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by Kim Boatman
Aromatherapy, massage, acupressure and fitness swimming sound like the services offered at an exclusive spa. All that's missing at Rocky's Retreat in Orlando, Fla., is human clientele.
At their new dog health and fitness center, Sherri Cappabianca and co-owner Toby Gass offer dogs an array of gentle, noninvasive services that they consider to be far from frivolous indulgences. "It's absolutely integral to their health," says Cappabianca, who has more than 1,000 hours of training in canine aqua therapy, small-animal massage, small-animal acupressure, canine behavior and related fields.
Increasingly, dog owners understand that their pets need regular exercise and preventative efforts to maintain good health. They're finding that the sorts of therapies we humans enjoy, such as aromatherapy and massage, also serve their dogs well.
Does Your Dog Need a Fitness Center?
Clients come to Rocky's Retreat for myriad reasons, says Cappabianca. For example, swimming may help rehabilitate your dog after an injury. Obese dogs, dogs that need gentle exercise, high-energy dogs in need of a release, dogs that experience stress (such as service dogs) and dogs with behavioral issues can benefit as well, says Cappabianca. Aromatherapy can be soothing for anxious dogs, while massage can work well for senior dogs, among others.
It can also simply be practical for you as a dog owner to use a dog fitness center, says Dr. Craig Woods, a Prescott, Ariz., veterinarian who did his graduate work on muscle biochemistry during exercise. "Dog fitness centers can be an excellent way for dog owners to provide their pet's exercise requirements," says Woods.
What to Expect From a Dog Fitness Center
Rocky's Retreat is designed to be a soothing sanctuary, with a welcoming lobby, a spacious room for doggie day care, a pair of treatment rooms, an indoor pool and a large backyard. When it comes to swimming, "one of us is in the pool at all times, with our hands on the dog at all times," says Cappabianca. "If a dog is paralyzed or partially paralyzed, we exercise those limbs. With high-energy dogs, we control their speed with resistance. We start at the far end of the pool and have them swim toward their owner."
Clients might schedule a massage every couple of weeks or a swim once a week. At Rocky's Retreat, prices range from $90 for an hour swim, to $85 for aromatherapy, to $60 for a massage/acupressure treatment. The center also offers specials, memberships and therapy packages.
Because dog fitness centers generally aren't regulated, it's up to you to do your research and make sure the center you use follows certain standards. Consider these factors before you use a facility:
Training and credentials
Technicians should have experience and training in the services they are offering. They'll often list their training and affiliations on the fitness center website, as Cappabianca does.
The ability to handle veterinary emergencies
"It is also important that the pet exercise center have qualified staff that has some experience in veterinary care," says Woods. "Always ask a pet exercise center what their staff qualifications are, and make sure they have a veterinarian who can attend to emergencies or situations that might arise." The center might not have a veterinarian on staff, but it should have an affiliation with a veterinarian who can be called upon when needed.
A range of programs
The center should be able to tailor programs for a dog's age, breed, weight range and other considerations, says Woods.
A quality facility
Cappabianca has seen supposed canine aqua facilities simply run out of someone's backyard pool. The facility should be clean, welcoming and designed with your dog in mind. Evaluate how your dog will get into and out of the pool, and make sure the surface surrounding the pool is nonslip. The area should be secure to prevent canine escapes, notes Cappabianca. Understand how pool sanitation is maintained. "Ours is ozone-based, so there's less chlorine than there is in drinking water," she notes. The facility should maintain liability insurance.
As with any aspect of your dog's health, you should consult with your veterinarian before your dog engages in a new fitness routine.
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