Doggie Day Care: The Good. The Bad. The Ugly.

Dog day cares are fast becoming one of the most popular services available to the busy pet parent. When most people think about a doggie day care, they think of a large area for dogs of all shapes and sizes to play, socialise, and be busy throughout the day under the supervision of trained dog professionals. That isn’t far from the truth, but let’s take a minute to get down to the nitty gritty of a doggie day care; the good the bad and the ugly.

Something that is really important to acknowledge is the role a doggie day care should provide to your dog. For us, we envision a doggie day care to be:

 A safe place for your dog to go where they have the opportunity to be biologically fulfilled through appropriate social interactions, enrichment and exercise in a safe way, under the guidance of trained canine professionals.

This by all means isn’t a formal definition, but something that each day care should be striving to achieve. There are a few key factors to this that can help us assess how good a particular doggie day care really is.

This by all means isn’t a formal definition,
This by all means isn’t a formal definition,

Trained Canine Professionals

What is a trained canine professional? In our eyes, someone that has completed a certificate in canine behaviour that has the ability to read and understand a dog’s body language and social cues appropriately. The only nationally recognised dog training certification is the National Dog Trainers Federation Certificate III in Dog Training and Behaviour. Or, if no formal certification has been obtained, practical handling experience has been obtained over numerous years shadowing and working for a trained canine professional.

Unfortunately, there are no mandatory formal certification requirements to not only be a dog trainer, but also to be a doggie day care attendant. It is also one of the lowest paying jobs with a base rate of $25.41 per hour for a casual and $20.33 per hour as a full time or part time employee. In conjunction with a low pay grade, the fact that you get to work with dogs all day makes the job super attractive to young people looking to develop their knowledge in the animal industry.

Why is this important to check if the doggie day care you like hires qualified professionals?

A lot can happen in 8+ hours and it is important that your dog is being supervised by staff that can recognise signs of stress, comfortability and ensure your dog is not rehearsing inappropriate behaviours that will be detrimental to their overall development. In addition to this, qualified professionals will be able to manage the dogs’ social interactions and intervene prior to an escalation point of a dog fight and if a fight breaks out, they have the knowledge and experience to separate dogs safely.

Appropriate Social Interactions

Appropriate social interactions extend far further than playing with other dogs. They include your dog’s ability to:

  • Greet another dog politely
  • Read social cues appropriately
  • Respect another dog’s personal space
  • Have the ability to disengage or deescalate when required
  • Share resources such as toys or bedding

In a lot of cases dogs exhibit inappropriate behaviours, and if not recognised by the staff, these can impact future learning and create bad habits. For example:

A younger, juvenile dog pesters your dog, your dog appropriately communicates that it has had enough, disengages and moves away. The young dog doesn’t read those signs and continues to be obtrusive. You dog curls its lip, growls and nothing is successful, until it barks and air snaps at the younger dog, in which case a staff member has become aware and intervened.

Whether your dog is the younger, inappropriate dog or the dog the snaps, both situations impact future learning. The younger dog rehearses inappropriate behaviour and only a bark or a snap communicates that enough is enough. Going forward, this behaviour may be rehearsed until the bark or snap is provided. For a completely different dog, that snap may be a bite with intent. For the dog that has to air snap to get their point across, they learnt in that moment that all the behaviours done previously such as disengaging, growling, curling of the lip etc. were unsuccessful and it takes an air snap to get your point across. Going forward that dog may go straight to what works which is the snap.

The scary part about this is that that entire interaction could have probably been 1-2 minutes. What else could happen in the space of the other 7 hours and 58 minutes of the day?

How can interactions be managed appropriately?
How can interactions be managed appropriately?

How can interactions be managed appropriately?

Doggie day cares have an obligation to you to ensure your dog’s safety. Which means that careful consideration needs to go into creating a safe group dynamic. Some dogs will never gel well together, and it is important that the facility you choose does, and can recognise appropriate play styles, personalities, strengths and weaknesses.

Exercise and Enrichment

There is so much more to a day of doggie day care than just hanging out with other dogs. From a safety perspective, it is imperative that enforced rest times are created throughout the day. The means that the dogs can let their body and mind take a break. Especially for young dogs, it is imperative to preserve their joints and ensure excessive exercise on slippery surfaces doesn’t occur.

In conjunction with ensuring appropriate rest periods are scheduled, a good doggie day care will provide mental stimulation in the form of enrichment and learning throughout the day. This provides your dog with an element of conflict based activities that require problem solving to biologically fulfil them beyond physically exhausting them.

Outdoor VS Indoor

Most doggie day care facilities are indoor only. We aren’t totally biased to outdoor only. A small well run, structured indoor day care can be way safer and more beneficial than a poorly run giant field of free for all.

There are many boutique outdoor day cares that can be a great place for your dog. These are typically run by qualified professionals with smaller, more controlled numbers. A personal Gold Coast favourite of ours is Adventure Paws which offer a day care as well as a play and train option. Tracey is a qualified dog training professional that provide copious amounts of safe and thoughtful interactions, acreage exercise and training.

Our Indoor Doggie Day Care Recommendation

We expect the absolute best when it comes to a doggie day care, and for our own personal dogs, there is no way we would leave our dogs with anyone but the best. At That Dog School we absolutely love Wolf House which is based in Brisbane.

Wolf House offer a unique indoor space. They are qualified NDTF professionals and provide all aspects that are mentioned above. They structure their days, provide enrichment, rest periods, and training. They focus on pairing dogs that are compatible in play style, temperament and personality to ensure the safest environment possible.

Ultimately, if your dog is attending doggie day care multiple days of the week, they are spending more time with the staff and other dogs than they are with you. We understand that for some pet parents it is a must, but if that’s the case, it pays to have a day care that will provide the best possible care for your dog and their long term development.

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