A Simplified Approach To Doggie Daycare
The human-animal bond is an amazing thing, especially in a time of crisis. Dogs and humans can find comfort in each other’s presence.
However, as humans, we do have a lot of influence on our canine companions. Studies have shown that a dog's emotional bond with an owner can be so strong that dogs can take on their owner's stress.
Michael Gould, CEO and founder of Long Island-based Hounds Town USA, explains that human interference and domestication in general also have significant influence on a dog's behavior.
“It’s important for people to understand how their movements are affecting dogs,” said Gould.
At Hounds Town USA, an interactive doggie day care facility that offers overnight boarding and a pet spa facility, dogs are put in packs or groups to socialize with one another away from human intervention.
“Dogs come, we do what we call a temperament evaluation to make sure the dogs are relatively social, we match them with dogs that are a similar age, have a similar personality and are around the same size," said Gould.
Once dogs have been evaluated and placed in a pack, staff members leave them to their own devices to socialize and play with each other. Monitoring the dogs’ behavior with through a camera, coming in and out to clean up messes and taking the occasional photo or video of a dog playing to share with owners is the only time humans interact with the dogs. Effectively, the staff lets dogs be dogs.
According to Gould, dogs often feel pressured to conform to the domesticated world. While humans may view their pet as human-like, in how they care for them and how they expect them to act, dogs are animals living in a human's world. By pairing similar dogs together in a pack that mimics a natural one, Hounds Town USA aims to take some of that domestic pressure off of pets and allow them to tap into their primal instincts.
“There is a soft science behind [doggie daycare],” said Gould. “I tell my staff, this is so simple you’re probably going to have a hard time doing it.”
Gould has been studying dogs for practically half a century—growing up in New York City he was interested in how dogs and humans interact with their environment. He would watch any kind of animal, such as a pigeon or cat, he came in contact with in Brooklyn or Queens.
Due to his interest in animals, when he joined the New York City Police Department (NYPD), he was immediately drawn to the idea of working in a K9 unit. He became a founding member of the NYPD K9 Unit when it formed in 1982 as a pilot program and went on to become the department’s canine training officer.
“How we train police dog handlers [is to] learn to read your dog and trust your dog,” said Gould. “It sounds simple—but it’s at the core of everything we do now.”
Since it was founded two decades ago, Hounds Town USA has welcomed over 1.5 million dogs across its 11 open locations in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia. The business welcomes all dog breeds and 30 percent of the playroom population is what some people might consider “bully breeds.” The average age of the pack population mostly consists of dogs from four months old up to five years, and packs usually consist of around 10-15 dogs at a time.
According to Gould, "we always say the customer is always right—but it’s never the human—it’s always the dog. The dog is always right."