Advocating for the Dogs at Your Daycare
By Elissa Weimer-Sentner
Although we have learned to communicate with dogs on a deep level, we still don’t speak the same language. As someone who works at or owns a boarding and daycare facility, you probably have become adept at reading when your canine clients are comfortable and when they are not. I have trained pets professionally for over nine years and can attest that daycare and boarding are not ideal for all dogs.
Here are some tips on how your daycare or boarding facility can speak up for the furry customers who cannot speak for themselves.
1. Cater to the individual.
Many pet owners send their dogs to daycare to occupy them during the workday. Their aim is to give their dogs a chance to play and socialize with other canines. Since they are paying for services, they expect constant photos or a video stream of their dogs romping happily with other dogs. The problem is most dogs become stressed out by that level of activity.
For dogs who are naturally shy or nervous, daycare is intimidating. Most dogs have trouble acclimating to a space with unfamiliar dogs. I usually suggest against daycare for my training clients because poorly-socialized dogs are thrown together. The risk of something happening to set a dog back in its training progress is just too high.
Some dogs who are overwhelmed in a large room with 15 excitable playmates may be happy hanging out in a small space with two or three mellow buddies. Other dogs don’t enjoy group time with other dogs at all, and that should be respected. Helping pet owners understand what’s best for their dogs is not always easy, but it’s the right thing to do.
2. Allow time for rest.
Many well-meaning pet owners send their dogs to daycare much too often. It’s a rare business owner that will advocate for less patronage, but speaking up for dogs is vital in this case. Let your clients know that enrolling pets in daycare five days a week isn’t healthy. That amount of mental and physical activity overstresses dogs. Advocate that the owners work out dog-walking services to break up the rest of the week.
Dogs should be able to enjoy some alone time. However, crating dogs for more than five hours at a time is not the answer, so help pet owners figure out ideas for breaking up the workday. If owners insist they have no alternative to daycare, you should advocate that the dog be kept separately in an enclosure away from the other dogs for naps during the day. Educate pet owners that you are not advising this to make your job easier. The simple fact is that dogs who are active for eight or more hours without breaks will be overstressed.
Create a quiet space in your facility for intermittent relaxation. Some dogs will break apart from the pack to relax, but many need their own space. Your overnight lodging enclosures or suites are a safe space for dogs to rest.
3. Promote an open line of communication.
Make sure your team is comfortable speaking openly with pet owners about their dogs. Honest dialogue is critical. When needs or concerns arise, it enables staff and pet owners to be on the same page and work as a team.
Train staff to administer regular behavioral assessments on dogs and discuss the results with pet owners. It’s essential to monitor a dog’s attitude continually. Just like people, dogs’ tolerance levels and preferences can change as they mature.
Be open with pet owners about how their dogs are doing during the day. It’s tempting to send everyone home with a cute bandana and say what a great time they had, but is that really best for the dogs? You’re the professional, and pet owners will appreciate your honest opinion. If a dog is stressed out, nervous, and not thriving at your daycare, let the owner know and work together to find a solution.
Open communication builds trust. You may not always have the news your clients want to hear, but in the long run, honesty creates a loyal customer base.
4. Have a well-trained staff.
Perhaps the best way you can advocate for the dogs in your daily care is to ensure you have a well-trained and caring staff. Unfortunately, the staff members at many boarding and daycare facilities are uneducated concerning dog psychology and canine body language. Providing regular in-service education from professional trainers will keep your team up to date and on the same page when it comes to best practices in animal care.
There are a few daycares and boarding facilities that I recommend locally. These facilities have trained staff and structured playtimes. Owners feel more confident sending dogs to your daycare if they know you and your staff have their pets’ best interest at heart.
Pet owners and dogs who come to your facility depend on you to advocate for them. Learn what is best for each dog in your care and take time to share this information with your clients.
Owner Elissa Weimer-Sentner established Paw & Order Dog Training (pawandorder.com) in 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Elissa is a certified Canine Good Citizen Evaluator and a member of the IACP and the APDT, and has been recognized as VIP Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women. Elissa also served as a Combat Military Police Officer from 2007 to 2014. After graduating at the top of her class from California University of Pennsylvania, Elissa completed a highly selective Professional Dog Training Program as an outstanding graduate in 2012.