I’m a dog person, and always have been. My two French Bulldogs are my two best buddies, and my attachment to those stinky little terrors is what some might call unhealthy. I talk to them and give them ear scratches and belly rubs all through the day, and sometimes when they’re sleeping, I can’t help but bother them, planting kisses on their squishy faces and telling them what good dogs they are. I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but sometimes I even sing to them. Lately I’ve been taking songs from Les Miserables and rewriting the lyrics so they’re about dogs.
Point is, my dogs get a lot of love and attention, and this was especially true during the lockdown period, when I was at home on the laptop all day with the pups grunting and snorting by my side. When I started a new job this year with several days in the office, I didn’t want to leave them alone all day, so I decided doggy daycare might be a good option. I liked the thought of them running around and playing with other pups all day, but more than that, I wanted someone looking out for them. I’m certainly not alone in wanting the best for my pups.
Our furry friends have become part of the family
Aussies are a nation of pet lovers and increasingly, we’re seeing them as part of the family. The RSPCA says that over 60% of dog and cat owners view their pets this way, with many adopting ‘parenting’ behaviours like speaking to them as if they understand, and even letting their pets sleep in bed with them according to a 2019 survey.
It’s not surprising, then, that leaving them at home as we start going back to workplaces on a regular basis can be tough, and companionship is important for dogs too. It presents a challenge for many dog owners that the doggy day care industry is stepping in to address.
Bree Robbins, owner of Paddington Pups, a doggy daycare and grooming centre in Brisbane, told Canstar that she is starting to see a number of what she calls “COVID dogs” – dogs that were purchased or adopted for companionship at the beginning of a lockdown period, and now suffer from varying levels of separation anxiety.
“They don’t know how to be without their owners because they haven’t been given the appropriate grounding to do that,” she said adding that these kinds of dogs can run the gamut from dogs that need to be touched and held constantly all the way to ones that are calm at doggy daycare but will cause major headaches if left home alone.
An anxious dog can do big damage around the house
“I’ve had customers who are bringing their dogs into daycare five days a week, [saying] doggy daycare is way cheaper than the $50,000 worth of damage that their dog has done at home,” Ms Robbins said.
“I’ve had people who think they’re doing the right thing by putting the dog in the garage for an hour or two while they go out, thinking it’s a safe space, and they’ll come back and find that the dog has eaten the rims off their car or chewed through a wall. That’s high-level separation anxiety that we’re seeing.”
Ms Robbins said she expected to see more and more dogs with separation anxiety in the next six to 12 months as life gains momentum and people begin returning to offices, saying it can take months for a dog to get used to not having people at home.
How much should you be paying for doggy daycare?
Tegan Bensley, the owner of Brisbane-based centre Paws and Relax, told Canstar that the average a dog owner could expect to pay was between $55 and $70 per full-day session, to make sure that you are getting quality care.
“There are backyard daycares that charge a lot less but they have a lot less to offer,” she said. “We have a lot of extra programs and do a lot of in-house training, for example.” She added that some “more expensive” daycares will have programs for rehab and socialisation for anxious dogs.
Ms Robbins agreed that a rate of around $60 per day is a reasonable amount to pay for doggy daycare in Australia. She said this takes into account the fact that it is a high-staffed industry, so these costs can be necessary to ensure there is an appropriate ratio of staff to dogs, and that the facility is appropriately cleaned and resourced and run to a high standard.
If you’re planning on sending your dog to daycare a few times a week, you can pay individually for a session, but many facilities will offer packages that allow you to buy a dozen or more full or half-day sessions with a bulk discount, and some may offer a discount if you are booking in more than one dog for the day. Some facilities will charge as little as $30 per day, and some will even offer packages that allow you to buy a year’s worth of unlimited daycare sessions, which can cost $5,000 or more, depending on the facility. Some will also charge a fee for late pickup, which can be a flat fee, or in some cases, even a charge of $1 a minute after closing time, but this will depend on the facility.
There are also a variety of other options you can include. Some facilities will offer pickup and dropoff services, lunch (provided by the facility or the owner), pool playtime, walks, treats, doggy ice blocks, baths, grooming and other similar services. These additions can start from as little as $5 and add an extra $50 or more to the day, depending on the particular doggy daycare and what the additional service is.
How many days a week is ideal for doggy daycare?
Right now, many of us are in a transitional phase, and those of us who work office jobs might typically be working from home most of the time, and only attending the office once or twice a week, depending on our job and where we live. The daycare owners we spoke to agreed that this could actually be ideal for dogs.
“Most of our clients do about two to three days a week,” said Ms Bensley. “If they send them too often, the dogs get overwhelmed and overtired, and less can mean they’re not settling in well with the rest of their friends, or getting a bit of a shock to the system every time.”
Ms Robbins said that a daycare session can be like “Disneyland” for pups, with lots of sights and sounds and smells and stimulation, but that it can be tiring. She told Canstar that “unless you’ve got a really high-energy breed of dog or an adolescent puppy” that you’re trying to train, twice a week is a good amount of time.
What should you look out for in a doggy daycare?
So, when it comes to choosing a doggy daycare, how do you know if you’re onto a good one? Ms Bensley told Canstar that every facility has a specialty, so owners should consider what they want for their dogs.
“Do you want your dog to just go and play for the day?” she said. “Do you need rehab daycare? Does your dog do better in a big open space where they can play outside, or are they going to do okay in an indoor facility? All these things need to be considered before even looking.”
There are some specific things to look out for when choosing the right facility, to make sure your dog will be safe, secure and supervised. According to the experts we spoke to, these important things include:
A good dog-to-staff ratio
When choosing a doggy daycare, it is important to consider the number of staff who’ll be there to make sure your pooch doesn’t get lost in the pack. “Do they have 50 dogs to one staff member?” asked Ms Bensley, noting that she typically has one staff member to look after every 10-12 dogs. “You need to ask if the dogs are supervised during play,” she added. The more staff there are at a facility, the more likely it is that your dog will get the attention and supervision it needs through the day, and that any incidents or injuries will be spotted quickly.
Staff who are trained in pet first aid
The last thing you want is for your dog to get sick or injured at daycare, but these things can happen, so it’s vital for the staff of any facility to be trained in pet first aid. “My team has picked up on ticks, they’ve saved dogs’ lives,” said Ms Robbins. “They’ve called owners because their elderly dogs are deteriorating. I’ve seen hip dysplasia. I’ve noticed dogs not walking right and informed the owners they need to go to the vet because the dog is having issues.”
Well-trained staff who spend all day around dogs may be able to notice things an untrained owner might not. “I’ve seen dogs that are just quieter than usual, and told the owners to go to the vet,” said Ms Robbins. “We’ve found dogs that have lupus or ear infections. Working in this industry, we’re able to see issues with your dogs that you might not. We’re watching them from 10 to 12 hours a day, so we’re able to pick up on little behaviours that you might not necessarily see.”
A high standard of cleanliness
Ms Robbins told Canstar that cleanliness is vital. “You want a facility where anything that they’re using can be sterilised and cleaned, that’s really important,” she said. “You don’t want too many plush fabrics, because dogs will be dogs, they’re going to want to pee on stuff and chew stuff.” She also said that some facilities have fake grass inside, which can look nice, but with dozens of dogs potentially peeing on it all day, it can be difficult to clean properly.
Safe dog toys
It’s also important to ask whether the toys your facility is using are safe for dogs, and to be wary of small toys in a doggy daycare environment. “I can have toys for my dogs at home that are small and that I know that they won’t swallow and chew because of the way that I play,” Ms Robbins said. “But as soon as you introduce a whole bunch of other dogs, your dog’s going to play and behave differently. Your dog might get possessive of the toy and say ‘no, that’s mine’, and run away with it and end up swallowing or choking on it.”
A good reputation
When trying to choose a doggy daycare, Ms Robbins suggested it’s also important to consider how long the facility has been around. “I think reputation matters,” she said. “I think how long you’ve been around in the industry really actually matters. There are a lot of fly-by-night daycares that I’ve seen come up. I’ve been in the industry for 12 years now, and I’ve seen a lot of daycares open and then close again. It’s a lot harder than people think it is to run, from a business perspective,” she said, adding that the job is a lot more than just “smushing” cute dogs all day.
What are some alternatives to doggy daycare?
If you don’t feel that doggy daycare is suitable for you and your pup, but you need someone to keep an eye on them through the day, there are a number of other options you can consider. Services like Mad Paws or Paw Shake offer a range of options, from dog-walking to in-home pet sitting, where a verified member will call in to check on your pooch during the workday. Likewise, you can ask a friend or family member to pet-sit for you a few times a week, although if your dog needs supervision, it may be worth keeping a local doggy daycare in mind, in case plans with family or friends happen to fall through.
Whatever option you choose, when you have a dog, you have a little furry friend who loves and depends on you, so it’s important to do your research when deciding what works best for you and for them.
Cover image source: Kittibowornphatnon/Shutterstock.com