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The problem with doggy daycare

Following bumper puppy sales during Covid, more owners than ever are turning to daycare services, but Ellena Swift urges caution

training working dog

Consistent personal contact is best to maintain well-behaved working dogs — a dog walker will not handle your dogs in the manner they are used to

The rise of doggy daycare

For nearly two years, owners had the luxury of staying at home with their dogs and were able to give them the time they required. Now, so many owners are finding things extremely difficult, with the return of long working hours and a lot less time at home. This is hardest possibly for the dogs that have not been trained to switch off or get used to their own company. These dogs are now becoming noisy, destructive and generally anxious. (Read our guide to the best slip leads.)

Alternatives are being sought, giving rise to dog-walking businesses and doggy daycare centres. These businesses, along with secure dog-walking fields, are popping up all over the country. The guilt-ridden dog owner can feel like the dog is either having a lovely day or being safely exercised by a walker while they are out of the house. Sadly, the reality of these businesses is not quite as rosy.

In my line of work, I deal with a lot of dogs with issues created by both. While I am certain that there are very good examples of these businesses, I fear there are more bad doggy daycare centres than good.


Firstly, dog walkers. I actually allow one dog-walking company to hire my secure training paddock, but get to see first-hand many other companies. Secure dog-walking fields have become a good way for many farmers and landowners to diversify, so I see them when out and about training.

gundog training

All your hard work training can be jeopardised in a daycare situation

Anyone who has trained any type of working dog will attest to the fact that nothing beats experience when it comes to working with animals. There is not an exam or theoretical lesson in the world that can beat actual hands-on experience.

A quick search through local dog walkers, and the vast majority have little more than the experience of walking their own pets and a “love of animals”. Occasionally they may have a qualification in dog training, yet their actual experience of training or even handling dogs is so limited it is massively concerning.

Recently I was contacted by a secure dog-field owner asking for my assistance. A dog had been cared for by a less experienced dog walker while they were away, and despite agreeing with the owners not to let the dog off lead, the walker had. This dog had been loose in a 26-acre secure field for two days. A vet had been called to sedate the dog and they still failed to catch it. When I arrived, the sheer incompetence of the dog walker was outstanding. It took me less than 90 minutes to catch the dog when the walker had been trying for two days.

When the poor owners arrived, it became apparent that the walker had ignored every instruction given about this particular dog and had set it back in its training for at least a year. The most concerning thing about all of this was that, until I contacted the owners, they were unaware of what had actually happened to their dog. This doggy daycare company is still running, and more recently was seen with no less than 16 dogs between two handlers in a small paddock.

doggy daycare

Dog walkers often take too many animals out on the lead at once, and have limited control on the lead or off

Time and money

The vast majority of working dog owners know the time, money and often tears that have gone into training their dog. Most will have experience of a family member or friend undoing some of this by doing things with the dog that encourages bad habits. Dog walkers do exactly that. It is unrealistic to expect a dog walker to train your dog in the same way you do, and perhaps therein lies the problem. Many are expecting too much from their walker.

Like many businesses, doggy daycare places are driven by money. This means that most will collect as many dogs as they can in one journey to save on fuel and time. Lots of strange dogs squashed into a vehicle is not a nice scenario for any dog. Then, being thrown into an uncontrolled situation, again with all strange dogs running around, is a recipe for disaster.

I have recently had clients with two working dogs that were put into a vehicle with lots of strange dogs that were not safely secured. This then resulted in a fight. One was fine, but the other became anxious and aggressive. The owners of the business insisted it was just a small scuffle. However, they should have never been shut in with strange dogs in the first place. This dog is now making big improvements, but it is taking time and money. All of this is before we consider the fact that working dogs are trained.

Most handlers spend a great deal of effort to teach their dogs basic obedience skills such as walking to heel, solid recall and ignoring other dogs. I have yet to see a dog walker look even remotely in control of the dogs they are walking on a lead. The vast majority are being towed along by the dogs like a pack of huskies pulling a sledge. Then when dogs are let off lead, there is little to no control.

It is a difficult situation as they are not dog trainers, and do not advertise themselves as such. But then some basic knowledge of how to walk a dog on a loose lead or keep a dog safe and recalling consistently on a long line should surely be a basic requirement? I despair to think of the hours of training being undone by well-meaning handlers.

black labrador retrieving pheasant

If you require a walking or daycare service, ensure they deal with working dogs


Dog daycare centres are slightly different in that the dogs are usually dropped off at the venue and left for a half or full day. When I was inspected by the council, the lady explained that most such centres were simply people hiring out warehouses and putting a few dog cages and sofas in.

I have had so many dogs coming from these centres with issues caused at the facility. Often, owners never know the full story as the staff refuse to tell them. A lot of centres insist that any male dog is castrated to attend, meaning owners are unknowingly causing irreparable damage to their dogs by having them castrated too young simply so they can be enrolled in daycare.

My most common experience is timid dogs being totally overwhelmed and forced to socialise. They are told that it will be good for the dog to spend time with others and learn to play. Anyone who understands dog behaviour knows this couldn’t be further from the truth, and many dogs end up either seriously reactive or simply terrified.

Most working dog owners understand that teaching a dog to socialise with every dog they see is only going to cause problems. We spend hours teaching them to ignore other dogs and focus on the handler. On a shoot day, there is nothing worse than overly social dogs marking, bitching, fighting and just generally being a nuisance. Yet dogs going into daycare are being taught this exact habit every time they attend.

Working dogs

Experience when handling and working with dogs is key

It is a sad reality that, following the surge of puppy and dog sales throughout Covid, people are struggling more than ever now to fulfil the time requirement for their dogs. These establishments can certainly provide a useful service for lots of dog owners while they adjust. However, if you require these services, I would follow this advice: speak to other working dog owners for references. If they only deal with pets, look elsewhere. Ensure you are very clear and put your exact requirements in writing so that they are not interpreted incorrectly.

Finally, ask to see them handling your dog, observe a walk or part of a session and watch them closely. Does the dog respond to them? Do they ensure the dog walks nicely, recalls, and is safe with the other dogs? If you are happy with what you see, then you are on to a winner. If they refuse to offer this, then move on.

A walker or doggy daycare centre should enrich your dog’s life, not ruin all your hard work. This is easily achievable with the right person. With Christmas coming up and the annual rush to buy a new dog, it is more important than ever to be selective and choose only the best for your dog.