HOW DOES DAYCARE WORK?
Updated: Jan 11
Grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and settle in, this is one of our longer posts…
Until we had Madoc as a puppy, I’d never even heard of dog daycare, who knew ten years later we would own one? I learned of daycare when we were at a small dog social in San Francisco at SF Puppy Prep. We’d show up with Madoc, pay a fee and enter a playroom that included wine and some snacks, and a dog trainer. We learned a lot from those sessions including about daycare from one of the other dog parents. We so loved those socials and hope to replicate them at Good Dog in the post-COVID world.
With trepidation, we signed up for daycare, went through their vetting process, and dropped Madoc off for her first visit. We worried all day but she came home happy and tired. I was still nervous about taking her back. At the time the daycare (K-9 Playtime in San Francisco) had small dogs upstairs in their building. When we arrived, Madoc dragged me up the stairs, got to the top, stood on her hind legs, and banged on the gate to be let in. My mind was set at ease.
Through the years in San Francisco, we went to three different daycares. The first was K-9 Playtime. When Madoc had emergency surgery, we decided to move to a smaller daycare to ensure she had extra supervision and a lower level of activity. We took her to Pawsitive Tails, a daycare that was owned by one of the trainers from SF Puppy Prep. It was perfect for recovery because they averaged about 10-12 dogs per day and Madoc had a special relationship with the owner. When they sold their business and moved away, it was apparent that Madoc was ready for more stimulation so we decided to try Wag Hotels - we loved it as much as Madoc did and it became the inspiration for what would become Good Dog.
Even through those experiences, we didn’t exactly know what happened once we dropped Madoc off. We knew that she loved it, we knew she played quite a bit, and we knew she came home tired out and was well-behaved at home.
When the day came to move to Seattle for the opportunity to have a dog daycare of our own, we were confident in taking Madoc because by then she was an old pro. It also gave us the opportunity to see firsthand how a daycare really works and what goes on behind the scenes. The bottom line is that there are no shocking revelations and there’s a lot more napping than we anticipated.
When you bring your dog into Good Dog, you’re greeted in the lobby, we check your dog in, take the leash, and take them back into the warehouse on their way to a playroom. Those dogs that seem nervous about going back or even hesitant tend to change their tune completely once we take them through that door from the lobby and pass the sign that says, “This way to play!” From there, they’re taken to the room deemed appropriate for their size and temperament.
While we start by placing dogs by size, i.e. small dogs go to Smallville, large dogs go to Great Expanse. Often we’ll find that there are some big dogs that aren’t comfortable with the activity level in the Great Expanse and they’ll get moved over to Smallville. On a rare occasion, there may be a smaller dog that’s full of energy that can mix well with the big dogs and they’ll spend time in Great Expanse. Then, there’s Calmburgh. This room is a mix of dogs who are calmer, quieter and prefer a lower energy environment.
When your dog enters the playroom, they go through the main gate and into a small area fenced off with a portable fence, then when the gate closes, the fence is moved and they enter the pack. After coming for a while, you’ll see the dogs connect with each other and establish their friendships, so they’re confident and dash into the room to play. When a dog comes in and is more timid, we introduce them to the group more slowly so they can build their confidence.
Dogs are often moved around the facility as needed. Sometimes a dog needs a break, they may be overstimulated, tired, grumpy, or just having an off day. To avoid any conflict, it’s important for our staff to monitor the dogs to spot any dogs that aren’t feeling harmonious with each other. Take Gunther, he’s a big sweet oaf of a fluffy dog - one of the sweetest. He plays and has fun but sometimes gets over-stimulated and doesn’t always respond to cues from other dogs so it’s best to remove him from the room, let him take a break, and then bring him back in later once he’s re-centered himself. One of the most adorable things about Gunther is that sometimes he’ll let US know that it’s time for a break.
Allowing dogs to take a break from an active playgroup is where areas in Good Dog like Calmburg and Slumberville (our boarding room) become very useful. While we have some kennels around the facility, when we need to give a dog a break, we prefer not to use a kennel if we can help it. However, some dogs will often choose to use them on their own. One big surprise for us is that Madoc is a frequent user of the kennels at Good Dog - but she was never crate-trained at home. She definitely has her own ideas about things - much like many of the dogs at Good Dog.
When a dog boards, the daily routine is very similar until dinner time. We feed the dogs separately and then the boarding dogs make their way to Slumberville with our overnight staff. As the daycare closes, the overnight crew settles in and the dogs usually begin to snooze with the television glowing while the staff relaxes and gets lots of cuddles. As noted before, we have several kennels in the facility including some in Slumberville, but we’re a pack-style boarding facility and we let the dogs tell us where they’ll sleep. Some dogs will hop up on the bed and snooze with staff, some take a spot on a dog bed, or with a blanket, or, yes, even in a kennel.
Morning comes early because breakfasts are served before the opening crew arrives (remember, we open at 6:30 a.m.). After breakfast, the dogs go into their respective playrooms to spend the day with their friends and our staff. Speaking of meals, however, we serve lunch to several dogs and those meals are handled the same way as breakfast and dinner. Dogs are taken out of their playgroups and isolated to enjoy their lunches. This is also how we handle our peanut butter kongs (and the snooze snacks at night for the boarding dogs that have opted for this add-on).
Other add-ons are managed throughout the day based on the staff schedules, the dogs’ arrival and departure times, and what the dog population looks like that day. We try to schedule any bathing services close to departure time so your dog goes home fresh, but potty walks are taken mid-day, as are ball-play groups. For us, a busy day of a full daycare, dogs playing with balls, going on potty walks, and getting baths is a great day.
As the day draws to a close, parents start picking up their dogs and the population decreases, cleaning starts, the dogs are shifted around and the rooms are combined which allows for some of our staff to start prepping the rooms for another day. It’s a multi-step process including sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping with disinfectant.
The thing about daycare is that oftentimes, your dogs behave at daycare very much as they may behave at home. Yes, there’s some play that takes place, there is also the factor of our staff engaging with the dogs, but there are a lot of naps, there’s a lot of barking, and yes - there is so much poop!
One of the reasons we got into this business is what we saw when we would go pick up Madoc from daycare - other dog parents picking up their dogs and the excitement they shared, it’s a good feeling. It should be noted, though, that as we would witness happy reunions between owners and dogs, Madoc would saunter out and give us the equivalent of a head nod, but that’s Madoc… The staff would later tell us that she would bark in excitement and drag them down the hall and then turn on her too-cool-for-school act just for us.
Since this post was originally published on March 23, 2021, there have been a few changes at Good Dog. Most notably, in July 2021, we lost Madoc, she was 11 years old at the time of her death and she's missed terribly having always been such a wonderful dog.
Another change is the fact that we officially instituted a weight limit on January 1, 2022. We no longer accept dogs over 40 pounds. We still have a few that are over the limit and are long-term customers that we grandfathered in while some others had to be asked not to return because the limit meant that they were no longer a good fit at our facility.
In December 2022, we also updated the names of a couple of the rooms referenced in the post. Smallville became Scobey. This playroom is currently used primarily for our larger dogs. Great Expanse became Madoc - this playroom is currently used for a mix of sizes of dogs that are active and playful, and yes, it's named after our beloved dog.
If there's one thing we've learned about how a daycare works, it's that we need to remain flexible and adjust the business model as needed.