Recently I toured a local doggie day care as I was in the area with some downtime from a last minute client cancelation. I have at least 5 clients that use this facility frequently for their dog and more that use this place as a boarding facility or grooming facility. Knowing this, I have even recommended it sight unseen. I am glad I took the time to go, because I wasn't too thrilled with what I saw.
When I went in, a gentleman had just dropped off his dog and was watching a monitor of live footage. I asked him if he went often and he told me that this was his dog's first time and he was having some work done on his house that was freaking her out so he thought this place was the best last minute solution. I struck up a conversation and asked if he got a tour or knew about their maximum number of dogs or how they discipline or if they offered potty breaks or down time or separated by size or disposition. His brows furrowed and he slowly shook his head. He hadn't asked any questions and wasn't offered a tour!
When the employee came out of the back room, I introduced myself as a local trainer and was very interested in learning more to perhaps start a partnership. He said I would have to come back later as the dogs don't like strangers walking in their space and handed me a brochure. I wasn't very easily disuaded however! I said, "Surely you have a lattice or one way glass area for viewing as most doggie day care's do?" The answer was YES but there were dogs in that room that I believe were employee dogs. He moved them and the gentleman that had dropped his dog off took advantage to follow me and the employee into his room. The dogs could see us a little and there was a tad bit of barking, but not much. What did I find out? I found out there was only one play space! They have other areas for isolation for trouble maker dogs but all the dogs (fearful, bossy, small, big, young, old) are altogether on a cement floor. What is in the space? A few kid's plastic play structures, spare toys (mostly chewed) and water. Dogs were urinating where they pleased and a wet mop wiped over the spot. I asked about discipline and was shown the water spray bottle and broom as well as told a foot for a good kick does the job if a fight occurs. My biggest issue was that these dogs were not happy. The 25 dogs there (35 is the max) were either totally bored or stressed beyond stressed (howling or barking, pacing, hiding, staring at corners, running away from other dogs). I am happy there weren't any fights or any all around bullying but I am pretty sure most owners aren't aware they are paying for their dogs to sit around in a warehouse type environment, pottying indoors and doing nothing or either stressing until their return. I didn't see any playing or any human interaction either. Just warehoused dogs!
Now I can see that if I had work being done on my house and my dog was socialized, being "warehoused" would probably not be a bad solution. Or maybe if I was moving that day and didn't have a friend to watch my dog. I would never stick my dog there thinking they were having a blast! So what about when owners get their dog and he is exhausted? Isn't that a hallmark of a day spent rough housing with doggie friends? No, sadly. Usually that means that dog was pacing or stressing or running.
When I do day train, and the dog had a good day with me (sometimes they don't if it was hard for them to be away from home and they were stressed), they literally say hello to their owners and then want to follow me back in the house! I send the owners pictures and videos proving what we are doing. I am honest with the owners if Fido was stressed and tell them they need to work more on XYZ.
I also asked the employee if he thought most people where unaware of their dog's mental state or "happiness" and he said a resounding "YES!" that the owners either don't care, or don't want to know.
Not all DDC are like this and I am now dedicated to touring more. What has your experience been?