Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Dog’s Day Inn

Progressive pet space offers more than just a walk in the park

Bacon balls are no match for Eddie.

He’s usually a patient and well-behaved black lab—he waits to be called, he’s not too rough and he doesn’t get caught up in other pup’s mischief. But one day while he was hanging out at his doggy day camp, park leader Lockie Ackerman said she looked over and saw him with four bacon balls shoved in his mouth, throwing moderation to the wind.

Eddie, and all the dogs, seem to love Tail Wags Day Camp. They look up at Ackerman with big smiles before shooting after a ball she throws across the indoor dog park. Axel, a hefty Norwegian elkhound, gets there first but is moving so fast that when he tries to stop, he slides into the wall.

Tail Wags Day Camp is a behavior- and training-oriented doggy day camp that typically looks after 10 to 20 pups. Because the camp puts a particular emphasis on behavior, those accepted into it have no history of aggression, and they’re all trained, socialized and vaccinated.

“It was important for us to create something that aligned with our values, and very much our core values have to do with what’s best for the dog, what creates the best possible environment for them,” Tail Wags owner Steffanie Sanchez said. “That’s where we worked with a behavioral specialist to create what we have, which is a definite unique spin on day care, not having it be an open play all day type of environment.”

Instead, Tail Wags has a daily schedule with park leaders who are engaged with their play time, utilizing group recall and group sits to encourage a high and low flow to their arousal levels.

Jake, Sanchez’s own rescue pup, was her inspiration to open Tail Wags about two years ago. Now he’s a senior doggo who can’t see too well, but back in the day she says he was a social butterfly, and while she was spending a lot of time in dog parks she realized Columbus needed an indoor facility.

Originally, the company started as a “park and lounge,” where owners who, like Sanchez, treated their pets like family could come with their dogs to relax, do work and socialize. Sanchez always knew Tail Wags would expand into other services, but she wanted to wait to determine what those would be based on feedback from Tail Wags members.

“From day one we were consistently asked for day care, and so that was the natural next step,” Sanchez said.

Each day at Tail Wags follows the same routine: from 7 to 8 a.m., the dogs are dropped off and freak out with excitement to be reunited with their friends. Once they burn off some of that energy, the trainers do Think Time, which includes group activities, puzzles, games and one-on-one training with sit, lay, shake and off-leash walking. At noon, park leaders oversee a two-hour rest time during which the dogs snuggle with pillows and each other while listening to calm dog music, Ackerman says.

One this particular day, when Kyle Moses came to pick up his goldendoodle, a relatively new camper, Sanchez greeted him with, “Levi!” and started reviewing the pup’s daily report card. “He did awesome today. It’s like, he’s maybe coming out [of] his shell a little bit…This morning he came into play and played with everybody,” Sanchez said.

She said Levi’s still a little bit restless during downtime, which is common for new campers, and though they didn’t have their typical schedule because of the “Puparazzi,” aka (614) photographer Megan Leigh Barnard, he did well during their group activities.

“One of the things that stands out about this place is they do Think Time and they actually do teaching,” Moses said as his large, lanky goldendoodle pushed through the door and launched himself at his dad. “Not jumping is what we’re trying to work on.”

Besides the behavioral expectations, pups also must be at least nine months old, and things like separation anxiety can create challenges to having a good camp experience. The day camp is open to Tail Wags members, so many of the dogs are acclimated to the space through the park and lounge first. Finally, pups have a day camp trial period for a few days to determine whether they are a good fit for each other. Those interested in a Tail Wags membership can choose from rates ranging from $12 a day to $400 semi-annually.

For all the good boys, doggos doing tricks and many fluffy pets, 14/10 would visit again.

Tail Wags Playground is at 1010 W Fifth Avenue, for more, visit tailwagsplayground.com. For more local businesses re-inventing in the pet space, see next page:

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