A year ago, during a walk in the woods near our home, my dog, Charlie, and I came upon a group of people with unleashed dogs, which is perfectly normal for this area. Even Charlie was off-leash as well. I immediately tensed up, waiting for Charlie to react to the other dogs, while visions of a horrible dog fight about to ensue entered my mind.
You see, Charlie had been attacked a month earlier at the dog park and was dealing with some fear aggression toward other dogs. Instead, she surprised me and rushed into the middle of this group of strange dogs and played! She was so happy and at ease. I relaxed and caught up with the group to get to know these people.
As I chatted with various individuals, I learned that the group was “unofficially” led by a man who provided doggy daycare in his home. Every morning he walked his group of dogs in these woods and other people joined him via word of mouth.
Charlie was enjoying her time so much that I decided to drop her off at his doggy daycare later that week. I’d never had the need for doggy daycare, because my semi-retired mom lives with me and is home with Charlie during the day when I’m at work, but I figured it might be fun.
But warning signs popped up immediately.
He instructed me to remove her collar and ID tags and put them in a drawer in his garage, which he explained was a safety precaution so the dogs wouldn’t get tangled in each other’s collars while unattended in the fenced-in backyard. Really? They’re going to be unattended? Okaaay.
He told me to feel free to come in through the garage (which led to the backyard) to pick her up any time during the day since he might not be home, but to make sure not to let the other dogs out.
So what happens when someone else lets my dog out and she doesn’t have her collar on? And for payment, he said to just leave “whatever you feel it’s worth to you” in the same drawer with the collars when I pick her up. So this is an under-the-table cash business?
That afternoon when I picked Charlie up, sure enough, Mr. Doggy Daycare was not home. I put $20 in the drawer and fished out her collar. I opened up the door to the backyard and she practically leaped into my arms. She seemed overly anxious and was desperate to get in the car. We only had a five-minute drive to get home but she immediately fell asleep in the front seat.
Once home, she sunk into a deep sleep, even skipping dinner. I can only assume that she was hiked to the point of exhaustion and then left in the backyard all day where she probably played with the other dogs, but was not given any alone time to take a nap or to be inside. I felt horrible that this supposedly “fun” experience could have potentially caused her harm.
During the walks over the next few weeks it became all too clear that Mr. Doggy Daycare was a know-it-all jerk. He thought of himself as the pack leader of the dogs as well as the people who tagged along. His constant remarks on the low intelligence of the dogs in his care and derogatory comments about the dogs’ owners were wearing on my patience.
He encouraged everyone in the group to use electronic collars and to “give them a button,” meaning to shock them, any time they strayed too far from the group or didn’t fetch a ball fast enough. One of the dogs would even get a shock every time she attempted to eat poop! He referred to this dog as the S-word “eater” instead of using her real name.
Apparently his attitude didn’t bother the other people in the group, because I never heard anyone complain about him. On the contrary, they seemed to look up to him and were always asking his advice about certain behavioral issues they were having with their dogs.
All the attention only made his conduct worse. But I kept wondering if maybe I was reading too much into this so I tried to ignore my dislike toward him. Charlie was enjoying the dog walking sessions and I’d have felt guilty depriving her of this socializing time just because this man was annoying the crap out of me. Instead, I lagged behind, keeping as far from his negative chatter as possible.
He rushed through the walks at a pace that was difficult for me to keep up with and he wouldn’t let the dogs slow down for breaks; the walks were like a task he couldn’t wait to cross off his to-do list. One time a dog stopped to sniff a tree and I overheard him say, “They don’t need to stop and sniff everything, it’s the same trail every day –- keep them moving.”
I think his only goal was to tire the dogs out so much that they slept for the rest of the day. While I could see that Charlie enjoyed the company of these dogs immensely, I still hated being there.
Eventually I concluded that this was an unhealthy environment for me and my dog, so I began avoiding the group and chose to walk at different times of the day so we wouldn’t run into them.
About a year later, we came across Mr. Doggy Daycare and his dogs in the woods again. I let Charlie run ahead to play and I stayed behind where I thought I was out of earshot. He and another man were throwing a tennis ball for the dogs and Charlie was making sure she got a turn when I overheard him tell the man to “throw the ball into the raspberry bushes … that’ll teach her a lesson.” Seriously? When I heard Charlie yelp, I quickly caught up to her and we headed back in the opposite direction; I’d had enough of this jerk.
I’ve concluded that everyone has different training styles, but as a pet parent, you have to know what works for you and your dog. You should interview potential doggie daycare providers and check references just like you would for a human baby.
Better yet -– ask to observe or volunteer for a day to see for yourself if it’s a place you want to leave your dog. Most of all, listen to your intuition and pay attention to red flags. If something doesn’t feel right, walk away. Charlie and I have since started our own dog hiking group, and bad attitudes are not allowed.