with their socialization?
Spirit Ridge's Play Therapy session is ideally suited for puppy socialization.  We pay special attention to the younger ones since one has to be extremely careful to match puppies with stable adult dogs who know both how to play as well as teach the younger dogs "manners" a la doggy style.  This teaches puppies how to better communicate with other dogs and improves their doggy social skills - VERY valuable skills for adult dogs.

In addition, we make every effort to invite other puppies and their handlers to visit us on days that we host puppies.  This way puppies get to play with dogs roughly their own age as well as get exposed to many more of their own kind.

Do the dogs get any breaks?
Absolutely!  All dogs need a break from each other.  In fact, one of the main reasons for dog fights is TOO MUCH playing that can lead to fatigued dogs that get "lazy" and stop communicating healthy play.  This is, in turn, misinterpreted and squabbles can occur.  The best time for a break is before this occurs.  Dogs also have different cardiovascular capabilities; for example a pug will have a great deal less endurance for extended play than a malinois.  So, once again, matching is critical.  Dogs (and, especially, puppies) also need to re-generate.  Multiple shorter play sessions achieve more, in terms of fulfillment and mental fatigue, than fewer and longer sessions.  

Breaks are also a good time for proper crate training and being calm and fulfilled while resting quietly in a crate.  Handlers report back on increased crate manners resulting from our play therapy sessions which is an associated benefit.

Is there any difference between winter and summer seasons?
Absolutely!  In the summer, weather permits us to host play therapy sessions outdoors in our fenced-in secure pen areas.  When it rains, we do everything indoors.  In the winter, we have no choice but to hold our sessions in our heated/insulated training facility.

What is the cost of the PlayTherapy sessions?
The cost, for the day, is $50.  If there are additional services required (such as teaching the treadmill or training obedience), then the cost will need to be determined by mutual agreement.  

What are the drop off/pick up hours?
Drop off on Tuesdays starts at 7:30 AM (we can arrange for an earlier drop off time by mutual agreement).  Pick up is any time after 4:00PM but no later than 6:30PM in the winter months. (later pick up times can be arranged if necessary).  Pick up and drop off at your residence can also be arranged subject to mutual agreement at an additional cost and outside our regular pick up/drop off times.  There will be a delivery/pick surcharge depending on the geographic location.

If you require more information or would like to set up a free evaluation to determine your dog's suitability for this program at our facilities near Hillsburgh, Ontario, please call us at: (519) 855 6962 or send us an email.  

If you would like to watch a short video of a sample play therapy day at Spirit Ridge (note:  when the video was made, we were doing Play Therapy Wednesdays), please click here.

Jim Tsitanidis,
K9 Trainer & Behavioural Consultant

Spirit Ridge's "Ochi" (middle) is joined by Spirit Ridge's "Zorro" in coaxing shy "Maci" (L)             "Willo" (Border Terrier) taking a break from pack therapy/play session (summer 2013)


            Shy "Maci" (GSD, L) learning to hang out with the Spirit Ridge gang (break/nap time)                                            Spirit Ridge's "Ochi" playing with a relaxed "Migzy"

Three way play, "Ochi" (L) instigates and puppies "Marley" (M) and "Sage" (R) oblige

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