Dogs have come a long way from the days spent herding animals on the farm. They’ve worked their way into our homes, onto our furniture, and they’ve nestled into a special place in our hearts. It’s no wonder the doggie daycare industry is booming; we care for our dogs like we do our children and we need to know they are in the best of hands when we aren’t around.
Of course, every dog has different needs – whether these include certain dietary restrictions, social behaviours, or health conditions. Finding the right care for your pet is a personal choice. We’ve put together a list of considerations to keep top of mind when making this important decision.
All dogs come with their own personalities, and they develop learned behaviours and preferences over time. “You need to look at your dog’s temperament,” says Kaylyn Bondar, Owner of Wag Awhile, a cage-free doggie daycare in Newmarket. For example, dogs with dominance issues or aggressive patterns may struggle in a doggie daycare setting. Wag Awhile offers a separate area for senior dogs and features a room labeled the “Cozy Corner” for dogs that need some alone time. Dogs go through a thorough assessment before they’re accepted for daycare or boarding, and they receive a report card on their first day to let the owner know how they’re adjusting.
Chad Sheppard, Owner of Sheppard’s Dog Day Care, an outdoor facility in East Gwillimbury, also takes the initial assessment very seriously. Only those accepted into “The Social Club” are welcome to spend their days and nights at the three-acre retreat. “My proprietary technique is to be able to introduce a dog into a pack of 20 without any aggression,” Sheppard says. The dogs quickly get to know each other and “they just run around and play all day.”
Not all dogs thrive in a group setting, of course. Morag Willcox, Owner of York Professional Pet Sitting and Dog Walking, believes pets are happiest in their own home. “Some dogs do well in the doggie daycare environment, but I know my own pets are just happier at home,” she says. “Even if you aren’t there, your scent is still there. My theory is every time you walk out of your door, your dog knows you’re coming back.”
York Professional has clients fill out a detailed online report of all of their pet’s needs, covering everything from where you keep the dog food to what toys they love to play with. When you’re away, one of their pet sitters will visit your home periodically for 15 to 30-minute intervals, to feed, walk and play with your dog, or let them out for a bathroom break before bed. “A lot of people freak out about their dogs being left overnight by themselves,” she says. “But most of them will hop up on the parents’ bed where they normally sleep, and half the time we’re waking them up in the morning saying, ‘Time for a walk!’”
It’s important for owners to get to know the staff – it takes some time to build trust with the people who are caring for your pet. Sheppard’s Dog Day Care is a two-person show – clients know Sheppard and his wife, Emily, are the only ones who will come in contact with their dogs. Sheppard used to train dogs in Alberta, and starting his own outdoor dog retreat was his dream job. He takes pride in sending the dogs home with better behaviours than they came in with. “I’ve been around dogs my whole life,” he says. “This is a reactionary job – so really, you’re born with it. The dogs know I’m here for their safety.”
Wag Awhile also has a dog trainer on staff, who brings over 20 years of experience in the field. Clients can opt for a 20-minute one-on-one “Stay and Play” training session for their dog, and the trainer also offers private consultations. Bondar herself previously worked as a Registered Veterinary Technician before starting her own doggie daycare business in July of 2015.
Peace of Mind
In today’s online world, you never have to feel far away from your beloved pet. York Professional uses a digital platform that allows them to send notes and photos in real-time over email. “You don’t have to wait until you get home to find out how the visit went,” says Willcox.
Sheppard’s Dog Day Care shares daily updates with pet owners over social media, posting photos of the dogs chasing after one another or splashing around in the outdoor pools. Wag Awhile often posts photos on Instagram, capturing special moments such as a birthday celebration for one of the dogs – party hats and dog-friendly cake included.
If you’re in the market for a dog daycare or pet sitter, be sure to shop around. Take advantage of a trial run to see how your dog does before leaving them for an extended period of time. Remember, the right choice is the one you and your pet are most comfortable with.
by Charlotte Ottaway
Wag Awhile, Newmarket
Sheppard’s Dog Day Care, East Gwillimbury
York Professional Pet Sitting and Dog Walking, Newmarket