A few months ago, a reporter from the Salem News interviewed me about what it’s like to own a doggy daycare; one of the questions she asked was, “What is the hardest part of the job?” At the time, I responded that my biggest challenge was figuring out an appropriate work-life balance as both a business owner and a mother of a small child. While this was — and still is — true, upon reflection I’ve realized that this revelation is not particularly novel nor relevant to my specific field. It was only after further contemplation, and being faced with the difficult task of “excusing” a few long-standing and beloved clients from daycare, that I realized the answer to the question posed above that had alluded me at the time of the interview: the hardest part of being the owner of a doggy daycare is making the difficult decision to “expel” a dog from play-care.
As a doggie daycare tasked with, above all else, the safety and well-being of our charges, I am faced with the difficult responsibility of expelling dogs from group play for a variety of behaviors, but they almost always revolve around aggression or the threat thereof. We can and will put up with a lot of things – barking, improper ‘evacuations’ (marking is including in this description), whining, jumping, mounting, pulling, etc. — and because of this, a pre-requisite of any staff member is an abundance of patience (note, my manger is gifted at scheduling shifts in such a manner to prevent worker burnout); but aggression, or the threat of aggression, is a deal-breaker. As previously mentioned, aggression can manifest in many forms but a dog that shows repeated or continued signs of aggression or extreme distress – anxiety which can lead to aggression – is a threat not only to himself but to the rest of the pack and my staff.
So, now that we have established why dog expulsion is necessary, let me tell you why it ranks among my least favorite things to do. In addition to the loss of income that occurs whenever you refuse a paying customer, telling a client that their dog is unfit for our play care often severs the relationship irreparably as, unfortunately, some clients react with anger or hostility. Despite our best efforts to stress the fact that daycare simply is not a good fit for all dogs – nor does maladaptation to play care a bad dog make — many folks still take the news as some sort of rejection or sinister judgement on the temperament of their dog or their abilities as a dog owner – neither of which is true at all. We’ve had a number of dogs who do well in small groups but a large daycare setting – like the one we offer – is not right for them. We’ve had others who, for reasons we may never know because many are rescues, simply do not enjoy meeting new dogs; however, they are wonderful with people or dogs they’ve known for an extended period. The personality of dogs is as varied as that of humans and it’s not fair to generalize or make blanket judgements about whether they are “good” or “bad” based on their ability to succeed in daycare.
To complicate matters further, several dogs who we have asked to refrain from attendance had previously been coming for months or even years with success. When you are caring for someone’s family member (and dogs are truly “family”) – especially when you are picking the dog up from their home – you develop a close and intimate relationship with the owners. Many clients become friends. Notifying a long-standing client that their dog is aging out of daycare — showing signs of extreme crabbiness which tells us they are no longer enjoying their time with us – is one, if not the, most difficult conversation to have with a client. But again, the well being of the dog must take precedence over personal relationships as well as the business’ “bottom line”. In my early years as an owner I failed to heed my own advice and it caused irreparable damage. Now, I put personal relationships aside and refuse to force a square peg into a round hole. If a dog is no longer doing well at daycare, we don’t beat around the bush. There’s only so much “tap dancing” we can do to accommodate a single dog who is no longer thriving within our parameters. And safety must always take precedent.
Over the years, I’ve identified five responses that characterize how clients will handle their dog’s expulsion and I list them from most ideal to least below:
Appreciation/Acceptance: These clients are relieved that we are putting the safety of their dog first. They are happy that we refuse to take their money and force their dog into a situation with which he is not comfortable.
Sadness: These clients feel sad or disappointed that their dog is not able to enjoy daycare but overall, they seem to understand that it is for the best.
Questioning: These clients have a lot of questions. They want to know specific details of how their dogs’ behavior is manifesting as well as a timeline of events and what we have done to counteract the bad behavior. These clients also typically want to see video of the behavior which we will provide if the client comes to the daycare for viewing.
Denial: These clients refuse to believe that their dog is acting in the manner which we describe. Typically these are the dogs that do well in open, group settings with the owner – like at the beach; however, like we try to explain to these owners, many dogs will behave differently in an open, neutral territory like the beach than they will in a closed, and “loaded” setting like a daycare. Especially if their “person” is not present with them.
Hostility: These clients react with anger and think it’s our fault that their dog has not been successful at our daycare. Some assume that we simply do not like their dog. As I try to explain to all clients, but especially the ones who react with anger to expulsion, sometimes dogs who do not well at our daycare may respond better at a different daycare with a group of different dogs. In my experience, this is a rarity, but it is worth a shot if clients are adamant that their dog must attend daycare somewhere/ somehow.
Hopefully if you’ve read thus far you understand that expelling dogs from daycare is a sensitive task and one we do not take lightly. If you are in the position where your dog is excused from daycare – whether at Dingo’s or elsewhere – I would hope that you recognize that the decision is for the well- being and safety of everyone involved, including your dog. While your dog may not do well in a daycare setting, there are a number of alternative outlets you may want to consider such as solo dog walking, or off-leash hikes. While everyone’s situation is different, we’re happy to try and assist you in finding a solution based on your dogs age and temperament that will help aid in energy expenditure, as well as elimination and other care requirements. For additional information regarding daycare, or if your dog is not a good fit for daycare, dog-walking, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.