Field of Dreams Doggie Day School provides a nurturing environment for pets
Individual attention, structured activities, playtime, naptime, cubbies for personal belongings, informal diagnostic testing, daily progress reports. It sounds like the ideal place to leave your child for the day. In fact, according to the staff at Vinton’s Field of Dreams Doggie Day School, it’s the perfect place for your dog.
Located on Jackson Avenue near downtown Vinton, Doggie Day School has been in operation since March 14, 2011. Owner Karen Hough initially opened Field of Dreams in the location to teach agility and pet manners. The pet day care grew out of that enterprise.
Hough rents the property from Wayne Dunman, who has encouraged her to renovate the building and property to suit her needs both for the agility and manners training and for the day school.
Hough moved to Roanoke in 1989 from Houston. When she wanted a well-trained dog, she was unable to find classes locally; so she co-founded Star City Canine Training Club and began training dogs herself.
Teaching dog training classes eventually led to working as Director of Training at the St. Francis Service Dog Foundation, where dogs are taught to assist people with disabilities.
Working there led her to establish Field of Dreams dog training services, using the St. Francis facility in North Roanoke. Once her business took off, she needed her own space and decided to relocate to Vinton.
Hough considers herself to be a very lucky person, spending her days doing what she loves, albeit very busy days. She hired Eric Berg to supervise the Doggie Day School while she keeps up with the rest of the business.
Berg talks about dogs like other people talk about children, about their different personalities and traits, how they interact with one another, and how they respond to adults.
He, too, considers himself fortunate to spend his days doing something he enjoys.
“Every day is different because the mix of dogs is always changing and the daily activities must be adapted to that mix,” says Berg.
Hough and Berg became acquainted when he brought his dog to her for agility training. They share the same philosophy about how to train dogs—with treats, praise, and loving attention. Treats are not just food; for some dogs, toys and interactive games are the treats of choice.
Doggie Day School is not your run of the mill doggie day care. Their program does not resemble a dog park where dogs run around at will.
Clients fill out applications to attend. Dogs are eased into their new environment, just like children experiencing separation anxiety. At first they interact only with the staff, not with other dogs. They are given time to become acclimated to the everyday routine before becoming an active part of it. They may go several visits without any dog to dog interaction.
Once they are comfortable in the day school environment, the dogs join the regular routine. Dogs spend a minimal amount of time crated each day, mainly for rest and relaxation between activities.
The dogs play individually with a trainer at least once each day. They have yard play time twice a day, and go on several walks. There is structured learning time individually and with other dogs, who are grouped according to size, temperament, energy level, and level of socialization. They do obedience exercises and work on tricks.
Dogs only work and play in groups under close supervision, and there are never more than five dogs in a group. Dogs are never left alone together. There are always at least two staff members at the school. Doggie Day School has three part-time employees, Cathy Hawkins, Connie Cole, and Lucy Hough, the owner’s daughter, who works during breaks from school.
Berg frequently uses his own Brittany Spaniel to teach the other dogs.
“We never jeopardize one customer’s dog with another customer’s dog,” says Berg.
Dogs learn the basics of good manners, like not jumping on people or other dogs, not pulling on leashes, not barking incessantly. They sometimes attend the dog training classes Hough is teaching in another part of the building.
Field of Dreams believes the old adage that “a tired dog is a good dog.” Their goal is for dogs to go home to their owners ready to relax and wind-down from a day of activity. They send dogs home ready to cuddle.
Daily progress reports detail the dog’s activities, and help owners reinforce new skills at home. Employees sometimes have informal sessions to demonstrate skills the dogs have learned like loose-leash walking which owners have been unable to master on their own.
In the beginning, Doggie Day School clients were generally Field of Dreams agility training dogs. Now they get many clients from word of mouth, as well as advertising online and at local dog events. Some dogs come to them by referrals from veterinarians, sometimes for specific problems the dog is experiencing.
Currently, Doggie Day School accommodates from 15-18 dogs per day. Eventually they hope to be able to expand to 35-40 dogs, but they are growing slowly in order to maintain the personal touch.
There is no typical dog owner at Doggie Day School. Some are full-time workers; some are retired; some just need a break from a high energy dog. Many are local, and others come from as far away as Catawba, Eagle Rock, and Smith Mountain Lake.
The dogs come in all varieties, too—from a three pound Maltese to a 180 pound Great Dane. Most dogs attend on a part-time basis.
Field of Dreams Doggie Day School is open from 7 am to 7 pm Monday through Friday. Hough made the decision to operate only during the regular work week because she is often teaching classes and attending agility events on weekends, as is Berg.
Dogs do not spend the night. Hough says she has never wanted to own a boarding kennel.
“I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night from worrying,” she says.
For now, Hough is satisfied watching the steady growth of Doggie Day School, and being able to provide for her clients the three most basic needs of dogs—exercise, discipline, and affection, in a program based on patience, consistency, and positive reward-based training.
Field of Dreams maintains a website with information on their programs and tips for dog owners at www.fieldofdreamsk9.com.
By Debbie Adams