You know how you take your dog for a walk and he gets distracted by a squirrel, another dog or maybe a leaf? Maybe he pulls on the leash while you yell (or cajole), just hoping the neighbors don't see you.
Now imagine taking 15, 20 or 30 dogs for a stroll — but they all walk politely next to one another, enjoying the exercise and each other's company.
This canine utopia really exists, but you have to go to Miami to find it.
Andres Monasterios and Natalie Sanchez own Barkhaus, a doggy daycare, boarding and training facility, where the pack mentality is very Zen-like because the four-legged charges are very tuned in to their human leaders.
The day typically starts with breakfast, then an hour or so of relaxation so meals can digest and dogs can have their potty breaks, then Monasterios and Sanchez hook all the leashes to their belts and hit the road. Typically, they have 15-20 dogs a day, but one time they had 42, and they walked them all at once.
"When the dogs are here, they learn they have to fall within the pack," Sanchez tells MNN. "We're always practicing sit, stay. Even though it's a huge group of dogs, it’s a lot calmer than people expect."
And the Barkhaus gang doesn't go for short strolls around the block.
"We do big Miami hikes, depending on the weather," says Monasterios. "If the weather is really nice, we'll walk 10-12 miles. If it's really hot, it's not as long. But it's never less than two miles."
Because most of the dogs had their bathroom breaks earlier in the day, there's fortunately not a lot of poop to be picked up. The scenery rotates to keep the dogs interested, and it also depends on the day's pack.
"If we have a chill pack we might go to the beach. If it's a strong pack, we walk on the train tracks," he says. "It rotates and we like to change it up for the dogs."
Along the route, the dogs often stop and pose for photos, and those displays of good behavior have made the daycare's Instagram and Facebook pages very popular. But contrary to speculation, no one is waving a steak in front of the camera to get the pups to sit still.
"There are always going to be a few that are a little more stubborn," Sanchez says. "It's just a matter of taking a couple different shots until they're all looking."
Before they started their business almost five years ago, Monasterios and Sanchez both had experience with animals. He studied zoology and worked with wild animals at a zoo; she studied animal science and worked as a vet tech and at a horse breeding farm. But the couple often kept friends' and neighbors' dogs and really enjoyed taking their overnight visitors — as well as their own three dogs — on long walks. They liked it so much, they started a business and quickly became booked for daycare, boarding and training.
Leaders of the pack
They accept all dogs and don't separate them by size or temperament. The key, Monasterios says, is that the dogs see the humans as pack leaders.
"All the dogs are looking up to us. We're always calling the shots. That's the only way to have that many dogs in a calm state," he says. "It's always us giving the dogs structure and them looking at us to see what they should be doing."
Dogs are called by name to eat or to go for a walk. Every time they respond to a command, they are rewarded with loads of praise.
"They've gotten used to the routine of the structure and following us around, and they really like to work and feel connected," Sanchez says. "It's really easy to get 10-15 dogs to sit and stay." (For you, maybe.)
Watch the Barkhaus crew head out on a walk: