Last Wednesday, 5/22, I took Spriggan to Camp Bow Wow for her interview day. If you aren’t familiar with Camp Bow Wow, I’ll give you a primer: It’s a stupidly-named doggy daycare (and a boarding facility) that emphasizes socialization and play among the ‘campers’. It came highly recommended by some of our fellow students at training classes. The interview day is required for first-time patrons and is designed to ensure that your dog is friendly and capable of getting along with others, sharing toys, etc.
And now, way in which having a puppy is like having a human child, number 19ish: the separation anxiety on their first day of school.
I was scheduled to bring her in at 7:30 in the morning, as I had to be at an appointment 40 minutes away by 9:00. I fed her around 6:30 [the Camp wants them to eat at least 90 minutes before they go into the yard to play, to prevent ‘bloat’], packed her up in her crate, took all her vet records, toys, treats, her lunch with a little label on it — I was… ever-so-slightly overpacked.
When we arrived, the place wasn’t much to look at. It was an old, brick office-building-style space in the warehouse/manufacturing district. I was pretty nervous. The woman I’d spoken to on the phone had been friendly, but pretty… nonchalant, I guess. “Don’t you recognize the GRAVITY of this situation?! I’m going to be LEAVING my PUPPY with you! The light of my LIFE! My sun, moon, and STARS!!” That was my brain, not my mouth. Thank goodness.
Crazy maternal fears aside, though, there were maybe a couple of logical maternal fears. What if someone bit her ear? What if she jumped off their little stair-step unit and landed on the concrete and broke her back? What if she gets sleepy and there’s no one to sing her a lullaby?
So, I walked in with some trepidation. I don’t know if it was my nervousness transferring to her, or the smell, or the dogs barking or what, but the moment we walked in, Spriggan started shaking violently. I was holding her, and it felt like I was holding a washing machine.
We walk up to the counter, behind which is a girl who looks to be maybe 18, with the requisite laissez-faire attitude I’d disliked on the phone. I handed her the vet records and our application, which she glanced over, saying, “This looks fine. She should be fine” and then instructs another young woman to take Spriggan for her one-on-one. (See, first, they put your dog in with just one human and one other dog, to gauge her reaction to social situations and new dogs.) I kissed Spriggan like I was never going to see her again, ’cause I thought I might not, and sent her away. Spriggan did NOT want to walk away with a stranger, so they had to pick her up and carry her off. I had a moment where I almost screamed, “No, wait! I changed my mind! Give her back!” but I tried to recognize that I was being CRAZY.
The woman at the counter told me how lunch would work for her (some dogs, who eat lunch, get a space in a ‘cabin’ for an hour-and-a-half to eat and nap at midday), and asked me if I had any questions.
Yes, I have about a billion questions, such as, “Why are you letting me do this?” and “How will I live if she gets hurt here?” and “Do they have medication for dog-parents who can’t leave their puppies for eight hours in the hands of licensed caretakers with pet-first-aid-training?”
Instead, though, I said, “Nope. I’ll pick her up around 3:00?” And I left. And I reminded myself to breathe over and over again. ‘Cause it’s the kind of thing you have to keep doing, or you get in trouble.
The day passes, with me trying to figure out how to get to a computer to check on her. See, they have these ‘camper cams’ where you can watch grainy, stop-motion video of the play yards. I knew she’d be in for lunch from 12:00-1:30, and I wasn’t going to get home to my laptop ’til a little after noon, so I’d miss her. I did not, however, commandeer a computer; nor did I call Mike, hysterical, and insist that he check on her. “They’ll call me if something’s wrong” became my mantra.
At about 2:00, before I was to leave to pick her up, I did check the camper cams. It took me a while to spot her amongst the 10 or so other dogs, particularly since there was another miniature dachshund to confuse things. (He’s a black-and-tan, though, so she caught my eye by dint of shading.) There was no human in the play area at that time, so I watched to see how she interacted with the other dogs.
She didn’t, really. She looked at the gate, where a human could enter, and then she ran a wide circle around the play area and came back to stare at the gate. Then she put her forepaws up on the gate, ran another lap, back to the gate. A larger dog (maybe 35 lbs. or so) came up to sniff her rear. She didn’t recoil or anything, but she tucked her tail and stood very still. Then she ran around and back to the gate.
… I had kind of hoped she’d be doing more… y’know… playing… with other dogs… and less… neurotic-wishing-for-human company. I set off for the camp.
When I arrived, there was no one at the front desk, but one can see the camper cams on a TV above the desk. I watched Spriggan’s play-area, in which there was now a human, walking around, periodically petting the dogs that stop by. Took me a while to spot Spriggan again, but when I did, she was between the human’s feet. Human moves, Spriggan moves. Human moves, Spriggan moves. You’d’ve though she were attached to her ankle. Her ears were tucked back in a posture that makes her look decidedly sadder, and she was practically hiding behind the person, who wasn’t really paying any attention to her. I rang the service bell.
Finally, someone came out who looked so much like the first person I’d seen (the trouble with pretty blonde girls is you just can’t tell them apart) that I stared at her a moment before finally saying, “I’m here to pick up Spriggan?”
“Oh! Great!” she responded. “She did great today. I think she had fun. She’s welcome back any time. Here’s her report card!” I could tell by her enthusiasm she was definitely not the girl from the morning. She handed me a paper with a picture of Spriggan, paws on the knees of the picture-taker, looking wistfully upward. It also denoted that she plays well with others, seemed to have a good time, etc. She then handed me back her lunch container, empty, saying, “Looks like she ate all her food! That’s good!”
And she gave me back her antler chew toy. She pointed to a red smear on the bottom, saying, “It looks like this toy made her gums bleed a little…” I was really glad she said this, not because I was glad she thought I provided dangerous toys to my puppy, but because she was clearly paying attention, and she cared. “Oh, no, actually, that’s ink. I think it’s a stamp they put on them or something. It alarmed me when I first saw it, too, but all the antlers have that stamp on the bottom.” She seemed relieved.
“Could I have a tour?” I asked, recognizing that that’s really the sort of thing I should’ve requested BEFORE leaving my dog there all day. “Of course! Let me just make sure all the hallways are clear and the gates are closed.” She headed out a side door, and I watched Spriggan following the woman around on the TV. She returned shortly and warned me before we went back, “The dogs are going to bark a lot. It’ll be really loud, but I want you to know that it’s not like that all the time. When a new person comes in, one dog sets up the ‘new person’ bark, and then they ALL join in. I just like to tell people that their dog isn’t listening to this level of noise ALL DAY.” I appreciated that, ’cause Sprig’s pretty sensitive to loud noises.
She took me first past some ‘cabins’ for the boarders, which had toys and beds and things. “You can bring anything you want, as you can see. Toys they especially like, special food or treats, beds and blankets.” The next stop was the first play yard, where Spriggan was. the other dogs were going crazy, leaping at the fence, barking, running around. Spriggan tried to come out from between the woman’s feet, but she couldn’t get close to me ’cause of Barky McBouncepants, so she just wavered around in front of the woman, ears pinned back, looking befuddled. I tried not to cry. I was hoping I could go in and get her and carry her with me, but I realized that was not the way this worked.
We passed the other two play yards, with the big and really-big dogs, respectively, and then walked through the clean-up room and back to the front. I wasn’t paying much attention to what she was telling me about these areas, in part ’cause I didn’t much care, but mostly ’cause I wanted Spriggan now. She went to fetch her finally, putting her harness on her and walking her out front.
When I picked her up, she collapsed into my arms, seemingly more exhausted than excited to see me, but she gave me a bunch of kisses before settling into a napping position. The woman at the counter re-iterated that Spriggan was welcome back any time, and we left.
When we got home, she greeted Selkie pretty enthusiastically, and they played outside for a brief time. But then Spriggan came inside and collapsed on the floor. One of the selling points of Camp Bow Wow is that your dog will be exhausted by the end of the day and will easily sleep the night away.
After I closed the front door, Spriggan came over and gently put her paws on my knees, requesting to be picked up. She slept on me for hours… and hours… and hours. She slept through the night. The next day, she basically slept on me all day again.
When Mike got home, she oozed between us so that she could sleep on both of us. I described to him our experience of first day of daycare. I was hoping he’d say, “Oh, I’m sure she’ll get used to it. It’s just new.” Instead, he said, “Well, she probably was a little traumatized, but I’m sure she’ll be okay eventually.”
She’s basically back to normal, now, except that she’s MUCH more prone to asking to be picked up and held for a nap instead of just going to sleep on her bed. But the extreme follow-me-around-the-house clinginess went away after two days or so.
When I spoke to my mom a few days later, she said, “Oh honey, of COURSE she’ll be fine. She just needs to get used to it. You wanted Mike to dissuade you, but instead he was validating your feelings. He wanted you to know that what you were noticing was real.” Poor fella can’t win.
Anyway, that’s what the woman at Camp Bow Wow had said, too: “It takes them a couple of times before they really understand that you’re coming BACK. They just need to get used to the routine.”
But if I wanted to use camp as a last option, it’ll be difficult to get that kind of consistency. Also, as Mom pointed out after I described Spriggan’s current relationship with Selkie, “Why can’t you just leave them together?” I’d been telling her how Selkie doesn’t want to be alone either, how she won’t go out if she knows I’m leaving, and how she’s been babysitting Spriggan every day for a week now. My only hesitation is that I think they just sleep all the time when no one’s around. And Spriggan is decidedly diurnal, so if she sleeps all day, she still sleeps all evening and night. I’d been worried that, if she had to be inside all day every day for a while, she’d never get any exercise at all. If only there were something I could do to make sure they played during the day.
Anyone have any experience with this? Will she, in fact, get used to camp pretty quickly, or is she just not of a temperament that makes it fun for her? If I only took her there every couple of weeks, would she remember it, or would it be like the same learning curve every time? Any way I could encourage her and Selkie to share some activity when we aren’t there?