Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Small steps: Little Dog House caters to pets of a certain size

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If you can't run with the big dogs, stay on the porch, the old adage goes.

Not in Renee Morin's world. The Winnipegger believes every individual should be free to run and play and socialize, regardless of size or stature.

If you share that philosophy, her new business might be just the thing for you -- and your little dog, too.

The Little Dog House is not just a doggie daycare, it's a "small dog centre" and what Morin says was a natural next step in the evolution of the "small dog community" she's been trying to build for the last six years.

The cheery 1,500-square-foot premises, located in an industrial strip mall in McGillivray Park, offers home-style daycare, sleepovers, playgroups and Mutt Mingler socials, basic training, and classes in everything from canine massage to home-cooked dog food.

It definitely looks more daycare centre than kennel. There's a 900-square-foot playroom with a big-screen TV (for watching the Nature Channel and DVDs created specifically for dogs), and a quiet room with a sofa and lounge chairs. Doggie beds are everywhere, including under the desk in the office.

Colourful murals, posters and mats bear messages like Beware of Dog Licks and Wipe Paws and Carry On. An aromatherapy diffuser mists the air with calming essential oils such as lavender. Just outside the back door is the Potty Patch, a fenced cement pad with a patch of artificial turf.

The Little Dog House caters to pooches up to 30 pounds and pet parents who know that in a dog-eat-dog world, size can matter.

"We went with small dogs only because we feel that a same-size environment promotes safety and a deeper level of interaction and socialization amongst the dogs, not to mention peace of mind for the small-dog owners," says Morin, who opened the business last summer with partners Garth and Lee Wilcox.

The three, who own six dogs between them -- the pint-sized pooches are considered staff -- met about six years ago after Morin, who just got her first dog, advertised on Meetup.com looking for other owners interesting in starting a small-dog play group. She'd tried taking her new puppy to off-leash parks, she says, but they tended to be full of big dogs that intimidated Chloe.

"Off-leash parks can be very dangerous for small dogs," Morin says. "A big dog can injure a small dog even during play. Small dogs need a space of their own to play together."

The Out of the Doghouse playgroup, which started with a handful of participants meeting for pack walks and off-leash romps, grew into a social club with up to 80 members and a full slate of recreational and fundraising activities. To date, it has raised more than $30,000 for various dog charities.

The same-size environment concept resurfaced when some playgroup members began looking into daycare for their small dogs. While doggie daycares have been a growing trend, Morin says they tend to have "gymnasium-style" environments where dogs of all shapes and sizes romp and play together in the same big room.

"They often separate the small dogs, but even then it's still very noisy and exuberant and that can be quite intimidating, especially for the quieter dogs," she says.

The Little Dog House can accommodate up to 25 dogs. In addition to small dogs, the operation is also small-scale, Morin says, to make it feel more like a home and to provide the dogs with the least stressful, most familiar environment.

Day care is not just about dog sitting, she insists. While it eases boredom, loneliness and separation anxiety for animals whose owners are away from home for extended periods, it also fufils the very important canine need for socialization.

"Dogs love being with other dogs, it's as simple as that," Morin says. "We encourage the development of play packs where the dogs are coming in to familiar friends and establishing stability. They recognize each other and it's a less stressful situation than meeting new dogs every time."

The Little Dog House has two dog trainers on contract, who will offer puppy kindergarten and classes in basic obedience, including a special series for owners and foster parents of dogs rescued from puppy mills and other neglectful situations.

Sleepovers will take place at one of the owner's residences. "The difference between us and most kennels is here the dog is staying in our home with us and getting treated the same as our dogs," Morin says, adding there are plans to set up a Nanny Network where they would share the fee with pre-approved pet owners who open their homes to overnight visitors.

Doggie daycare rates range from $16 to $26 per day, depending on the pass or package purchased. (Daycare for human children is around $28 per day.)

For more information and to join the Little Dog House online network, go to www.outofthedoghouse.ning.com

carolin.vesely@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 16, 2012 D3

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