BEHIND CLOSED PAWS
What goes on at doggy daycare
IThose dogs who the doggy daycares find difficult to manage are those whose owners have not socialised them well enough in that early stage.
Mark Vette, animal behaviourist and dog trainer
f you’re going to talk to a doggy daycare owner over the phone, be prepared for a cacophony of barking in the background. Unlike our receptors, they’re used to hearing dozens of dogs chase bubbles, play tug-of-war, and do zoomies — that sudden burst of energy where your pup runs around in circles.
As a nation of dog lovers — we own 851,000 of them — an increasing number are leaving their surrogate children at doggy daycare for up to 12 hours a day, in what has become a thriving industry.
Canine creches charge about $30 a day, and some offer a drop-off and pick-up service. Many operate downtown, others from rural properties.
One centre in Te Puke provides private “bedrooms” for uninterrupted daytime sleep; and others separate little dogs from big dogs, just as children’s daycares separate the older children from babies.
Similarly, not all “parents” are working parents.
However, before a pooch is enrolled in daycare, there’s one thing that needs to happen, and that’s ensuring the dog is socialised, or risk having his or her enrolment declined.
World-renowned animal behaviourist and dog trainer Mark Vette supports doggy daycares, especially for dogs who spend long hours alone, but says they must be socialised first, which makes all the difference to their temperament, character, and being comfortable in a variety of scenarios.
“Those dogs who the doggy daycares find difficult to manage, are those whose owners have not socialised them well enough in that early stage.”
Vette runs the virtual puppy school Puppy Zen, and says socialisation is ideally done in the formative two-to-four-month period of a dog’s life.
“Dogs are a highly social species and they really love social contact with people and dogs.”
The critical part of safe handling is understanding how dogs communicate using “the doggy handshake”.
Vette says this is where a dog sniffs another dog’s groin and under-tail area, where “calming appeasing pheromones” relax the dogs and facilitate positive social meetings.
“These are innate rituals that dogs do to greet amicably.”
It’s important that the first meeting of dogs goes well, because it sets the tone of their long-term relationship.
“Daycare staff need to understand how to safely introduce dogs and take the time to introduce each dog or pup individually, assuring happy friendships into the future.”
Doggy daycares fall under the NZ Code of Welfare, but there are no inspections to ensure people comply with the minimum requirements unless they become SPCA certified — a process introduced at the end of last year, allowing centres to be audited.
Certification requires 13 additional must-haves above the minimum standard in the welfare code.
Vette runs workshops with daycares nationwide and says his advice would be to look for centres that aren’t focused on profit.
You want to select a daycare with handlers who can facilitate your dog’s ongoing socialisation; possess good knowledge around canine health; and offer routine throughout the day as dogs need to be “managed”.
“It is a multi-skilled area and you really want to know your dog is going into a skilled team, and if they are, it’s going to be enriching for them.”
It’s also “critical” that dog owners give their pet the ability to broaden their socialisation, which Vette rates higher in importance than obedience.
“That it gets on with other dogs and other people; extending out so that it’s cross-fostered on to other species — cats, chicken and stock.”
Daycare allows dogs to be exposed to noises and various activities, as opposed to being contained and restricted to the home environment all the time: “It’s not really stimulating enough for them to develop broad social skills that they really need.”
MEET THE DAYCARES
Take My Lead Doggy DayCare
With an increase in high-density living, former vet nurse Sara ElliottWarren offers something special for canines on her 24ha avocado orchard and beef farm in Katikati.
She’s worked with dogs since the late 1980s as a vet nurse and vet nurse trainer, later going into animal welfare.
She’s owned Take My Lead for three and a half years and recently had to close her business to new clients because she’s so busy.
Her daily roll is capped at 15 dogs, many of whom have developed a rapport and formed relationships with one another.
Like Vette, she says animals are an important part of family life in 2021.
“There is a big philosophical change with us and our relationship with dogs.
“Over my lifetime, they went from outdoors, to indoors by the fire, to beds.
“I have a lot of clients whose big dogs, not just their little dogs, sleep on the bed or in the bed with them, and I think that’s a real mindshift around how we feel about our pets and how we treat our dogs.”
Therefore, owners should be “picky” about the daycare they choose.
Her own model of doggy daycare is that dogs shouldn’t be locked up for long periods because it creates hyperactivity.
Her vibe is slow and low-key. In between rest times, she walks her dogs over her farm five to six times a day, and they can swim in the river or ponds on the property if they wish.
She charges $30 a day, including drop-off and pick-up between Katikati and Te Puna.
“Half of my dogs’ parents either work from home or work full time out of the home. The other half come to me from retired parents, who just want their dogs to have fun a day or two a week.”
Out at K9 Camp in rural Te Puke, dog trainer Tennille Guerra-Ortiz says daycare is a specific set of environmental conditions that not all dogs like.
“Daycare won’t appeal to all dogs, even if owners want that. You see a lot more dogs reacting to other dogs on dog walks, and I believe it’s because of the rise of doggy daycare.
“You have off-leash dogs at a hyped ‘party’ and unlimited access to playing with dogs all day.
“So, when you take them to the park, and there’s a dog, your dog assumes: ‘I can run up and play with it’, and of course they can’t, because they’re on a leash, so they get frustrated.”
In her opinion, dog numbers at daycare need to be kept small, attendance is not every day, and for would-be dog owners, she warns about choosing a breed that suits their lifestyle. She runs K9 Camp with her husband, Hernan, and they cap their roll at 12 dogs for $25 a day, which includes food.
Rest time has the dogs go into their own “bedrooms”, in an indoor stable set-up where they eat and sleep in cordoned-off quarters, so they can’t see one another.
“You can’t have them running around from 8am to 5pm with no break,” she says.
A dog coming home exhausted is not always the measure of a good day.
“They’d just end up like children getting irritable because they are exhausted at that point.
“Like a child, we have to say: ‘We need to stop now.’”
Dog Lounge on Clarke
Like toddlers, dogs need entertainment between their naps.
Jane Watchorn, a former SPCA volunteer for 10 years, cares for up to 25 dogs a day with the assistance of helpers, and charges $30 for a full day — 6.30am to 6pm, or less if a dog’s owner is just nipping into town.
In the morning when the dogs are “full of beans”, she operates an itinerary.
“We get the bubbles out; we kick around a ball; play tug-of-war, and in summer we have paddling pools.
“In the afternoon we calm down, and they have a good rest, and then it all kicks off again.”
Roma Pet Minding
And it’s not just games that doggies crave, but dog-walking. Argentinian Misha Gildenberger runs Roma Pet Minding, and says dog owners are paying for dog-walking, not always because they’re time-poor, but because they want to treat their four-legged friend to “the right amount of exercise and joy every day”.
The walks are like “play dates”. “Most of my clients are at home when I pick up their dogs.”
She charges $35 for up to two hours, including door-to-door transport.
It may look like a sweet gig, but the dog trainer and vet nurse says you have to know how to manage a pack (she walks four dogs at a time, whose personalities she matches first); read when early intervention is required; and have the dogs respect you as a leader.
She says owners should walk their dogs, as well as her doing it.
“They shouldn’t leave their job to me only.
“Healthy minds for dogs means being walked three times a day — once in the morning, once at midday and once before they go to bed. Even if it’s just 10 minutes, and leave the hard exercise to me.”
Grange Spa Canine Resort
In industrial Mount Maunganui, lapdogs are the focus of Kate Teao’s daycare, which caters for little dogs only.
While there’s two types of daycare — open fields and indoors — some inside facilities like hers ($31 a day) also provide outdoor space so toilet training isn’t interrupted.
Grange Spa Mount is the sister branch to Grange Spa Tauranga, which boasts a full-size swimming pool, and caters for up to 70 dogs of all sizes ($31 for small dogs; $34 for large).
Tauranga owner Melissa Hartley says urban daycares have tighter noise restrictions around dogs doing their zoomies and barking, but staff use distraction and positive reinforcement to teach them to play quieter.
“Of course in a rural daycare those restrictions don’t apply so the choir can sing.”
On the upside, dogs don’t get dirty.
“For some owners, that’s not such a biggie, but little white dogs, they tend to want them to go home in the same state they arrived in,” says Teao.
Lockdown saw some pandemic pups become more comfortable with human company over dog company, and she’s transparent if a dog isn’t settling in.
However, her Mount daycare is small, and she’s a dog trainer as well as an ex-vet nurse, so will spend one-on-one time trying to make it work.
“If [it’s] not suitable then we give other options.
“Sometimes a dog that doesn’t bark at the park or home, can at daycare,” adds Hartley, who’s also a vet nurse with qualifications in canine psychology and behaviour.
Both advise visiting daycares before enrolling your dog. Theirs has an open-door policy.
“It should smell fresh, the dogs should be looking happy, and there should be enough staff members for the number of dogs in front of them,” says Teao.
“Dogs are going to bark when they see someone new walk in, but it also means the business has nothing to hide.
“Daycare is a great place for dogs to thrive and learn social skills in a safe environment.”