A kind stranger posted on Instagram asking, in effect, how we can go out in a big field and let dogs swim safety. Here is my blog post response, maybe more than anyone would want.
First of all, I have done videos showing snippets of the whole day. You can find more context here. You might want to look at this. The dog’s day at camp involves a romp, some group play at the barn, some small group downtime. This is back at the barn, not on a romp. This is back at the barn. This is on a romp. Here is a winter romp.
Eating alone, sometimes sleeping with a bunkmate, sometimes alone. Some of these activities are harder to record on video, or dark, or boring. The romp is bright, active, so I often feature these pictures on the blog and Instagram and stuff… but if you look, you’ll see inside too, and other areas closer to the barn which are also big and open and nice (the sandbox, the hay bales, the inside playground, the wash room, etc.).
The basic, classic “let the dogs out” Glencadia video is (also see the video on the front page of homepage of glencadia.com at the bottom), there is a lot of thought behind how to make that work. It looks like we just open the gate and it’s madness… no, not really. There is work before and after the madness to make that few seconds of explosive freedom possible.
At Glencadia, we have 20+ fenced acres. When we go to, for example, the big pond, there is another field to the south and yet another one to the north. To actually escape, a dog would have to get through a variety of fences, several. This wasn’t always the case but now, that’s how it is. So, step one is to build something that allows us to open the gate.
Before we go out, someone has to put away farm animals, check gates, round up the dogs into one or two areas, smaller areas, decide who can and cannot go on this particular romp (if we have two uncastrated males, we might take one, or none, or both, depending on a variety of factors, for example). We discuss the plan and get our materials in order. We check phones for space for pictures and so that we can text for help back at the barn. We’re almost ready to open the gate.
We go out for free play in a field with at least two people. There is always one more in reserve if something comes up. One person can handle a few dogs at once, but a big group requires more people. If two people, plus one back at the barn, can be out for two hours, then all the dogs get a good romp. If one person has to go with 5 at a time, then they all would only get a few minutes each.
It’s obviously safe because nothing has happened – knock wood – in many, many years. Knock wood again – we have not had the remotest least bit of a fight in more than, what, five years. The romp – the big group running free – is a couple hours of the day. The rest of the day they can still go inside and out all day long. They are still usually with other dogs. The context is different and the groups are different. We have, in this setting, with all these different fields, have gotten good at rolling with the dogs.
Like running out to the big field: some dogs who can be a bit bossy and aren’t perfect socially can come with us on a romp even when we feel they cannot (for personality reasons) hang out all day in a room and field with most or any other dogs. If we were out in the field for more than an hour, in some cases, a few might start to get back into their bullying behavior, so it’s time for some or all to go home. Or, when we open up every room in the barn and let them explore, they rarely seem to show any aggression at that time, as they like to explore. For awhile.
So one dog can be fine in one setting for an hour. Another dog would be fine in that setting forever. A some dogs are moody. There are dogs that can socialize only on their third day at camp, or only in the first week, then in the second week, they get bossy.
Some dogs don’t want to go in a big group to the pond. I have a feeling that they would like it if they could get over there, but they aren’t ready. When they are ready, they should go, even if they act a bit scared about it. We might bring them on a leash first time, then let them off in the field.
We don’t forget a dog when we go back. If we were losing one dog every time we went for a romp, by the end of the week we’d be out of dogs! They don’t run away or get lost. We can see them, for starters. They don’t fall in the water and can’t get out (they do sometimes fall in!). They don’t fight – shocking as it may be. It’s kind of a bit of an art I think, to know when they might fight, and who and when.
Also – no one asked this but it’s a damn difficult question – how do you get them all to go back when it’s time to go? The answer, as anyone with a dog knows, it that we never get them ALL to go back. There’s always the one who just will happily keep on playing.
The return trip is pretty funny and we don’t have it on video much – as we need everyone to be actually helping. One person grabs a treat bag and shakes it and runs back to the barn. That person keeps running as far as possible, through several doors, throwing treats at the end to slow them down. Someone back in the barn will shut a door behind the majority of the pack. Then another person brings the rest of the dogs not in the first group in another group following behind. Again, another door gets shut. We have to have a bunch of doors propped open and closers hiding behind some doors in advance. Places everyone! Ready! Go! Run home! No time to think! If we’re in a pack and running, they mostly stay in the group.
Usually, we get most of them with this. Someone always has to go back and get a few more, one or two might not get with the program. Then we start separating them back into their groups – size, age, etc. It takes time to set up a romp, and then to settle back afterward. We double-check that everyone is back and fine, and then on to the next activity.
I did a brief review of some lists of “how to” kind of posts about finding a dog boarding facility. Here are some examples: an article, another one, and I’m sure you can find more. Some seem to be written by people like me who are in the business and others by … I’m not sure who they are. I’ve been doing this for 15 years. Vern has been working here for 12 years and obviously my perspective would be based on this experience. It is likely that I think the way I do it is good or I wouldn’t do it the way I do.
In general, the tone of the high ranking posts in Google is that the world is as it should be and authorities in charge know what they are doing. None of the lists I found considered the possibility that some vets are very good at their job and some vets are not so good, for example. They really do vary quite a bit, so to rely on vets as infallible gods of information… is not a good idea, in my opinion.
Here are some quotes from these articles:
“Dogs should only be in groups of no more than two dogs.”
Obviously, I disagree. It is true a dog could attack another dog at any time. I have seen dog fights and have learned about what can happen. But people fight too. Sometimes a human who has been married to a spouse for years comes home and kills his long time companion. And when that happens, it’s news. Because in general, people don’t do that. You are talking to someone – buying at a store or saying hello on the street – and you don’t think, “This lady could just grab a stick and break my head open.” You don’t think about it because – why would she do that?
Dogs also don’t really just attack an old friend for no reason either. I guess if you put great, nice dogs together, in a couple, not a bunch, every ten thousand combos results in some news. But should we ban cohabitation because sometimes human companions kill each other? We’d all be lonely! Some people would go nuts. Dogs certainly do. They hate to be alone. They love company. Even the unsocial dogs – apparently unsocial dogs, not in the aggressive sense but in the shy sense – don’t go off and hide from the other dogs after a few days. Every dog wants to be at least in the vicinity of others if they can be. Shy dogs do want a friend too and we can find at least one!