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How to Choose a Dog Day Care Centre

More people are opting for convenience over space in our large cities and our hectic lifestyle also comes with longer working hours and less precious free time to spend with our pooches. Many inner-city dog owners actively search out alternatives to leaving their dog alone all day and are turning to services such as doggie day care, dog sitters or dog walkers to ensure their pet’s wellbeing.

We spoke to the operators of three doggy day care centres around Australia to find out why these services are increasingly popular and asked their best tips on how to find the right provider for your dog.

Tom Dowse, CEO of Centennial Bark (Sydney), reveals “we hear stories about people being harassed or abused because their dog is barking a lot and that’s just heart-breaking to any dog lover.
There are options for addressing separation issues in dogs and dog day care is the one we’ve chosen to offer as part of the solution. 

The Sydney City Council also offers great advice and assistance to educate people when it comes to responsible dog ownership in the city.

Co-Founder Shane Matthews adds “there will always be people who love dogs and those who prefer the company of other (or even no) animals. 

With the growing popularity of inner-city dog ownership we don’t want to see this divide cause friction. We see part of our mission at Centennial Bark to help build communities of dog owners so that the experiences of everyone in the city can be positive. Because our clients’ dogs know each other from day care they tend to be better behaved in their local dog parks and in other public places. This in turn sends such a positive message to those sharing the space with them.”


Renee Hughes, Owner of Pooch Play Care (Adelaide) believes that doggie day care has become the norm for a lot of families for many reasons. "First, we all love our pets and want the absolute best for them! She believes that dog owners 
don’t want to leave their pooch home alone all day and instead choose to increase their dogs’ social skills and stimulate their minds. 

Accessing a dog day care centre gives their pooch a day of play, learning, socialising and care whilst they’re at work or away for the day so it is a great alternative. 
Owners are also starting to realise the benefits of providing their dog with the stimulation they can only get from other dogs.

Pooch Play Care caters to many dogs that are destructive if left home alone. Often a day of play can help alleviate the boredom or separation anxiety some dogs experience when they are left home alone for hours at a time.

But the most common reason people bring their dog a day care centre is because they want a social dog. A dog they can take for walks, go to the dog park with, take to other people’s homes and generally have them be a part of their everyday life. Providing your dog opportunities to socialise early in life and regularly throughout their life will help ensure your dog is comfortable around other dogs."

Centennial Bark staff also provides daily walks 
Shane adds that "exercise, interaction and stimulation throughout the day is far more beneficial to any dog’s wellbeing than the size of its living area." 

Tom also recommends day care to people who have something planned for that night: "they will pick up their dog ready for a long night’s sleep after a day with us, and their owner can go out and enjoy their evening knowing their dog is content.”

Leah and Angela O'Meara from Houndog Daycare (Brisbane) explain that "a lot of their customers are time-poor: they may have had a child recently or gone back to work - and their dog may not be getting the attention they were used to… Taking them to a doggie day care helps alleviates some of that guilt!

Some customers use our services to “maintain” their dogs’ social skills by mingling with a regular friendly group of doggy friends. Many owners like the fact that a daycare centre offers a controlled environment where dogs are fully supervised by expert dog trainers. In some cases owners no longer take their dogs to the park or the beach, because of their reputation for dog fights etc. We only visit these locations at off-peak times, knowing that this is a much safer option. We do what we can to avoid the public (and their dogs) as this situation comes with too many 'unknowns'. 

For high-energy dogs,  a 3 or 4-hour session of running, playing and swimming is a great way to drain their energy so they’ll be tired by the time they’re ready to go home!

Houndog Daycare regularly takes its furry customers to the beach - which owners rarely have the time to do - and for those dogs needing to lose weight in particular, swimming offers a low-impact exercise. "Lots of the dogs will happily swim during our outings - as they mimick each other - yet, they will refuse to do so with their owners. It’s a funny thing to watch: a group of dogs with four trainers in the water and lots of squeaky toys, all having a good time! They love it!" 

In 2016 we launched a very unique concept with our doggy day trips to Stradbroke Island. No other doggie daycare provider in Australia has ever taken a group of dogs (on a ferry across Moreton Bay) to spend a day on an island!

Houndog Daycare day trip to the tropical paradise of Stradbroke Island: a first in Australia!


"Generally dogs that have frequented dog classes, 
dog parks and had opportunities to socialise will do well in dog day care. But not always!" explains Renee from Pooch Play Care

Pearl, Baxter, Oscar, Freddie, Duchy & Ollie love Pooch Play Care
"When a new dog starts with us, they go through a very slow, calm and controlled introduction to the other dogs in our care to ensure they aren’t put through unnecessary stress and anxiety. 
Not all dogs will enjoy dog day care, whilst others love the running, tumbling, playing and socialising it can provide. Like humans, dogs have their likes and dislikes…. Some of us like loud parties, some of us like quiet dinner parties, dogs are the same! 

If you are unsure how your dog might respond in care it’s a great idea to book them in for a short visit to see how they respond. Make sure you ask the provider to send you pictures and updates throughout the day so that both you and the dog day care centre can monitor your dog’s body language and behaviour. This will help ensure your dog is comfortable in their new surroundings. At Pooch Play Care, we send a progress report during the day and a final report at the conclusion of the first visit to advise dog owners how their dog integrated in day care."

Angela explains the process they follow at Houndog Daycare: "we like to do a phone interview first to have a chat with a potential customer about 'why' they’re looking for a doggy day care and what they’d like to achieve. We build a dog profile which includes basics like their dog breed, social ability, personality traits etc.

We then book a trial day (3 to 4 hour period) to assess each new dog’s suitability with 4 to 6 trainers present on that day. As we operate day tours we need to check how they travel in the doggy bus (any travel issues like car sickness) and if they’re comfortable in close proximity to other dogs (any space issues). Upon arrival at the park, do they mix and mingle well with new dogs of various breeds and temperaments and what are they more interested in: e.g. chasing balls, or doing their 'own thing' like sniffing and exploring?

We will give the owner a full run down on how their dog went and if the trial is successful, the new dog will start by joining our regular day trips on either a once a week or once a fortnight basis.  We don’t offer casual visits or day trips as we feel there is way less chance of conflict when a group of dogs know each other and remain "familiar" with each other: this is the recipe for harmony among the pack!


Tom offers his tips: “apart from basic requirements such as a clean well-maintained daycare space, paying attention to your dog’s wellbeing should be top of mind when choosing a provider. 
The caring staff at Centennial Bark
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the services offered, how much time your dog spends playing, exercising and resting, and how staff manage things like fights and bullying behaviours between dogs. 

There should be a balanced mix of play, exercise and rest throughout the day. Above all, if you’re thinking about dog day care or pet sitting, ask to see the space where your dog is going to spend the day. Any good dog professional will be very open with you on this point.”

Shane recommends to "choose a day care centre that has staff and facilities that you feel comfortable with. You should expect a thorough debrief on your dog’s day, particularly after the first few visits. We also like people to see what their dog is doing when they’re with us – and most places will offer web cams or photo updates throughout the day as a measure of transparency for you.”

Houndog has a very strict ratio of one trainer for every 4 to 6 dogs and a maximum of 10-14 per group at any time" advises Leah. Our trainers and staff members understand breeds, canine body language and dog behaviour – this is critical for safety reasons – and also receive continuing education and training.

She points out that owners should be "wary of daycare centres that accept random or casual dog visits or have huge numbers. Dogs naturally live in smaller packs. It only takes one dog to upset the balance and scuffles can break out quickly" so they should be supervised at all times. In addition to the screening process to ensure sociability (with dogs and humans), each dog must be desexed and up-to-date with flea and tick control (preferably wearing a tick collar).

Renee adds that "you know your dog best! Do you think they would enjoy a whole day spent indoors or would they like to venture outside also?" Pooch Play Care is an indoor/outdoor centre providing dogs a choice to spend their day playing where they are most comfortable. She feels it is in our dogs’ best interest to provide them with a natural experience and this includes being able to splash in a pool, dig in the dirt and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine!

Smiles all around from Jordan (Shepherd), Dexter (Labrador) and Rubi (Husky) at Pooch Play Care
She also suggests to "ask if the centre has a behaviour management philosophy? She believes that centres using force-free methods are always preferable. Pooch Play Care strictly supports positive reinforcement only: meaning dogs are not punished for undesirable behaviour but rewarded for their good behaviours.

Tom also says “it’s important to understand the limitations of any doggy day care. Yes, it can deliver many positive enhancements to your dog’s behaviour but it will be virtually impossible to deal with any significant behavioural issues you may not even realise your dog has. The better places will tell you if your dog isn’t adjusting to the experience. If they find that your dog has behavioural concerns, they will direct you to a trained dog behaviour specialist if necessary.”

Renee also shared some fur parents' special requests with us.

"Being dog lovers ourselves there isn’t much that surprises us! We have an incredibly adorable Dachshund who visits us that prefers to drink out of a mug. Don’t we all though? Another puppy needs to be nursed to sleep for his midday nap and we all fight over that job! When it comes to the food, some of our precious puppies eat cooked lunches, vegetable casseroles, grass-fed meats and grilled fish! This can get awkward when staff brings in vegemite sandwiches!"

On a personal note, we'd like to see more of this new breed of facilities and services around Australia especially - speaking from our experience - in the outer suburbs where dogs are left alone the longest due to our longer commutes. It certainly would make for much happier pooches, owners and communities generally!

We'd like to extend our thanks to Shayne Matthews and Tom Dowse from Centennial Bark, Renee Hughes from Pooch Play Care, Leah and Angela O'Meara from Houndog Daycare for their contribution to this article.

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