I've been asked A LOT lately about dog daycares: clients have been asking for recommendations, how to choose the right one, if it would be a good fit for their dog, etc. I've been struggling with these questions because I don't actually know a lot about doggie daycares: I've never personally taken my dog to one; I've never had to shop around for one; and, therefore, don't really know, specifically, what questions would be good to ask when touring or choosing between daycares.
We all care about our SideKicks and, when submitting our SideKicks into someone else's care, we want to make sure that they're in good hands. So, to find out more and to learn some information I could share with my clients (and the SKDT Blog readers), I reached out to Jamie Schwoerer, the owner of a doggie daycare in Lake Mills, WI. Jamie and I are both members of the Force Free Trainers of Wisconsin (FFTW) and I fully admit to taking advantage of that connection to get more information about dog daycares!
Jamie Schwoerer owns Laughing Dogs Daycare and Training Services in Lake Mills, WI. She graduated from Rocky Mountain Regional Dog Trainer Academy in 2014 and began as a trainer, but now only teaches basic training classes to focus on running the daycare, grooming, boarding, and the walking portions of the business. Jamie shares her life with her fiance and their four dogs: Lacey (Great Pyrenees), Lyra (Great Pyrenees/Saint Bernard), Denver (Great Dane), and Legend (English Springer Spaniel).
How long have you been in the doggie daycare business? What led you to dip your toe in this adventure?
I have been running Laughing Dogs for just over two years now. I never had plans to own a dog daycare - I started out as a trainer and was very mistrustful of dog daycares. I was training at the daycare I currently own, under the former owner. The space was perfect for teaching classes and I loved it. Just over two years ago - February 2017 - the woman who started Laughing Dogs and owned it while I was training there passed away very unexpectedly. It would have been a shame not only for me to lose my training space, but also for the community. It was clear that daycare was needed in the area, so I decided to buy the business from her family to keep it running. It has since more than doubled in size and revenue with the addition of new services.
What would you say is the most important thing you've learned, owning a doggie daycare?
The number one reality check for me, coming from training to daycare, is that no matter how much I thought I knew about dog body language, it was nothing compared to what I know now. I think every trainer should spend some time in a dog daycare or larger group environment, observing behavior directly. It only helped me become more aware of how dogs communicate with one another in a group setting.
I have also learned a lot about the reasons people are seeking dog daycare - and those reasons can vary widely. Some people have great reasons for pursuing daycare for their dogs and some people are looking for answers that daycare just can't (and shouldn't) provide.
What makes for a good doggie daycare? What are specific features of a daycare that make it a "good" one?
This is a good question because many different models of daycares can be great. So, when you're looking for a daycare, don't just look for the fanciest or nicest looking daycare. People with money can easily set up an amazing looking daycare, but that doesn't necessarily mean they know how to ensure safety, appropriate play, staff training, etc. So, look for daycares that have an owner or manager who knows dog body language well enough to articulate what they look for and how they assess dogs for daycare. While cameras that you can view online in real time are nice, the lack of cameras doesn't necessarily mean a bad daycare. But, do ask more questions if there isn't a way to watch your dog.
A responsible daycare will do assessments for new dogs and they will be honest with their clients about their dog's fit within a group setting. Many clients desperately want a social dog, but the reality is that the vast majority of dogs really don't want or need to be in a group setting for a whole day. So, daycare staff need to be able to tell clients what they're seeing in their dog's behavior. Someone on staff should have some kind of experience or education learning about dog behavior and body language.
What might be some red flags for dog parents to watch out for when visiting or touring a doggie daycare?
Daycares that do not allow tours at all could be a red flag; however, keep in mind that some facilities are not set up well to provide a full tour, so it's not automatically a bad daycare if they can't or won't do tours.