So, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here, ditching my doggy daycare came after a conversation with my mentor, and I’ve not yet written a blog introducing her. But I feel like this is too important. I wanted to write it sooner, but opted to wait until a) I’d calmed down a bit and b) we’d found a resolution.
This all started back on the intensive when we were discussing the fact that, as part of the course, we would need to visit a doggy daycare with our mentors. I asked Victoria if it was an ok thing to ask our own doggy daycares if we could visit (not necessarily for the course requirement, but in general). She seemed shocked that I hadn’t visited – I explained that I’d visited prior to sending Kimber there, but it was in the morning before the dogs were present. She said it was a perfectly reasonable request, for any dog owner sending their dog there, not just as a VSA student, and that alarm bells should be ringing if they were to decline.
What we knew about the daycare: It was called London Woof, they had a large stretch of grass, and had up to 30 dogs at any one time. there was also an indoor area that they had access to, which hd dog beds in. As well as having free reign here, they were walked once a day at a local park. They collected dogs in vans between 8 and 10am and were dropped off between 4 and 6pm. The vans had no crates, and the dogs were free to roam.
All sounds quite nice doesn’t it?
At a later date I recalled a conversation from when we visited (bearing in mind that I didn’t know as much as I do now); Kimber’s a beagle, and beagle are prone to howling and being a bit ‘barky’. They asked us whether this was the case with Kimber, and we said no. Cos it wasn’t. But we also pointed out that he may be different with a large number of dogs in a strange environment. They explained that as they were in a fairly built up area they had to be careful about noise – too many complaints could get them closed down. They said that if Kimber did turn out to be a barker that we could use a spray collar to deter him. I must have wrinkled my nose or something at that as they started explaining that it was a harmless technique. I told him we could discuss it again if it turned out he was noisy.
When I got back from the intensive, I wrote to London Woof explaining about the course and my training, and asked to visit. I was declined because “it’s par for the course that unfamiliar faces all too often become an unwelcome distraction to our regular resident canine guests“.
After discussing this with my mentor, I sent them another email with a list of questions. They replied to this with very unsatisfactory answers. Here’s a summary:
- Turns out now they’ve upped their dog numbers to about 40. That’s a lot of dogs. They stated that they have 10 handlers, but kind of dodge the question as to whether that’s 10 people working at any given time. Dogs are fast – it can be hard to monitor just one, but having four or more, especially when there are 30-odd other dogs that each of those four could be interacting with as well as each other…
- They have up to 10 dogs in their vans. Loose. My mentor told me about three dogs that were loose in a dog-walker’s van in Brighton, after being away from the van for 20 minutes, one of the dogs was dead, killed by one or more of the others, and those dogs knew each other well. This caused Brighton to change it’s legislation on the way dog walkers transport their wards.
- They stated that they have two dogs that attend the center wearing spray collars provided by their owners, and they also keep three spray collars at the centre – they did not answer whether they use them only with owners’ permission. However, they did say that they use water, not citronella. Oh well that’s ok then! For those who don’t know, spray collars work by spraying a liquid in the dogs face when the collar senses (via a microphone) that your dog is barking. It’s horrible for the dog, and if you teach a dog not to bark like this, they suppress it, and then you won’t get all-important warning signs prior to a bite. And in this situation, with 40 animals running round, someone else’s bark could set it off, which means the dog gets punished for no reason. And if the daycare staff are using them on dogs without owners’ knowledge, then they’re not even aware of a potential issue of bark suppression. I’m getting myself angry just thinking about the fact that they may have used one on Kimber…
- I asked if they had a behaviorist or trainer who consults for them (My mentor does this for a daycare local to her). Their answer is laughable:
Yes, ourselves. I’ve been looking after dogs for 14 years now, Gabor who is second in command has been working at LondonWoof for 6 years. That’s a lot of actual “hands on” dog experience. It’s also not “just a job” for us and the rest of the guys working at LondonWoof. We constantly try to educate ourselves and others.
I’m sorry, but just being with dogs and working with them does not make you a behaviorist! Especially when you take a look at the next point…
- I asked about the fact that Kimber had come home a few times with bite-marks and scratches. At the time I thought it was just dogs being dogs, but I’ve since learned that it’s uncommon for dogs who are legitimately playing to inflict damage on each other – and thinking about it, I’d seen Kimber play quite roughly with dogs before and bot come out unscathed. Damage only occurs when dogs get over-aroused (not a sexual thing – more of a reference to over-excitement, or overly stressed), and can’t get away from each other. It’s a not in a dog’s interest to get hurt during play! Their response shows that they are no behaviorist:
Unfortunately after looking after hundreds of dogs over the years, many of them being a rough playing pups I will strongly disagree. This [sic] type of “injuries” is VERY common amongst dogs that play a lot, claws and teeth are sharp, even when not used in anger.
They also included some pictures of dogs ‘playing’. I disagree, the pictures they sent me (which they’d also proudly displayed on Instagram) were not of playful dogs, but of aroused dogs, fearful dogs, unhappy dogs. And when I started looking through their Instagram account we found many more of the same, including of Kimber. Yes there were happy dogs in there as well, but there were a lot that were not. There were even pictures of dogs baring baring their teeth at the camera which they labelled as “smiling”.
I had originally planned to wait until I’d found a replacement daycare before pulling him, but seeing these answers I made the decision to do it immediately. As Brad Waggoner says “You don’t know what you don’t know until you know”, and now I knew. And I’d never forgive myself if something happened to Kimber while he was there.
Luckily our dog walkers (Ark – they’re wonderful) now knew of someone in our local area with a ‘backyard daycare’, which we went round to visit, and fell instantly in love with. I spent about an hour playing with the other ‘inmates’. Kimber’s been going there for a couple of weeks now, and he seems a lot calmer all round.
So please, ask your daycare these questions and make sure you know exactly what’s happening with your pup, I regret not doing more research, but luckily there wasn’t too much harm done.
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