Tuesday, August 09, 2005 at 10:22:19 PM by Debbie Jacobs
"Every Dogs Dream"
"The Five-Star Resort for Dogs"
"A Human's Haven, A Doggie's Heaven"
"The Next Best Thing When You're Not Around"
When employees of DoGone Fun Chicago, a doggie daycare, boarding, training and grooming facility located in the city's South Loop neighborhood, were asked "What is DogGone Fun?" company founder Beverley Petrunich was thrilled to find these phrases scratched in black marker on the white poster board. Her staff, she said, "got it! They all understand our philosophy. We treat the dogs like our own."
DoGone Fun Chicago opened its doors August 1, 2003, in an expansive space that formerly housed the Chicago Patrolman Museum. The 20,000 square foot facility includes indoor and outdoor doggie playgrounds, two boarding kennels, training rooms, grooming stations, and a retail store. In addition to doggie daycare, boarding, training and grooming, DoGone Fun also provides pet walking and sitting services, pet transportation services, agility classes, dog massage and even doggie yoga!
All DoGone Fun employees are carefully screened before hiring, and are observed spending time with the four-legged clients before coming onboard full time. People without boundless energy, outgoing personalities and genuine love and respect for dogs need not apply.
"Before I opened this business, as a dog owner, I liked that every time I would go to pick up my dog from daycare, the handler could always tell me a fun story about him," said Petrunich. "And who doesn't love to hear fun stories about their kid? It's important that my employees have good communications skills with the clients as well."
Communication with the doggie clients, whether in the daycare, boarding or training programs, is strictly limited to positive reinforcement. There are no choke collars at DoGone Fun Chicago, even if the dog wears one at home. There's also no yelling, no pushing, no pulling. To sustain this environment, and keep the staff and the dogs safe, DoGone Fun Chicago separates itself from other daycare facilities by asking the owners some tough questions about their 'kid's' behavior. Does she show any aggression to toys, to people, to other dogs? The staff will slowly introduce the new dog to the group, without the owner present, to ensure she "plays nice" with the other dogs. But even if she passes the initial test, if she starts to show signs of aggression later on, the dog is asked to leave. "This is very important to our human clients," said Petrunich. "We're very careful with their 'children,' we're not putting anyone's 'child' at risk"
What else separates DoGone Fun Chicago from the pack? Apart from a one-hour nap in the middle of the day, its doggie daycare clients spend 8-9 hours running around on playground equipment, wrestling with their best friends or playing ball or "kong" with staff members. "If you visit with other kennel owners, they are very focused on how much money than can make, and they cut corners," said Petrunich. "For instance, in daycare, they cycle the dogs in and out because they don't have enough space to have all of the dogs outside of the crates. So they kennel the dogs half the day. And that's not what I wanted for my dog! So that's not what we do here at DoGone Fun."
That's not all that they do differently. How about power-washing the floors of the kennels and indoor and outdoor dog playground each and every night? Visitors often comment about the lack of "wet dog" or urine smell. And while clients don't bring home a stinky dog every night (whew!), they do go home with a report card, filled with everything from comments on who the dog played with, his demeanor, the state of his "output," and any other observations to update the owner on his 'child's' day.
That's daycare, but what about the rest of DoGone Fun Chicago's services? Unlike most facilities, its boarding kennel is staffed 24-hours-a-day, is always open for a tour, and is enhanced by the KennelSource "Pawtracker" software package. Each day everything about all guests, from name, breed, personality, dietary restrictions, medical needs and more is printed out on a report that employees must initial and follow throughout the day. All of the dog's requirements are also posted on the outside of its temporary home, easy to match against the master report to avoid errors and ensure the highest quality of care. The boarded dogs receive complete daycare privileges, so they play all day and have supervised sleep at night. Of course, owners are encouraged to call and check on their 'children' at any time, and often pay extra for super comfy doggie beds, one-on-one cuddle time, and gourmet bedtime treats.
Beauty is More than Skin Deep
The puppy pampering continues for clients of DoGone Fun Chicago's Master Groomer, Dan Vaughn, CMG, CAH. Vaughn, who received his training from Chicago's first certified Master Groomer, has a reputation as one of the city's most sought-after groomers and was a perfect fit for DoGone Fun Chicago. "What was drilled into me from the start of my training is that how you treat the dogs is more important than what you do with the dogs," said Vaughn. "It's great to have a nice-looking finished product, but my primary goal is to respect the dogs and treat them well."
To do so, Vaughn refuses to overbook clients, even though his calendar is filled three weeks in advance, with Saturdays reserved for his regular clients. Having enough time to interact with the dog and give a proper shampoo and clipping ensures neither groomer nor dog is stressed. After all, isn't a day at the salon supposed to be relaxing? He adheres to AKC grooming standards, which can include nail painting and pretty bows, but will accommodate special requests, within reason.
His advice for dog owners? If you can consistently "walk-in" and get an appointment with a groomer, there's probably a reason they are not busy. Second, if you have a puppy that will need to be clipped, bring him into the groomer as soon as possible, even if they're not ready for a cut yet. "I like to meet the new puppies, get them used to everything," said Vaughn. "We have cuddle time. I turn the clippers on and lay them on the table so the dog gets used to the sound, can sniff it and touch it." Vaughn has witnessed, first hand, adult dogs scarred by early experiences at the groomer and knows it can be avoided. "I don't want to create a dog that is going to hate to be groomed for the rest of its life!"
You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks
Especially if your dog trainer is Laura Monaco, a former dolphin trainer at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, followed by stints as the lead zookeeper of the Children's Zoo at both the San Diego and Brookfield Zoo.
Lured away by the challenge of creating her own training department and program, Monaco was also encouraged by the "dog-and-client first" mission of DoGone Fun, and the fact that Beverly Petrunich wanted to build the program around positive reinforcement training. "Dogs inherently want to please people, and positive reinforcement training involves praising the good and ignoring the bad," said Monaco. "The hardest part of my job is getting buy-in from skeptical owners who are used to yelling 'No!' or yanking the dog's lead to control behavior. I tell them 'You cannot force a tiger to come to you. But you can teach a tiger, a dolphin, a beluga whale, a sea otter or hawk to willingly come to its enclosure, to want to come to you.' The same holds true for dogs"
Whether the dog is in Puppy Preschool or Basic or Ongoing Obedience training, Monaco gets results using the same techniques she applied at the zoo. Modified for the classroom, of course! Each class contains no more than 8 dogs, to ensure each dog gets proper attention, and every caregiver in the family is invited to participate, including children. "It's important that the children understand where the dog is going for school," said Monaco. "If the child sees me reacting positively and calmly to his or her dog, that sets an example for them to follow."
Just like children, keeping dogs occupied keeps them out of trouble. In addition to training, agility classes, new to DoGone Fun Chicago, are great outlets to work the dog's mind and burn off some energy! "Dogs used to get a lot more stimulation and exercise. As our society urbanized, the dogs that were running around on the farm protecting the land are now in smaller living quarters, bored and looking for something to do…which might include getting into the trash or destroying furniture." explained Monaco. Agility training is perfect for the high-energy dog that needs to channel that energy into something other than gnawing on its owners prized possessions!
But the staff at DoGone Fun realizes that the dog is, in fact, one of the owners prized possessions and goes out of its way to make things special for them. Take birthdays, for instance. The special birthday dog is celebrated with his picture on the Birthday Board, and in addition to his daily report card, receives a birthday card hand-signed by the entire staff. For those owners who want to take it up a notch, enter Jennie Rice, DoGone Fun Chicago's Party Consultant and in-house baker.
"We rent out the facility on Sundays or we have parties during daycare, where owners pay for cake for the birthday dog and all his friends. We provide the cake, put up decorations, and attempt to take pictures, complete with dogs wearing the party hats," said Rice. "The cakes come in multiple sizes: individual cupcake sized or a cake big enough to feed 50 dogs!" And while the cakes contain all natural, human-grade ingredients, Rice can provide a cake fit for the human partygoers, too!
DoGone Fun Chicago hosts more than just parties. It also opens its doors, free of charge, to breed rescue organizations for monthly meetings. The South Loop Dog PAC recently held a dog wash and DoGone Fun Chicago volunteered to wash all of the dirty doggie towels. In cooperation with Chicago Animal Care and Control, DoGone Fun Chicago offers free training and care seminars for every dog rescued from the city's dog pound. And Laura Monaco helps train dogs for the Sit, Stay, Read program, a volunteer literacy program that brings dogs and kids together to make reading fun.
The list of all that DoGone Fun Chicago contributes to its community, both neighborhood and client, is enough to exhaust the busiest of pet owners! But the team of Petrunich and Patton are just getting started. "Life is about energy and where you find the joy," said Petrunich, "and I feel like I've been put in this business for a reason. It's a happy business. I spent most of my career in Human Resources and no matter what you are doing, somebody's always unhappy. Here, the dogs are always happy. And they make you laugh, they really do."
More information from DoGone Fun Chicago