Megan’s Musings: Beyond Dog Daycare – What is Day School?


A few months ago I wrote a post discussing if daycare was right for every dog. We know that it is not and help owners make the right choices for their dogs. Since day one, dogma has operated with this question at all times: what is the best choice for each dog to ensure their behavioural and emotional well-being? The answer to this question is our priority and it never gets undermined by convenience for team, our profits or the desires of the dog owner. Dogs cannot tell us how they feel, however, we have the most experience and knowledge in Calgary to understand how they feel when they are with us and be their voice.

As a dog lover, I have always made it my mission to do the best for our dogs. They are our family and are now more integrated into our human world then ever before. And that presents challenges for the general public, dog owners and the dogs. As a business owner, I am always looking for ways to improve and challenge the status quo through enhancing the lives of dogs. I hold this quote very close to my heart: “You know, the truth is this: it is a leader’s job to challenge the status quo. And when you do, you make enemies.” by Carly Fiorina. I am not out to make enemies, but instead want to see the dog care and training industry rise up. To improve. To do better for our dogs. And sometimes that doesn’t make everyone happy. But, I know anyone who is reading this loves their dog(s). They are your family and you want what is right for them. The good news? We have created some exciting new programs, that will become our norm, to set the standards even higher. Below, I outline areas that need to improve in our industry and the ways we just keep making things better for dogs in Calgary.

Minimum standards:
There are a few simple ways we could improve the lives of dogs as a whole in the industry and ensure that daycare is a way to improve the behaviour of dogs and keep them safe. Did you know that anyone can open a dog care/training facility and there are no requirements outside of having a business license? In many places, there are a set of regulations that a facility must uphold in order to operate. We, like many others, would rather see these come from those who are working hard within the industry to ensure businesses can remain sustainable. But, there are a few simple things that can help ensure the behavioural and emotional well-being of dogs and keep them safe.

Play group sizes: Sure, it looks fun when there are large groups of dogs running around and playing, but too often this can be detrimental to a dog due to arousal concerns and stress. It also jeopardizes the safety of the dogs as arousal will lead to more conflict and puts the dogs at a higher risk of fighting. And if they do, there are too many dogs to manage which puts the dogs at even more risk of inflicting serious damage. For this reason, play groups sizes should be no more than 15 dogs and should have a minimum of one trained team member supervising 100% of the time.

Segregated by size: At dogma, we agree that dogs must be socialized with dogs of all sizes. However, daycare is a more stimulating environment and the risk of injury during play increases. Mixing small and big dogs into this greatly increases the potential for injury and even death. We have had multiple deaths and severe injuries in the city of Calgary due to large and small dogs being together in play groups. The risk is too high and this should only be done within very small groups of dogs with a certified trainer supervising.

Staff Training: Every facility has staff training for their dog daycare attendants. The concern is that it does not mean they are learning about canine communication and/or behaviour, so will not have the knowledge required to ensure all the dogs are enjoying their playtime. And this training may focus on punishing the dogs. Using physical corrections in any situation is not the right approach, but using it in a stimulating situation like dog daycare adds unnecessary stress to the dogs, which puts the dogs at a higher risk of conflict.

Downtime: We have all heard the term open-concept or cage-free. We agree that dogs should have the opportunity to be out playing with their friends and investigating their surroundings. We also agree that they should be out playing with their buddies far more than they should be confined. However, we do not agree that leaving dogs out to run and play, without downtime, is the right choice for the dogs. This would be like leaving children out for recess all day. There would be some children that would be beyond exhaustion, some would be cranky, some would be wired and unruly and there would be an increase in conflict amongst the children. This is no different for dogs. Giving dogs space and time away from all of the activity is crucial for their emotional and behavioural well-being. This may take some extra work, but is something that should be a regular part of a dog’s day.

Certified Reward-Based Trainers: At dogma, we are always learning and keeping up with our education on canine behaviour. As a part of this, we are always implementing new ways to conduct training and dog play and ensure we are improving each dog’s behaviour. As well, our education ensures we have the knowledge to understand how a dog may be feeling in a dog playgroup situation. We recognize signs of stress, can interrupt conflict before it happens and ensure the dogs are in the correct group of dogs with a similar playstyle so that everyone enjoys themselves. Without this training, staff would be missing a lot of important information to keep the dogs happy and safe, they could be punishing dogs for appropriate behaviour and/or creating behaviour problems in many dogs as they are not receiving the guidance they need and would have to respond in the only way they know how to ensure they stay safe. There should be a minimum requirement for training, and ideally, facilities should have a certified reward-based trainer on staff.

Dayschool at dogma:
At dogma, we are always looking for ways that we can make the experience at dayschool better for the dogs, and in turn, for the dog owners. The largest part of this is that we take the time to get to know each dog in our care and do our best to provide the set up and training to help make the dog successful in our human world. This approach requires that we can provide the right program and have the commitment from the dog owner to be consistent in the training and follow the program outside of dogma. We know we are lucky to have the best clients and appreciate how we all share this common goal for our dogs.

In our efforts to continue to set the standards in the dog care and training industry, we are always improving our programs and finding new ways to enhance the dayschool experience. We started reviewing what would the ideal set up for dogs and have been working hard at testing how this would operate. After months of hard work from the team and many of the dogs in our care, we are thrilled to be starting dogma’s Private School! This will consist of kinderPUPS, dogmaHigh and dogmaU. Dogs will work in small groups where they are provided structured training, enrichment and play as they work towards becoming ideal urbanK9s. This will help dog owners to ensure their dogs can integrate successfully into their families, feel confident that their dog will be a safe and well-behaved citizen and that they have team of trainers to support them throughout their dog’s life.

As this industry progresses, people are moving towards a more activity-based and structured daycare solution that dogma has been providing since the beginning. We are taking this a step forward and introducing the first of it’s kind official dog dayschool. Watch for exciting announcements coming soon and exclusive offers for existing dogma clients. We know you will share in our excitement at what this means for the dogs in our care. We cannot wait for this new program and hope as we continue to set the standards in the dog care and training industry, we raise the minimum requirements as well.

What would you like to see at a dayschool for your dogs? What is important for your dog’s growth and development to becoming an urbanK9? What do you expect from a dog daycare? Comment and share below!


Megan’s Musings: Is Daycare Right For Every Dog?

Your dog does not like daycare. I have had to deliver this news a few times and it is never easy. I always feel proud of my team for taking the dog’s emotional and behavioural well-being so seriously and understanding when daycare is not right for certain dogs. However, the team is often faced with frustration, hurt, and even anger by dog owners when this decision is made. We pride ourselves on our dog-dog programs and our success at integrating dogs back in with their canine companions. However, we also have the experience and the knowledge to understand when this is not the best fit for the dog. In this post, I am going to share how we make these decisions at dogma and how you can help to understand if your dog is enjoying daycare.

Arousal is a big challenge with groups of dogs. Off leash play is a stimulating activity that attributes to over-arousal, which most often develops into behaviour concerns. This can be from the off-leash park, daycare or too many games of fetch. We often see this when dogs begin to show frustration at the off-leash park or within the daycare, but have otherwise been social dogs. Majority of the time, a change in schedule from every day off leash romps to once or twice a week is all it takes to reduce this frustration. This is the same for daycare.

We typically do not allow dogs to attend 5 days/week as it adds to over-arousal concerns and is detrimental to their behavioural and emotional well-being. In special cases where a dog does have to do this, or attend multiple days in a row, we put them on a separate schedule, which includes some focus work and additional rest. If your daycare limits days/week that your dog can attend or asks you to reduce them, they are doing this for your dog’s well-being. They could happily take your extra money, but are making the right choice to ensure your dog is safe and happy.

Arousal also needs to be managed by your daycare facility. Smaller playgroups sizes, staff who are highly trained in canine behaviour and scheduled rest are vital to ensure the dogs do not become over-aroused and to minimize conflict between the dogs. It looks great to us when we see large groups of dogs running around and playing, but too much of this will have detrimental effects on the behaviour of most dogs. A well-run daycare will conduct a variety of exercises to help focus and settle the dogs and manage the arousal. Dogs should still be running around, making noise and having fun, but a well-trained staff will ensure it is appropriate. This means identifying that all dogs in the group are enjoying the activity. If dogs are avoiding the play, going under or up on furniture and moving away from the group or our acting as the play police and trying to settle the other dogs, the play is too much and has become over-stimulating for them. The dogs need to go into a more settled group if available or perhaps daycare is not a good fit.

I always give the analogy in human terms. Daycare is like elementary school for children. Yes, it may be fun at first, but too much of it for older children or adults would get tiring fast. We would become cranky and easily frustrated with the energy levels of the children. We see the same thing for dogs. Majority of the dogs who attend are young and full of energy. As dogs age, they need more rest and may find daycare to be too much. If they seem to require extra rest at home after a day at daycare or do not seem as enthusiastic, they may need to be moved to a more settled daycare group if that is an option. Or perhaps lessen their days at daycare per week or even the hours per day. Listen to your dog and realize that it is likely just their age. They may still enjoy the facility, playing with dogs and getting out, but just need more rest.

My dog Duke attended 3 days per week and I started to see him requiring much more sleep between the days and he even seemed a bit cranky. We moved to 2 days per week and now we just monitor how he is feeling and even let him tell us what days he wants to go or not go. By listening to his needs and the feedback from the team at dogma, I can ensure he remains happy and his behaviour remains stable. He loves to play and go to dogma, but if I pushed too much on him, we would see his arousal and frustration increase and could see behaviour concerns such as frustration towards other dogs and over-excitement at home.

Structured Exercise 
This is something that is my responsibility to monitor at home. I know that Duke only spends about 10% of his total time a week at the facility, so it is my job to ensure that the remaining 90% is beneficial to his emotional and behavioural well-being. It is expected that taking him to daycare will be stimulating regardless of the facility set up or experience/knowledge, so it is normal for concerns to amplify there. However, if I take Duke to the off-leash park every day of the week, do not work on self-control or manners and provide no structured exercise, it is expected that I will see behavioural concerns develop. This will typically show as frustration towards dogs or over-excitement. We could also see leash aggression and even a decrease in his obedience skills. These are all things that you should be discussing with your daycare team and monitoring in your dog at all times. We implement a minimum once/week attendance at dogma for this reason. It allows us to better monitor the dog’s behaviour to watch for these subtle changes if they are developing. It is also not good for your dog’s arousal level to only attend daycare occasionally. They will be out of the routine, so they have to reintegrate every time they attend which can be stressful on them.

You can help your dog by ensuring that they attend at least once/week and that you provide structured exercise. Do this by limiting off-leash park play to only once or twice per week and minimize over-stimulating games such as fetch and tug. Provide structured, on leash exercise. Loose leash walking is an excellent self-control skill and focus work gets the dog thinking. These are excellent ways to tire out your dog without over-stimulating them.

Do not forget about rest. Give your dog time to settle after daycare days or off-leash park trips. Too much exercise has been proven to have detrimental effects on our dogs. If you feel like you cannot provide enough exercise and your dog is always full of energy, this is a sign that they need rest. Each time they attend daycare, go off-leash, on a walk, play fetch or any other stimulating activities, you are elevating their arousal levels. They need time in between to rest and settle. By keeping things calm and providing them some more quiet time, you will begin to see great results in their behaviour and manners. Ensure your daycare facility provides adequate rest for the dogs. A day with no rest is not good for any dog.


As you can see, dog play and our dogs’ behaviour are closely linked and this is a complex topic. Dog daycares need to have certified trainers on staff who are reward-based to ensure the arousal and stress levels in dogs are being effectively managed. The set up and structure throughout the day directly impacts the behavioural and emotional well-being of the dogs, as does everything that your dog does outside of the facility. A facility who is discussing your dog’s behaviour and bringing up concerns is ensuring they are working to provide the best solution for your dog. And sometimes that solution may be that daycare is not a good fit. Your dog may find the large group play too stressful. Thank them for observing this and work with them to help your dog. There are many training options and other solutions to provide your dog with play. There is nothing wrong with a dog who finds daycare or the off-leash park to be too stimulating.

When I opened dogma, I was thrilled to be able to have a place to bring Guinniss. However, as I began to do this, I realized that he did not like it. It was too much excitement and it overwhelmed him. I had to step back and look at why I wanted him to attend. I had this vision that it would make it him happy, but realized that it was to make me happy. He may learn to function there, but he would not love it. It became an important lesson on how I structured dogma and how we work with each dog. Accept the dog you have and help them. A dog who does not attend daycare or go off-leash can live a happy and full life. Be proud of yourself for helping your dog by making the right choices for them.