Playmates Help Keep Pets Healthy


Play dates, doggie gyms and dance classes are hot for pampered pets


By Sandy Robins contributor

updated 9:01 a.m. PT, Fri., Oct . 28, 2005


Like many Americans, Diana and Pat Grannan of Irvine, Calif., lead a busy life. Their schedule gets even more hectic after they’ve penciled in numerous play dates and social activities for their two Border Collies, Ramsay and Maggie.

Apart from hanging out and chasing balls with neighborhood friends, the energetic dogs have regular afternoon play arrangements with their Maltese “friend” Murphy and a fluffy white bundle named Snowy.

Every evening the canine twosome meet up with their “best friend” and neighbor, a German Shepherd named Russel, and go for a long walk with their pet parents on the nature trail in their neighborhood.

And on Sundays, the two dogs and Pat Grannan drive for more than an hour to Valley Center in San Diego County for a weekly sheep-herding class. The classes are designed to hone the dogs’ inherent herding instincts and burn off lots of typical sheepdog energy.

“They have a very active social life,” says Grannan. “They know when it’s Sunday and time to go sheep-herding. It’s like a trip to Disneyland and a visit to Baskin-Robbins rolled into one.”

Play dates for pets?

Absolutely. Pets are no longer simply stay-at-home creatures. Apart from daily shopping trips and visits to the hair salon, many pooches and kitties also are treated to specialized classes, workouts at doggie gyms and regular visits with same-species friends.

Boosts bonding
Outings include killing time with their human owners at pet-friendly spots like Starbucks, dining alfresco at numerous accommodating restaurants and going on hiking trips, outings to the beach or to “Yappy Hour” socials (wine for the humans and flavored waters for their four-legged friends). Some pets spend time at the office and many meet up with other pets at family functions.

Bonding with their furry friends has key benefits, experts say.

“Play dates are extremely important for the social development of dogs and cats,” says behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, head of the behavior clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Grafton, Mass. “It’s important to arrange social exchanges from a very early age; 3 to 12 weeks in dogs; 2 to 7 weeks in cats.”

Some pets who have not been properly socialized from the get-go may not always appreciate company and cats, of course, have preferred associates.

“I consider play dates for well-socialized pets an excellent lifestyle enrichment strategy, especially for single pets,” says Dodman. “Specialized classes like sheep-herding, agility classes and even freestyle dancing not only give dogs a job to do but are a wonderful way to initiate bonding with its owner.”

My Dog and Me in Houston is the canine version of Mommy and Me and can best be described as a doggie gym and training center. A cafe is provided where owners can bring their own lunch or dinner (city ordinances don’t allow the space to serve food) and spend time with other people and their pets.

There’s even a big screen TV and, yes, the dogs are allowed on the couches.

“The focus is on owners spending time and working with their dogs, not dropping them off so someone else can play with them,” says owner Loralei Zwitt. “Besides being fun for the dogs, it is a great way for people to connect.”

The facility also has a custom-built agility course catering to all dogs, including seniors, giants, toys, and less athletic dogs.

“We are looking at adding some fitness programs which would include a lap pool, treadmills, even doga classes (doggy yoga),” says Zwitt. “And we are talking about adding some human equipment so that owners can work out while their dogs work out, too.”

Day spas, dress-ups
For working pet parents, doggy daycare is a viable way of pets socializing with one another.

“They definitely form friendships,” says Michelle Rivera owner of Chateau Marmutt in Los Angeles.

For example, there are bosom buddies Oreo and Eve, two mutts that come to Rivera’s facility every day.

“They wait for one another in the morning and play together sometimes to the total exclusion of other dogs,” says Rivera.

Canine couturier Kara Kono of Miami is not only friends with Tiffany Quail and her cousin Jamie Quail, but the threesome’s dogs — Rizzo, a miniature Pomeranian; Lucy, a Yorkshire Terrier; and Lhasa Apso Bosco — are also best friends.

Once a month they schedule a day spa for the dogs, including a shampoo, massage, bows, bandanas and nail ‘pawlish.’

“They also like to hang out together in our local dog park,” says Kono. “They are always together and wear the latest fashions.”

Then there’s Lorin Grow, owner of the Furry Face Café and Boutiki in Redlands, Calif., who organizes doggy socials every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings between 5.00 p.m. and 7.00 p.m.

Grow serves freshly baked, low-fat doggy cookies and flavored waters like vanilla, carob and raspberry. The pups are allowed to frolic under the watchful eye of two puppy nannies.

“Their favorite game is ‘It,’” explains Grow. “Whoever has the toy is ‘It.’ All the dogs run around to grab the toy and then they become ‘It.’”

Invitations addressed to the dogs are sent out for special monthly events like a Bone Yard Treasure Hunt. The pets are allowed to bring their human friends, too.


‘Social event of the season’
Canine event organizer Justin Rudd of Belmont Shore, Calif. agrees that its good for dogs to interact with one another. Presenting opportunities for pet lovers to get out and socialize with their dogs is the main impetus behind his organization Haute Dogs.

“Howl’oween is the doggie social event of the season,” says Rudd. “We do Yappy Hour before the parade. It includes games and contests like bobbing for howl’oweenies and there’s always a Bulldog-kissing booth.”

Rudd’s Bulldog Rosie likes to hang out at the dog beach, frolicking in the surf with her pooch pals.

“I don’t plan personal play dates for her,” says Rudd. “Confidentially, I tell her that the huge parades, contests and parties I plan for all dogs in Southern California are really specially for her.”

Does this doggy socialite have a best friend?

“Of course. I’m her best friend,” says Rudd confidently.

Judging from Rosie’s engaging smile, lolling tongue and breathy wheeze, the feeling is mutual.

Sandy Robins is a freelance writer and columnist based in Irvine Calif. Her work has appeared in numerous publications in the United States and internationally.

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