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Bowen Island Dog Ranch pivots to survive COVID-19

The island business refocuses on its board and train program
Carey Bolduc with three dogs focussed on her
Carey Bolduc is the Dog Ranch’s head trainer and is helping owner Karen Munro usher in a new era at the ranch.

When the world shut down in March, people stopped travelling and the Dog Ranch’s customer base disappeared. Owner Karen Munro shut down the ranch, laid off her staff and contemplated the future of her 14-year-old business.  

Now, the wagging tails and irresistible puppy dog eyes are back at the Grafton Rd. property but Munro and operations manager Carey Bolduc have taken grooming shears to the business model. 

While boarding has long been a primary income stream for the Dog Ranch, Munro and Bolduc are harnessing Bolduc’s training expertise to focus the ranch’s energies on a board and train program. 

Bowen Island owner Karen Munro and operations manager and head trainer Carey Bolduc
Bowen Island owner Karen Munro and operations manager and head trainer Carey Bolduc are forging forward after a year that's upended the ranch's business model. - Deb Stringfellow

The training goes back to the dog ranch’s roots. “With my original partner, what I had intended on doing was a very professional high-end training facility,” said Munro. “But boarding just took off.”

The ranch cared for many dogs over those years and the board and train program was in place but Bolduc’s arrival in 2019 bolstered the ranch’s training capacity. Bolduc had previously run her own dog walking and dog training business on the mainland as well as having been a puppy trainer at PetSmart. When she arrived at the ranch, they began to tweak the board and train program. 

“It wasn’t just training walks, wasn’t just obedience, we’re adding in the full spectrum of how to make a dog happy and how to do games and activities with them, to help them learn better,” said Bolduc. “It’s like a wellness retreat for a dog.”

“Now with COVID, it really forced me to relook at the business,” said Munro. “And [I] gave [Bolduc] free reign to build this program to the best of what is out there.”

The training is immersive, said Bolduc, with tailored programs. She’ll train puppies as well as older dogs with behavioural issues. 

“We do a full service in terms of socializing and exercise, obedience. We do enrichment, we do confidence-building, we do body handling,” said Bolduc. “We’re really trying to create a well-rounded dog.”

Bolduc appearing to give a high-five to a dog
Dog Ranch head trainer Carey Bolduc works with a dog while kneeling on the old BICS turf field that was given to the ranch. - Deb Stringfellow

Dog boarding school packages range from 14 to 30 days or can be customized and the training is positive reinforcement and force-free. 

“It’s very rewarding and it can be even emotional when we pass off the dogs to the owner,” said Bolduc. “The owners, head in their hands, kind of like, ‘this is my dog, this is really my dog.’”

But in another way, the Dog Ranch is seeing a lot of dogs because of COVID-19.

“Because [people] first got their puppy during lockdown and the puppies had no socialization,” explained Bolduc. “Now it’s approaching seven and eight months old. It’s scared of people, scared of bikes scared of dogs because it had no exposure.”

“The socialization window and the socialization that has to be done for a puppy or young or new dog is so critical,” she said. “COVID has really impacted that poorly.”

Karen Munro inside a barn-looking building
The Dog Ranch got a renovation this summer as Munro was ramping up to reopen. - Deb Stringfellow

These days, she’s seen dogs scared of garbage cans and umbrellas. 

“It’s really bizarre how COVID really pushed everyone to get a dog but COVID has been the worst thing for dogs,” said Bolduc. 

The landscape of the Dog Ranch also looks a little different (and a little familiar) these days. Munro renovated the property over the summer and in the fall, she received some of the old turf from the BICS turf field replacement. 

While the daycare services aren’t available these days, grooming is available a couple of days a week.

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