Extreme pet pampering: Music enrichment classes for dogs?

At Pawsible Enrichment School, dogs learn to count, play music and make art. PHOTO: PAWSIBLE ENRICHMENT SCHOOL

SINGAPORE - Fancy sending your dog to enrichment classes?

Pet-related services are upping the ante for "pawrents" who want to offer their furkids the best in life amid rising pet ownership in Singapore: active dog licences here went up from 70,000 in 2019 to 72,000 in 2020, for example.

Luxury cruises like the Royal Albatross have even introduced dog cruises, which cost more than $200 a head for owners and between $30 and $100 a dog, depending on their size.

Alongside their owners, dogs get to enjoy a three-course meal featuring an entree of Atlantic salmon tartare; a choice of chicken, beef or duck for the main course; and organic fruit gelato for dessert.

Not everyone believes pets require expensive pampering to be happy, though. Ms Jessica Tay, 18, has a four-year-old ragdoll cat, Sojirou, and while her family does spend on premium cat food and grooming, it does not on extra services.

"I don't think pampering is necessary - just providing your pet with good care and love should be enough," says Ms Tay, who is waiting to enter university.

On the other hand, engineer Charles William, 36, estimates that he spends more than $400 a month on his dog Groot, including sending the mixed-breed maltipoo and pomeranian for enrichment classes.

"Investing in my dog's upkeep and enrichment benefits his cognitive and physical needs," Mr William says.

For those who have the means and desire to treat their pets, here are three services that take pet care up a notch.

Send your dogs to school

In Ms Joy Chia's music class, students know how to hit their tambourines and jingles on cue.

They are also dogs.

Ms Chia, 41, runs Pawsible Enrichment School, where owners send their dogs to attend classes from 9am to 4pm. There, they learn to count, play music and make art.

"My interest has always been looking at how dogs can be more integrated into society," she says.

She received formal training from the Karen Pryor Academy, graduating in 2013 with a certificate in dog training.

The mother of three runs the school with her husband, though most of the training is done by her. She has a shih tzu named Pica.

Each class, consisting of 25 to 30 dogs, follows a unique lesson plan that caters to the dogs' pace. The sessions cost $70 to $100 each.

Over a decade since the school's opening, Ms Chia has created a curriculum that "teaches dogs to help understand us better", and is always on the lookout for ways to improve her lessons. She teaches enrichment classes to more than 100 dogs a month.

Dogs learn "basic manners" in their first two years of schooling, which includes socialising with other pets, before progressing to "creative training", which ranges from understanding dialect to making cards for their owners for occasions such as Chinese New Year and Mother's Day.

"I love music, so I taught the dogs how to play different instruments, and that was really fun because some of the families I know play the tambourine or jingle with their furkids," Ms Chia says.

She feels the biggest difference between merely training and enriching a dog is that enrichment focuses on the holistic development of the dog, in terms of physical, emotional and mental well-being.

She maintains that dogs are capable of more than we give them credit for. "I believe dogs can sense more than us. I don't mean sniffing, but sensing."

For example, one of the dogs at the school, D, is able to sense his owner's arrival by car minutes before he turns up.

"When D starts pacing around, I will receive a text from the daddy saying that he is three minutes away. This became so consistent to the point where I told the daddy: 'You don't need to tell me any more, because D will.'"

No-stress grooming

The casual visitor might mistake Bubbly Petz, with its soothing music and aromatherapy, to be a spa for humans. But it is designed with the comfort of pets in mind.

Prior to the pandemic, Bubbly Petz, which opened in 2011, would even allow owners into the grooming room to help keep pets at ease.

Though it is marketed as a relaxing activity, grooming is a necessity which many pets find stressful, says Mr Desmond Chan, who runs the dog grooming studio with his wife Maeve Suar, 33. They also have a cat grooming studio, Hey Good Cat.

"Some of the pets may be threatened because of the machines, sharp tools and handling. So it can be quite daunting for some pets," Mr Chan, 33, explains.

Mr Desmond Chan's grooming procedure ensures that pets feel safe. PHOTO: BUBBLYPETZ/INSTAGRAM

He believes in fulfilling not just the physical, but also the mental and emotional needs of pets.

His grooming procedure ensures that pets feel safe, taking note of their body language to make sure they are not distressed, and using quality, cruelty-free products that suit most pets, even those with sensitive skin.

At Bubbly Petz, baths for dogs start at $40 and grooming at $50, depending on their size, while add-ons include nail care (from $20), ear care (from $20) and a microbubble spa ($15) that removes dead skin cells and bacteria. Hey Good Cat offers cat grooming starting at $78 for short coats and $95 for long coats. The two grooming studios see over 400 furry customers a month.

Both studios also do not use restraints when grooming pets.

Mr Chan says: "This is the least we could do with regard to curating the ideal experience for them to feel emotionally safe with the groomers and the grooming procedures.

Surprisingly, he gives his own 13-year-old dog and 11-year-old cat fairly mundane grooming.

Mr Desmond Chan and his wife Maeve Suar also have a cat grooming studio called Hey Good Cat. PHOTO: HEYGOODCATSG/INSTAGRAM

They do not go for massages, which certain other pet boutiques offer to help improve an animal's blood circulation.

Mr Chan asserts that a peaceful, calming grooming should be the norm.

"The grooming is usually done for what they need, nothing too fancy. Of course, the grooming process is the most important because we want them to have a low-stress experience."

Personalised care via app

As offices reopen and owners go back to work, they may fret about not seeing their pets as often as they used to during the pandemic.

To deal with this separation anxiety, Mr Richard Nilsson, 39, has come up with a way for owners to monitor their pets' health remotely, down to their heartbeats. Mr Nilsson, who is Swedish, has lived in Singapore since 2008.

Inspired by advances in telehealth - using technology to access healthcare services - he wanted to see how he might bring that trend to pets to give their owners peace of mind.

In 2020, he founded MyPetGo, which manufactures health and location monitors for canines and felines. The monitors will hit the shelves in July.

Mr Richard Nilsson founded MyPetGo, which manufactures health and location monitors for canines and felines. PHOTOS: MYPETGO

The $218 monitor looks like a smartwatch, but instead of being strapped to the wrist, it is put on like a collar. The device monitors a pet's location and vitals such as heart rate and temperature, sending push notifications to the owner through an app should it detect anything amiss. Subscription plan prices range from $9.60 to $13.70. 

Based on data input from the owner on the pet's species, breed and age, as well as the pet's health patterns, the app will provide a personalised recommendation for the pet's every need.

Close to 5,000 people have expressed interest in MyPetGo and signed up for launch alerts and preorders.

"Whether it's taking that monthly deworming and flea pill, biannual dental scaling or places if you need to book a groomer, it's kind of like having a one-stop shop or an ecosystem," says Mr Nilsson.

Pet owners can also choose which aspects of their pet they would like to monitor.

"We give pets a voice for them to tell us how they're feeling physically and emotionally," says Mr Nilsson.

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