Profiling vs. Risk Management In Dog Group PlayApril 12, 2016
I was having a conversation about dog group play with a friend of mine who runs an amazing pet care business here in California. I cannot say enough how much I respect this individual, enjoy speaking with him about our pet resort, and value his contributions to the pet care industry. Can you guess by this introduction that we have differing views on this issue?
Anyway, my friend (we’ll call him Bob to keep things simple) has decided as part of his risk management policy (i.e., avoiding conflicts in dog group play) that he is not going to allow the “strong breeds” (think Rottweiler or Pit Bulls) to participate in group play. These dogs are welcome to stay at his pet hotel, as long as they get along well with and let themselves be handled by staff, but they must participate in individual play and other single dog activities rather than group play. When he thinks about the risks of having these breeds in group play he has decided it’s simply not worth risking an incident that, due to the strength of these dogs, could/would be dangerous to both the other dogs in the group and his staff, not to mention the media backlash of something like this occurring on his watch.
Bob believes a big part of what his customers are paying for is to not worry about their dogs while they’re gone. He understands that the level of risk a pet parent might take with their own pet when it comes to public activities is more than that expected of third party care. Kind of like the old football saying, “the best offense is a good defense”.
I take a different approach to manage the risk of doggie group play at Pet Camp. I preach “we discriminate based on the dog not the breed” (o.k., I’m not even sure that is discrimination, but you get the idea). We often have Pit Bulls and Rottweilers in group play and have stopped all sorts of other dogs of varying breed types (as has Bob’s staff) from group play based on the individual behavior of the dog.
Like Bob, dogs that cannot participate in group play are still welcome to participate in private play, swim in our pool, taking training classes etc. I also take a different approach when it comes to my client’s worrying when I am taking care of their pets. I understand that pet parents will always worry at some level about their pets (just like parents of human kids always worry). What I tell them is that when their pet is with me, they are now paying me to worry for them. I think pet parents, like parents of human children, understand that when kids (2 legged and 4 legged) play together someone may skin a knee or get a scrape and that kids play with their hands (paws) and sometimes their teeth (though human kids are discouraged from that even more than 4 legged kids). I don’t believe that our counselors are putting their pets at a level of risk that the pet parent is not comfortable with; no pet parent is ever required to have their dog participate in group play, and we always respect a request for a specific play experience. Moreover, in San Francisco, most dogs are exposed to all breeds of dogs while taking a walk or visiting one of our dog parks, and I know that we control our play groups better than the laissez-faire attitude on the streets and at the dog parks of San Francisco.
So is one of us right? Am I taking an unnecessary risk by allowing these breeds into group play or is Bob profiling an entire group of breeds under the umbrella of risk management? As a pet parent in addition to running an overnight and day care facility, I understand that there are inherent risks anytime 2 dogs get together. I’ve seen plenty of problems at San Francisco’s dog parks when dogs are brought together either by pet parents or dog walkers. Sure, I know that the Pet Camp counselors undergo extensive training to supervise group play (as I’m sure that Bob’s do as well), but I also hope that we’ve done a good enough job educating our clients that even with the best training, sometimes things will happen. Trust me, this is not an excuse for when things happen. But maybe Bob is right; how upset would you or any other pet parent be if their pet was hurt by one of these “strong breed” dogs while playing? Do we as owners’ of pet care facilities have an obligation to do everything possible to avoid such harm even if it means banning an entire breed or breeds of dogs?
What do you think? What advice would you give to Bob or myself?
Thanks for reading.