Winter Activities to Keep Your Daycare Dogs Engaged
By Ashley Caywood
If you’re like many pet care facilities, the seasonal fluctuations in weather have a tremendous impact on the way your operations run. Where summer may mean long days spent outside enjoying sunshine and warm temperatures, winter may mean short days snowed in with quick trips outside, trying to avoid frost bitten fingers, toes and paws. And with shorter days, your puppy clients may be getting even less exercise at home than usual, which can make your job all the more challenging. But with some creative thinking, winter doesn’t have to be day after day of drab and dreary. Here are a few ideas for burning off those zoomies, even if you’re stuck inside.
Enrichment is a common word you hear being thrown around in the industry. So what do we mean when we say enrichment? We define enrichment as interaction that gives your pups the opportunity to exercise their brains in a way that inspires their natural doggy instincts.
Most of your pet parents want their dogs to come home tired from play. But we believe that’s not enough; it’s critical for each dog to have a balanced physical, social and emotional experience when they’re with us. As such, enrichment is an important part of a successful dog daycare setting all year round. But, in the wintertime it’s a particularly handy tool to have in your tool box.
If you haven’t introduced enrichment in a structured way to your facility, you should start by putting together a list of standard enrichment activities that are acceptable for use at your facility.
Activities we use include:
- Puzzle toys
- Obstacle courses using play/agility equipment
- Follow the leader games
Training each of your staff on how to properly utilize these activities is going to be key to their success in your facility. The more consistent an experience each pet can have from day to day and group to group, the more likely it is that you’re going to see results.
Giving your dogs the opportunity to exercise their brains as well as their bodies is going to do wonders in managing those winter zoomies. And, bonus? It will facilitate their bonds with your team as well.
One of the obvious things that makes winter a more challenging time of year to manage dog play is that space is often much more limited. It’s not unusual for a pet resort’s real estate to be heavily weighted in favor of outdoor space rather than indoor. When limited to playing inside, your space may be cut in half, or less.
An easy way to make the most of that indoor space is to build “up” with play equipment. Play equipment will take the otherwise stagnant space of an indoor environment and layer in another level of play and interaction. It opens up the possibility to working on movement, challenging pups to figure out how to use each piece of equipment and play new games that could not be played in a fixed, empty space.
You’re probably aware that there’s a wide variety of equipment—and price ranges—on the market specifically for doggy play environments. A pet care facility is a dynamic environment, and it’s smart (and cost effective!) to use equipment that can be configured into an endless array of options to suit the ever evolving needs of your business.
Arts & Crafts
A few times each year you’re bound to have one of those days—you know the type; everyone is snowed in and has a snow day or is working from home—except you, because your work never ends! But you’ll likely have a few doctors, nurses and emergency personnel who are so grateful that you remain open, even in inclement weather, to care for their dogs because they still have to be at work, too!
Have you ever considered an extra special art project for those special clients on a day like this? Admittedly, for most of us, it’s just not going to be a realistic option most days of the year when business is buzzing and attendance is high. However, on those days where the winter weather has most people hiding from the cold, why not take advantage of the downtime by throwing in a little extra something that’s sure to surprise and delight your human clients?
Here are a few fun ideas:
Dog Paw Print
This one is as easy as it sounds. Dip a paw in some non-toxic paint, stamp the print on a piece of high-quality, heavier stock paper, add the pup’s name and voila! For extra credit, try layering the print on top of some seasonally appropriate printed paper.
Paw Print Bouquet of Flowers
This takes the basic dog paw print to another level. Stamp the dog’s paw on a piece of paper a few times—these are going to be the blooms. Paint in some leaves and stems, and you’re as good as Georgia O’Keeffe!
Diy Doggy Scarf
Over the top? Yes. But will you get some giggles from surprised clients? Absolutely! Buy a few yards of cute printed fleece at your local craft store. Cut a long rectangular scarf shape based on the size of the dog. Cut a slit about 1/3 of the way from one of the short ends of the scarf. You’ll loop the other end of the scarf through this slit to help hold the scarf in place when the dog goes bounding out to show off his or her new look. Bonus points if the scarf is in your brand’s colors!
Are these art projects something you’ll want or be able to incorporate in the normal course of business? Probably not. But they are a fun way to demonstrate a little extra love and warmth on those few days of the year when you have the time to show off your creativity. And don’t forget to stamp your business’s logo on those masterpieces, as they’re likely to be hung on proud parents’ fridges all over town!
The days are short, but that doesn’t mean that winter fun has to be. With a little creativity, you can maintain those sunny summer vibes all year round.
Ashley Boucher is managing partner at Zolvy.com, empowering pet care entrepreneurs to take control of their business so they can continue to pursue their passion. Zolvy provides targeted solutions for the behind-the-scenes challenges facing business owners every day. In addition to her work with Zolvy, Ashley is founder and co-owner of Roscoe’s Bed + Bark in Portland, ME, the city’s first 24/7 supervised dog daycare, growing it to seven figure revenues in less than three years. Ashley holds an MBA in Entrepreneurship from Boston University.