May 2017

Doggy Day Care: Making Dogs Happy One Day at a Time

Author: Kitty Bartell

Dogs are social animals who like to play; from the laid-back Labradors and Labradoodles, to the herders, hunters, aides, military and police dogs trained for service. Lob a fuzzy, yellow tennis ball across an open field, and the playing field is leveled. It no longer matters what their day-job may be; the couch-inclined canine leaps to his feet just as quickly (okay, nearly as quickly) as his more seriously trained counterparts, and runs with equal abandon to retrieve that ball—the true definition of play for play’s sake. Scooped up between clenched teeth from soft grass, from puddles or dusty ground, from gritty sand or the salty sea, the result is the same: one happy dog.

The doggy day cares located throughout the Lowcountry strive for that result—one happy dog, and then another, and then another. With the pace of work life today and less-predictable schedules, there has been an increased demand for services geared toward the care and keeping of our four-legged family members during the work day. Visitors to the area are also making good use of doggy day cares. Families traveling with pets may enjoy the benefits of giving their pups a vacation at day care facilities while enjoying time at the beach, on the links, or riding bikes.

“It offers peace of mind for the owner,” said Karen Just, owner of The Bark Shack in Bluffton. “You don’t feel guilty about your pet being home all day while you’re at work.” She says there are a couple other benefits. “Day care offers socialization. All dogs need to be socialized so they’re easier to handle the older they get, and dogs do enjoy being with their own kind occasionally. It also offers the owner peace of mind that their pet is not home tearing up the couch, or stuck outside in the heat.” With 21 separate yards, The Bark Shack is a socially minded facility, where the dogs they care for are outside their kennels in groups of five to seven, except for overnight and feeding.

Finding the right doggy day care for your pet’s personality and temperament begins with finding the fit that feels like a home away from home, said Tracy Groves, owner of Pretty Paws Pet Salon and Boarding on Hilton Head Island, where she keeps her numbers small so that it feels like home, and where the dogs are walked and given time to play and socialize. “Each dog gets personal attention,” she said. “It’s a social and happy place to spend the day.”

“We suggest day care for so many different reasons,” said Claudine Vaughan, who purchased Evergreen Pet Lodge on Hilton Head Island a little over two years ago with her husband Jonathan Vaughan, who had worked for the previous owner for over 25 years. “It’s good for socialization. It’s good for potential boarding. You never know when you’re going to need to board your dog, and if you have a facility that your dog is used to, then there’s no stress bringing your dog in to board.

“The dogs that come for day care are so comfortable with the staff, with the facility, with the other dogs. They really look forward to coming, so when they need to come for boarding or an overnight stay, it’s just normal to them. It’s just comfortable and they come through the door just like they would every day. If your dog comes on a regular basis and is used to our facility, there is no stress. You’re not stressed, the dog is not stressed. It’s a win-win for everybody.” Evergreen Pet Lodge also offers the opportunity to tour the facility, a practice that comes highly recommended as a first step for all pet owners when selecting a doggy day care. Of course, call ahead to find out the best time to stop by the facility to check things out.

When evaluating a doggy day care, it should be evident that play is a priority. Look for a facility with areas conducive to running, that is free of danger zones (weak spots that could allow escape, holes, surfaces, or equipment that could cause injury), that is clean, and that has safe toys for play. “We have an agility yard we use for all the dogs,” Vaughan said. “Also, it gets so hot in the summer, and we really do like to keep them out a lot of the time. The only way to do that is to keep them cool. We have sprinklers that come out of the ground. They run through the sprinklers, they do splash and play in the kiddie pools, we have misting fans when they’re in their rest time in the run.”

In addition to touring the doggy day care facilities before trying them out, all pet owners will need to show proof that their furry friend is up-to-date on vaccinations. Having a love for animals and a passion for their business is critical to building great doggy day care relationships, said Kathy Smith, co-owner with her daughter Erin Smith (they’re both certified groomers) of Dog Dynasty Pet Salon, a crate-free, dog care and grooming salon where socialization and play are the focus. “We both have a very strong passion for animals. We have an ongoing relationship with the Hilton Head Humane Association, and take donations that we deliver to the association.”

Many of the area’s doggy day cares share what’s happening with their canine customers through their websites or on Facebook and Instagram. Finding and following them is a great way to get a sense for what they do and to begin the process of finding just the right fit. It’s a good bet, you just may see some ball chasing, friend-making, and play; the result is the same: one happy dog. 

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