Doggie Day Care:
Where a Dog Can Be a Dog
text and photos by Nancy Marano
I’ve been outside, walked the perimeter of my yard, barked at the garbage collectors, eaten my breakfast, and lined my toys up by the window. Now what will I do? They don’t seem to be paying much attention to me. Maybe if I barked, they’d notice me.
“Shhh, Casey. We’ve heard enough barking for today. You’re giving me a headache, and I just got up!”
Guess I’ll just go back to bed. There’s nothing else to do.
“Casey, do you want to go for a ride in the car? Come, get your leash.”
Me? In the car? Did I hear her say CAR? I’m here, I’m here, let’s go. Sit, Casey, so I can hook your leash. I can’t do it if you’re running in circles. That’s better. Let’s go.”
“Guess what, Casey, you’re going to doggie day care today where you can play with your dog friends. Won’t that be fun?”
Boy, oh boy, I can’t believe all the good smells here. There are dog smells and lots of people smells, too. Treats. I smell treats. Come on. Why are we stopping? I want to see the other dogs.
“Casey is here for doggie day care. I thought he might enjoy this for a change of pace while we’re at work. Sometimes he’s bored when we’re gone and chews things up. We’ve lost a few shoes that way.”
“I’m sure Casey will have a good time with us. Did you bring proof of his shots and vaccinations so we’re sure it’s safe for him to be with the other dogs?”
“Yes, I brought this from my vet.”
“Great. Casey is neutered, isn’t he? If he isn’t, we can’t allow him to be with the other dogs. We only have spayed or neutered dogs in day care because they aren’t as aggressive.”
“Oh, yes, Casey was neutered as a puppy.”
“How old is he now?”
“He’s two years old.”
“What breed is Casey? Oh, I can see he’s a West Highland White Terrier. We have another Westie here today named Mactavish. I bet they’ll get along fine.”
Talk, talk, talk. Why don’t they stop talking? I want to get back where all those good smells are. I can hear other dogs there, too. Come on, come on, I want to go now.
“Do you want to meet the other dogs and have some fun, Casey? You’re welcome to watch the dogs through the window if you want to. Then you’ll see what they’re doing and how Casey is fitting in. Let’s go Casey.”
Finally, I thought they’d never stop talking.
“Goodbye, Casey, I’ll see you this afternoon.”
Yeah, yeah, whatever. I’m going to play now.
People in the United States own 65 million dogs and spend $2.2 billion annually on pet services such as boarding and grooming, according to the latest statistics published by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association in the 2003/2004 National Pet Owners Survey. In this type of pet owning atmosphere it is no surprise people are looking toward doggie day care facilities to help make their dogs’ lives happier.
This trend has reached New Mexico, too. In the Albuquerque metropolitan area alone there are at least 30 boarding kennels, many of whom offer day care services to regular boarders or to doggie day trippers. Multiply this by many more facilities throughout the state and you know scenes like the one above are repeated often every day.
Whether the service is called “day care” or “day camp,” the activities are similar and geared to provide benefits for both dog and owner.
“Day care is a safe place for dogs to socialize with other dogs. They get a lot of exercise and work off some of their excess energy, which makes them happier at home,” said Debra Abel, assistant manager at Canine Country Club’s West Side location.
Crystal McClernon, owner of Enchantment Pet Resort and Spa in Rio Rancho, agrees. “We call it day camp here and believe the program is a tremendous success. It improves the dog’s socialization skills, builds confidence and provides exercise. It can also keep an active dog, who might get in trouble being home alone, out of trouble.”
Owners also benefit from knowing that their dog is having a good time in a safe environment. “It provides the owners with peace of mind,” according to McClernon. “Some owners work long hours and find it difficult to give their dogs enough exercise during the week. Others just feel guilty leaving their dogs home alone all day. Day care helps alleviate this guilt.”
Both of these facilities provide boarding as well as by the day care for dogs. Dog World, located in downtown Albuquerque, is a bit different because it offers only day care. Dog World is located in the middle of a light industrial and retail area, which means that the barking dogs are not a problem to neighbors. Dog World is owned by Beck ‘n Coll, an Albuquerque dog walking and pet sitting service.
“We saw this as a natural extension of our business,” said Colleen Kelley, one of Beck ‘n Coll’s owners. Colleen’s partner, Becky Currens, is in charge of the daily fun at Dog World.
Currens explained that the large, air-conditioned indoor play area is divided into different spaces to separate dogs by size and temperament with an outdoor play area as well. Play areas, stocked with toys, balls, and a variety of equipment, guarantee doggie fun. Owners can check in on their dogs any time via computer by looking at the Dog World webcam.
Costs at all of these facilities run $13-$14 per day. This charge includes a full day of care with a full-time counselor and lots of treats. Break times when the dog can rest, are built into the programs, and there are the obligatory bathroom breaks, of course. A time out may be necessary for overexcited or extremely shy dogs.
The play area at both Canine Country Club and Enchantment Pet Resort and Spa is outside featuring a covered area to keep dogs out of the direct heat or in case of inclement weather. There are wading pools, digging areas, and buckets of fresh water, as well as ramps, tunnels, and an assortment of balls and toys – everything for a dog’s pleasure.
“The dogs frequently engage in games of chase, wrestling, boxing and other canine play behaviors, which they may not get to indulge anywhere else,” said McClernon.
The object of doggie day care is to have fun and get exercise rather than obedience training. However, most counselors will sneak in training reinforcement of basic commands. This is especially true if the dog is also in obedience classes at the facility, and counselors know what behaviors the dog and owner have been working on.
“By having a counselor with the dog at all times, we can give the owner behavioral advice and catch possible behavior problems,” Abel said. “Sometimes we catch health problems, too, which we then discuss with the owner. Urinary tract infection is one example. If a dog is straining to urinate, this might be a possible explanation. Then the owner can follow up with their veterinarian.”
Finding the right person to be a doggie day care counselor is not always easy. It is a demanding job that takes constant attention. “Counselors need to be patient, fun-loving, taskmasters. In other words, they need the same qualities as a good teacher,” Abel said. McClernon looks for someone “…who is very observant and dog savvy who knows how to read dog behavior and understands how dogs naturally interact with each other. If the person has some dog training background, that’s good, too.”
Choosing the right doggie day care for your dog takes some investigation. Take a tour of the facilities, learn what they offer, see how big the play groups are, check whether the place looks and smells clean, is the play area secure and safe, are there trained counselors with the dogs at all times, and learn whether the facility has relationships with reputable area veterinarians. Choosing a day care for your pet is no different than choosing one for your child. Talk to your friends about places they have used and liked.
“I’m here to pick up Casey.”
“Just a minute, we’ll go get him.”
“Hi, Casey, did you enjoy the day with your friends? What a nice puppy kiss.”
“You can see by Casey’s report card he did very well and would like to come back soon.”
“I’m glad he had fun. Let’s go home, Casey.”
What a great day. I hope she just gives me dinner and lets me sleep. I’m so tired from playing. I want to dream about the fun we had today.
Greta Gardner contributed to this article.
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