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North Hills Monthly

Daycare is Going to the Dogs

May 31, 2016 12:29PM ● By Jennifer Monahan

Lucky Paws Pet Resort

Before doing the research that led to opening their own The Dog Stop™ franchise just over a year ago, owner Mike Oldaker confessed that his wife and co-owner Kathy Oldaker thought doggie daycares were a bit excessive.

The couple had always had animals and both have been active in Animal Friends, a pet rescue shelter, for more than three years. When Mike was at a professional crossroads and had an opportunity to change careers, he found himself drawn to working with dogs in more than just a volunteer capacity.

Prior to taking ownership of The Dog Stop in Wexford, the Oldakers talked to veterinarians and dog behavior specialists and became convinced of the value of doggie daycare. One key benefit to dogs is the opportunity for socialization, according to Mike, who explained that when a dog is young, it needs to be around other dogs and other people. That exposure takes away the fear and aggression that some canines otherwise display.

Gretchen Fieser, co-owner with her husband Jason Wietharn of Lucky Paws Pet Resort, could not agree more. Fieser spent almost 12 years working at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society before she became the proprietor of Lucky Paws. For social, energetic and outgoing dogs, daycare is a wonderful thing, she explained. 

While socialization is an important benefit for the animals at daycare, so are exercise and mental stimulation, said Fieser, adding that many veterinarians advocate for doggie daycare for all of these reasons.

So what do the dogs actually do in daycare? The answers are as varied as the dogs’ personalities.

Some larger facilities, such as The Dog Stop, separate the dogs into smaller groups by size and temperament. Dogs have play areas complete with playground equipment, rest areas and lunch breaks. Lucky Paws has both indoor and outdoor play areas stocked with dog toys, as well as a swimming pool where the dogs can cool off on warm days.

Denise Mahan, owner of Happy Tailz Pet Spa in Wexford, runs a smaller facility that usually has around 10 dogs at one time, with a mix of puppies and older dogs.

“It’s almost like a kindergarten class,” said Mahan. The puppies play, take potty breaks, get walks and have rest time, she explained. 

Misty Pines Pet Company in Sewickley offers group playtime and a swimming pool. Additional services for the dogs in daycare include walks, extra cuddle time, one-on-one sessions with a trainer and agility training on the facility’s indoor obstacle course, depending on each dog’s needs and the dog owner’s preferences. Aimee Kollinger, vice president of family-owned Misty Pines, said participation in doggie daycare keeps the dogs behaving better at home because they have an outlet for fun and play.

Each of these facilities has staff that monitors the dogs during playtime to make sure that the animals are getting along, and each has some kind of evaluation process in place to make sure that the daycare is a good fit, because doggie daycare is not for everyone.

“When we do our initial meeting, we evaluate the dog’s temperament,” explained Oldaker. Dogs who are overly aggressive do not participate in the group daycare setting, though the staff will work with dog owners to attempt to overcome the behavior issues. Some dogs also experience separation anxiety. “We don’t want the dog to be terrified,” she added. 

Fieser explained that daycare may be a stressful situation for dogs that are shy or anxious around other dogs. In many instances, Oldaker said, a dog that is initially anxious becomes comfortable if it is introduced to the other dogs in stages, and once it realizes that the owner will always come back. 

Mahan has worked with rescue dogs that may have been mistreated and are skittish with both humans and other dogs, and loves the rehabilitation that can happen in a daycare setting. “To see them come out of their shells and just be dogs is a joy,” she explained.

All kinds of people bring their dogs to daycare, for all kinds of reasons. While some owners are single professionals who work long hours and do not want their pets to be alone all day, other dogs belong to families who are busy with kids’ activities and use daycare as a regular playgroup for the dogs to get some exercise and burn off excess energy. 

Oldaker has clients who bring their dogs in daily for two hours of socialization and others who travel frequently and take advantage of the onsite kennel as well as daycare. The Dog Stop’s new location near the McKnight Road shopping district has resulted in more clients who drop off dogs for a couple of hours while they shop or do errands, rather than leaving their pets at home alone.

With splash pools, obstacle courses, nap areas and special flooring, doggie daycares provide both entertainment and creature comforts for beloved canine members of the family. Having assisted pets who were abandoned or abused during her years at the Humane Society, Fieser takes pride in the fun and safe environment that daycares can provide. “This is what every single person who works in an animal shelter wants to see happen for the animals,” Fieser said.