Percy’s Playground: The Exception Not the Rule
Profile of Success
By Kathy Hosler
Photos by Ryan Brix
“Our story is a bit different from many others,” says Rachel Brix, owner/operator of Percy’s Playground. We are the Ozarks’ only canine enrichment center. We offer dog daycare and boarding, but without playgroups. Instead, we focus on individualized dog/human interaction, enrichment, and client education.”
The approach Rachel and her husband, Ryan, use is dog-centered and caters to a dog’s mental, physical, emotional and instinctual needs.
Their dream of opening a canine enrichment center became a reality when Rachel and Ryan purchased a veterinary complex in Eagle Rock, Missouri. In December 2018 they began renovations to the facility and property. They started by fencing in 10,000 sq. ft. of three separate outdoor areas, and also installed security fencing around the perimeter of the entire property.
The complex had an existing 2,100 sq. ft. office building and a 1,200 sq. ft. kennel building. Rachel and Ryan planned to live onsite, so part of the facility was remodeled into their living quarters. The veterinary exam rooms were converted into roomy, 85 sq. ft. indoor suites and the kennel building became a cozy canine bunkhouse that has traditional indoor/outdoor housing. Each dog gets a 60 sq. ft. bunk area with a 100 sq. ft. outdoor patio. All of the overnight accommodations are spacious and comfortable so the time the pups spend in them is more like being at home rather than being in a cage or cubicle.
“Our two main goals, enrichment and education, are key components in ensuring a happy and successful stay for our canine guests,” says Ryan. “Our dog Percy, a husky mix who we named our facility after, did not care for other dogs at all. She taught us a tremendous amount about enrichment and how it can solve many behavior problems.”
“Initially some pet parents questioned why we didn’t do playgroups,” says Rachel. “But once they see how much their dogs love and benefit from the enrichment experience they receive when they are here, the owners are thrilled.
“Playgroups can be great, but not all dogs are social, and many don’t do well in groups. Some dogs are dog tolerant, others are dog selective, and still others are dog reactive. So, that excludes a lot of dogs from having a good time in a traditional daycare group setting.
“Dogs have so many diverse needs,” Rachel continues. “That’s why we wanted to be a different kind of facility. Dogs love human interaction. Even when they are in a playgroup, some dogs want to interact with the people and not so much with other dogs.”
“The dogs enjoy plenty of indoor and outdoor activities such as digging in sand, doing agility, scent work, forage for food, play with flirt pole, etc.,” says Ryan. “When dogs receive one-on-one human interaction, we discover what they like to do. It is really quite fun to see dogs come out of their shell.
“It is immeasurably gratifying to have the pet parents see how their dogs respond to our approach. We can show them how to incorporate these enrichment activities into their dog’s daily routine which will improve their dog’s quality of life and their relationship with the owner.
“We have a Fear Free, force free approach to everything we do,” Ryan adds. “Everyone we add to our staff must adhere to our policy.”
Rachel is a CPDT-KA (Canine Professional Dog Trainer–Knowledge Assessed) and a Fear Free Certified Trainer. From the beginning, training services have made up a huge portion of their business.
“Training is a process, not an event,” says Rachel emphatically. “Dogs are constantly learning regardless of their age or breed. Our approach to training is strictly positive reinforcement—no pain, no fear, no force, no way. We want to improve the quality of the dog’s life, and the owner’s too, by adding enrichment along with training. We involve the pet parents in the training to enable them to continue at home the procedures we work on here. Successful training is all about consistency and repetition.”
Group classes can provide needed socialization, but Rachel prefers to do one-on-one training sessions with the owner and pet. In a group class, there is a lot less flexibility to be able to work on specific issues that may arise for different pets in a class.
“Being small allows us to be very invested in how the dogs do here,” Ryan says. “We are in our third year now and we know what we do is working. We establish really good rapport and bond with the dogs and the pet parents. They love the human enrichment and interaction and the one-on-one time Rachel and I spend with them.”
Their website, www.percysplayground.com, was built and is maintained by Rachel’s dad and brother. In this age of less contact, it is vital to have all the forms, facility requirements and details about their training, boarding and enrichment programs readily available online. The user-friendly website makes it easy for people to find them and see all they have to offer.
“Our Facebook presence is also a huge part of our business,” Rachel says. “People are on their computers so much. It enables us to highlight aspects of our business that are really cool, and showcase our canine guests. The owners love our posts and training tips and share them with their family and friends. That gets the word out for us too.”
A 30-second Facebook video can give viewers a personal glimpse of what the facility is like and the kinds of activities they offer at Percy’s Playground. One of the videos shows Ryan playing his guitar for the pets. As he strolls from room to room, the pets are all content; no panting, no barking, no pacing. Happy pets are the best advertising in the world. Percy’s Playground has carved out a special niche and their clients have really embraced their unique approach to dog care.
Ryan always takes lots of pictures of the canine guests throughout their stay and then sends them to the pet parents. The owners go wild over the adorable personality photos and the breathtaking action shots he is able to get. That has led to an unexpected business opportunity. Now, people want to have the pictures made into posters, canvases, digital prints, calendars, mugs, etc.
“We love everything we do and we’re excited for the future,” share Rachel and Ryan. “We work really hard, but we believe in what we are doing and we see the results. It’s totally worth it.”
Their hard work is certainly paying off. Percy’s Playground has already reached the point where they need to erect a new building to keep up with client demand.
“This year we are going to expand and are also going to add a Fear Free certified groomer to our staff,” says Rachel.
Then she adds with a warm, wide smile, “Of course, we are going to continue to be the exception, not the rule!”