Tag Archives: routine

Choosing the right day care

Over the last couple of months, I have taught a number of massage workshops for dog owners.  I ask each participant about their dog’s daily routines as part of the pre-workshop questionnaire.  I was pleased to hear about the steps most had taken to provide their dog with daytime stimulation and care.

My customers tend to consider their dogs as family and they put their dog’s needs very high on their importance list.  They also know their dogs very well – in terms of likes, dislikes and temperament and so they chose day care arrangements based on their dog first.

Animal Medical Center in Tuscaloosa AL

Here are our collective tips about choosing a doggy day care:

  • Layout and facilities

Commercial operators should allow inspection at any time of the day.

Does the facility smell and look clean?  What are the noise levels?

Does the facility have adequate outdoor exercise yards and indoor areas where dogs can rest in peace and quiet?  Are there comfy beds that are regularly washed for dogs to rest on?

Does the facility use natural cleaning products? (ask to see the labels of what they use!)

  • Who works there

Caregivers at a doggy day care are no different to caregivers at a child’s day care facility.  You should be able to meet with them, have a chat, and understand their qualifications and experience.  Get a commitment to staffing ratios.

By far the best successes of my customers are with facilities staffed by people their dog already knows – and that can include family members (more on this below).

  • Are special needs catered for?

If your dog has a special diet, is the facility able to deal with it?  How do they keep treats and foods separated for their different clients?

If dogs are elderly or recovering from an injury, will the day care be able to isolate the dog for rest periods?

  • Temperament testing and ‘admittance criteria’

With the rise of commercial day care businesses has also come standards that some facilities adhere to.  Quite often, this means that dogs are temperament tested and if they don’t pass, they are not allowed in.

Don’t despair, however, this may mean that the facility’s operations aren’t for your dog as much as the reverse.  It’s not a criticism of your dog.

It’s possible for dogs to become overstimulated or over-tired in facilities that rely on group-play operations.  These facilities tend to be the most profitable for their operators because they can have one handler supervise a larger number of animals throughout the day- and so the temperament tests are geared to assessing dogs that will cope in the group environment.

But is that right for your dog? – there are a range of operators out there and so biggest is always best.

So here’s where asking around, networking and being creative become important.

  • Small, niche and family arrangements

Here’s what I found the most interesting amongst my customers.  Their arrangements for day care relied more on retired family members (usually parents) and smaller operators offering in-home care for a few dogs.  Day care operators with individual kennels for dogs and supervised play time were also favoured.


Well, in the case of family, they loved the dog and were prepared to offer day care for free or  in exchange for help around the home.

Smaller operators offered in-home care arrangements similar to the family home and there was a high level of trust in terms of the care and attention given to the dog (although often these arrangements are more informal – so understand what contractual arrangement you are entering into and what recourse you have against the operator if something isn’t right).

In smaller care situations, there were reduced chances of dog fights or aggression since only a few dogs were involved.

And in the case of operators with kennel-type arrangements, the staff tended to smaller groups at play sessions and so a higher level of supervision and personality matching could be achieved than through ‘temperament testing.’  Dogs were also allowed to rest for periods of the day in private (as they would be if left at home).

Since I incorporate enrichment techniques in my own practice, I think day care has its place for some dogs.  Most dogs don’t require full-time care throughout the week, particularly if they are exercised daily with enrichment and bonding time at home.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

On time percentage

If Daisy was a commercial airline, she’d happily report a 100% on time percentage for flight arrivals and departures.  But Daisy isn’t an airline, she’s my adored dog who doesn’t understand public holidays.

Today is Waitangi Day in New Zealand and many people would have taken the opportunity to sleep in for a while.  Not me.

Daisy arrived at my bedside at 6:30 am to remind me that it was time for breakfast.  I fed her and then tried to go back to sleep.  At 7:00 am she was back – what are you doing in bed?!  It’s time for walkkies!

Daisy reminds me that is is 7:00 am and time for walkkies

Daisy reminds me that it is 7:00 am and time for walkkies

Dogs have a remarkable grasp of time and routine.  I think it is essential for dog owners to establish a good routine for their dog, because it gives the dog security and a sense of well-being – they know their needs will be taken care of.

I just wish we could establish a Plan B routine – for public holidays….

Dogs and grief

Dogs are emotional creatures and they often form strong bonds to their owners, extended family, and other dogs in the household.  This, of course, is one of the many benefits of having a dog (or more) as members of your pack.   Because of these emotional connections, dogs also experience grief when a loved companion dies.

Symptoms of grief can include lethargy, loss of appetite and weight loss.  With the grief comes a depression of the immune system, possibly leaving your dog vulnerable to problems like kennel cough (even if they are vaccinated).  Being aware of these symptoms is important and when a loss is experienced, extra care and attention are needed to help the dog manage their grief.  Things like extra outings to new parks can help stimulate brain activity and keep the dog happy.   Ensuring the dog has a solid routine they can rely on is also very comforting.   I have even been called in to give grieving dogs a relaxation massage to provide them extra stimulation and help them feel better.

One of the most ‘celebrated’ cases of a dog’s loyalty to its dead master is the story of Greyfriars Bobby.  Bobby was a Skye Terrier owned by John Gray, who worked in Edinburgh, Scotland as a night watchman.    In February 1858, John Gray died from tuberculosis and his body was buried in the Greyfriars Kirkyard.  According to legend, for the next 14 years, Bobby spent most of his time at the grave mourning his master.  In 1872, following Bobby’s death, a statue of the dog by William Brodie was erected outside of the gates of the Kirkyard with funds from a local patron.

The Greyfriars Bobby statue located in Edinburgh, Scotland

For more recent stories about dogs who have grieved for their owners, read The phenomenon of grieving dogs.

Routine is very important

Like children, I believe that dogs thrive when they have a routine and daily/weekly schedule that they can count on.  This routine gives them confidence and comfort and caters to their necessities of life.

So what things should you include in your dog’s routine?

Sleep time :  Although sleep requirements differ over the lifetime of your dog and there are also breed differences as far as sleep requirements, the general rule of thumb is that dogs require 16 to 18 hours of sleep per day.  Like you, dogs will benefit from periods where they are left quietly to sleep without disturbance.  In most homes, the dog will have a sleep period that coincides with its family.  However, they will also need time during the day to sleep.  If you work outside of the home, your dog will sleep for a good period of time when you are away.  If you are at home during the day, either by yourself or with children and others in the house, I recommend that you either crate train your dog to give them quiet time or allow your dog the chance to define their special quiet place.  Make an effort during the day to leave your dog undisturbed so they can sleep.

Water:  Your dog should have clean water available at all times during the day.  Keep the water bowl clean and change the water daily.

Food:  “You are what you eat” applies to dogs as well as humans.  Ensure your dog has a good quality diet (some owners choose a raw diet while others prefer a ready-made commercial food).   I prefer a twice daily feeding schedule and larger breeds will need this to help manage against bloat.  Some owners only feed once per day.  Don’t forget to include treats in calculating your dog’s daily ration.

Toilet time:  Most dogs need to urinate or defecate at least every 6-8 hours.  If you leave your dog inside when you are at work, you will need to consider their toileting needs.   When I am going out for the day, for example, Daisy gets a walk before I got out.  I am then more confident that she will be comfortable for when I am away.

Play:  Just like us and our children, dogs need a time to play.  This gives them mental and physical stimulation.  Choose toys appropriate for your dog’s temperament, set up play times with other dogs, go to the dog park to meet other dogs or consider doggie daycare.   Arrange for a pet sitter to walk your dog during the day.  There are many options for creating healthy and happy playtime for your dog.

A safe place:   The den instinct is still there in our domesticated dogs.  Make your home the safe place your dog deserves.    Ensure food, drugs, and household chemicals are kept out of reach of your dog.  Make sure your dog has its own place within the home (bed/crate or both!).

If circumstances change (such as what has occurred in Christchurch with changes to routine because of the earthquake and different work requirements), make a new routine for your dog.  Dogs are able to accommodate short-term changes or interruptions to their schedule, but their behaviour and stress levels will change if you don’t find a new routine for them to follow.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand