Last week, I wrote about dog parks in general. Here, I want to share Cali’s experience with an indoor dog park, Wagg’n, in Missoula. I think the concept is great. Missoula, Montana, has a lot of winter. Cold, gray winter. Plenty of fluffy snowy winter, too, the kind of days we want to play outside. But when it was 7 degrees, I was really happy to have an indoor play space available.
The park is set up nicely. It’s a huge warehouse-type space with a high ceiling — including several skylights, so it’s bright — and it is bright and clean. The floor is matted with recycled rubber mats, and there’s a potty area with fake grass, an efficient enzymatic cleaning system, and drinking fountains. It does not smell doggy or kennel-ey at all. There’s a double gate at the entrance, and there are always at least two staffers, usually three, on hand.
On the rare occasions that a dog has gotten out of hand while I’ve been there, the staff are calm and professional in how they de-escalate. I have never seen any dog show aggression while I’ve been there. The worst I’ve seen is overly exuberant play or a dog that keeps trying to engage another dog who is clearly saying he’s not interested, is overwhelmed, or is stressed out.
I have seen several dogs show signs of stress, however. Including Cali. Some dogs there for daycare spend their time under a sofa or on the lap of any available human, for example. Others hang out at the gate, trying to escape. Not good.
Cali is a bit of an enigma. She gets excited when we drive there, and she clearly knows where we’re going (it’s out by the Missoula airport in the middle of nowhere … we never drive that way when we’re going anywhere but Wagg’n). She’s excited when we get out of the car and happily — excitedly — greets the owner and staff. Then … she hangs back a bit when we head into the play area. She likes to be on the sofa or a bench, often with me, at first. Within a few minutes, though, she jumps into the fray and chooses a dog to play with. She can be a little bratty and pushy if the chosen dog doesn’t reciprocate … leading to intervention from me, Cali getting back on the sofa, etc.
She enjoys the playtime. She also spends a lot of time with me on the chairs there, drooling (a sign that she’s excited and/or stressed). She wants to go there, but while we’re there, I watch her pretty closely. When she’s had enough, which can be after 15 minutes or after an hour and a half, she wants to go. Now.
I wouldn’t leave Cali there all day for daycare or board her there. She’d be overwhelmed by that much stimulation and social time. Other dogs are fine with it; many of the regulars are happy and cheerful whenever I see them. But as a place to take a break, stretch her legs, and play, it’s great. And very necessary during a long, cold winter!