A Breed Apart: More Insight on Hydrant Club’s Differentiation

Colorful even during the day, the neon lights of Fremont East

Colorful even during the day, the neon lights of Fremont East

When I first came to Downtown Las Vegas to explore the Downtown Project in the summer of 2012, I was on vacation.

While here, I became fascinated by the way this ambitious endeavor was tackling one of the most daunting challenges facing cities across this country – the revitalization of utterly devastated urban landscapes. Adding to the challenge in Downtown Las Vegas is the fact that this area was never entirely designed to be a densely populated, residential area. First ranch land (aka rural living) and then the advent of casinos (aka transient living) by design meant this area was largely suburban sprawl.

Enter Tony Hsieh, Zappos and the Downtown Project and the desire to create a walkable, populated, residential core where before there was none.

Here’s the challenge with that as it relates to dogs. There are tons of dogs around here. Nearly 20,000 of them in the City of Las Vegas according to Animal Care and Control. And that’s just the number that are licensed. Compound by that number the behavioral challenge presented by a population of dogs almost entirely raised in suburban and rural areas – environments where dogs rarely get the type of training or exposure that they experience in a dense urban environment. What do you have with that equation? Dog parks rife with ill-mannered dogs and owners who don’t necessarily have handling skills.

Nothing good comes from that.

Within 24 hours of arriving in Las Vegas that hot summer with my trusty sidekick Truman, it became abundantly clear there was a need for a new approach to the canine community of Downtown Las Vegas. In a place where everything was being viewed through a fresh lens – from education and healthcare to the very concept of a city as a start-up – why not re-imagine what a canine community could be?

So I did.

With the myriad types of dog facilities that exist, it was time to cherry pick various aspects and create a best of breed (so to speak) collection of them all. Like all top quality canine facilities Hydrant Club requires proof of current vaccinations (DHPP, Rabies, Bordetella and a clear fecal exam – and for dogs coming from outside Nevada or that travel we also require a monthly heartworm/flea/tick prevention). We have to see these records before a dog is even allowed to step onto the property.

Next is the behavioral assessment. This is where Hydrant Club truly begins to separate from the pack. Most all dog facilities have an evaluation process of some kind. Most of these are done without the owners present since the dog’s presence at the facility is without the owner. In our case, because Hydrant Club also functions as a private “social club” environment, it means the daycare population intermingles with the general membership. While a pack of pups is hanging in daycare, a member may meander by with their dog to hang out. This means it is just as crucial to see how the dog behaves with its owner around – do they mind commands from owners, from handlers and if the dog does begin to misbehave does the owner have the necessary handling skills to manage their own dog.

The Hydrant Club Behavioral Stability Spectrum(tm) evaluates a dog’s core behavior and ascertains what tools the dog (and its owners) need for safe transition to off-leash play. Think of it as a Myers-Briggs test for dogs. Rather than a dual axis, however, our stability spectrum follows the more linear and clearly defined path of dog’s behavior.

After an hour-long assessment during which the dog is exposed to various stimuli (dogs of different energy levels and behaviors, resource possessiveness, external things like sirens, wheelchairs etc…), each dog is given a score on a scale of 1-10. The lower end of the spectrum indicates an inclination towards shy or overly avoidant behavior. Scores above 5 indicate increasing levels of dominance towards aggression. Canine candidates ranking 4-7 are designated as behaviorally stable and may join immediately needing no training for dogs or their humans. Dogs falling below level 4 (1-3) or above 7 (8-10) are required to undergo some level of training/behavioral modification. We also require any human who will be responsible for bringing the dog to the off-leash area take at least one level of handler certification training.

In cases where a dog is being screened solely for use of daycare training may also be needed. Unless the behavioral issues are aggressive in nature, this training can be done while participating in daycare. As the humans are not bringing the dog to the off leash area, any handling courses for these cases are suggested but not mandated.

The owners receive a 2-3 page written analysis of the assessment, and this assessment is used over time to note how the dog’s behavior is evolving. Think of it like the analysis one might get when joining a health club. They check your body fat, weight, heart rate and endurance and over time, as you workout, address your diet and use the facility, you get to revisit that assessment to note what progress you’re making and see how you might up your game even further. We do the same thing for the pups at Hydrant Club!

Once through the gates of Hydrant Club, we operate on a very narrow staff to dog ratio that allows very high touch, hands-on learning for the dogs in structured play. Most large facilities handle between 100-150 dogs a day. Hydrant Club’s daycare class is limited to 60 dogs at any given point in time, with one, trained handler for at least every 8-9 dogs. This enables us to leverage every interaction – between human and dog and between dogs – into a teaching opportunity. From helping dogs better respect boundaries to understanding rules and respecting leadership, Hydrant Club’s staff spends considerable time not merely making sure the dogs are loved and happy but that they are learning while they do.

Beyond the verdant greenery and peaceful environment, one thing people note immediately upon entering Hydrant Club is that we do not have any separate areas for different sized dogs. Breaking dogs into size groups has little value because size is irrelevant when it relates to the dog’s behavioral stability. If dogs are separated by energy-level, the issue becomes even more problematic. For example, grouping all high energy dogs together results in a space that requires extensive management. Dogs are pack animals and rather than tire each other out, a group of high energy dogs will feed on each other (energetically not literally). Dogs in this environment can get overstimulated and even perhaps experience injuries from over-extending their exercise. When you have a group of dogs that are truly behaviorally stable, separating by size and energy becomes irrelevant because the dogs naturally gravitate towards the dogs with which they best connect.

Katara, a 113-pound Great Dane romping with Bruno, a  14-pound terrier mix

Katara, a 113-pound Great Dane romping with Bruno, a 14-pound terrier mix

Higher volume facilities provide a valuable service and there are many of them in any city, including Las Vegas, where dogs receive great care it’s just done in a more mass market context. There also are any number of small scale options, mostly individuals who mind a handful of pups in their home or do more one-on-one dog sitting. Any of these options can be right for you and your dog, it’s really about what you want overall from a facility/service and what environment is best for your dog.