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Our Dogs Would Definitely Get a Timeout

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The Wall Street Journal

 Sit, Stay, Ace the Interview

More Day Cares Ask Pups To Jump Through Hoops; Bad Dogs Get a Timeout


To get accepted at summer camp, it took a three-page application, a family interview and three hours of monitored playtime. The applicant: Cannoli, a dog.

Anyone who thinks elite preschools are rigorous enough may want to take a look at doggie day cares. They, too, are submitting prospective charges to exhaustive screenings.

Cannoli joined a Long Island City, N.Y., doggie day care based on a three-page application, excerpt above, and an evaluation.


On a recent summer morning, Cannoli, a seven-pound Maltese, had to wow evaluators at Camp Bow Wow in Long Island City, N.Y., in hopes of making the cut. First came a series of tough questions on the application, including: “Has your dog ever growled at or bitten another person or dog?” and “Will your dog share toys with other dogs?”

Next was the evaluation. Owner Karen Serafinko and her son, John, watched on a TV monitor as Cannoli interacted with other dogs in a yard for dogs smaller than 10 pounds.

Cannoli’s evaluator came in after half an hour with a progress report. “He’s doing great. He’s having a lot of fun.”

 It takes more than filling out a simple application to board your pet at Canine Kindergarten. At this doggie daycare center, pets–and their owners–go through an elaborate interview process. WSJ’s Monika Vosough reports from Verplanck, New York.

Finally, the family left Cannoli at the day care for another three hours to make sure he would adjust to the new environment and playmates.

Through it all, Mrs. Serafinko, a 60-year-old fourth-grade teacher, was confident. “Our first dog, Skittles, was the nervous one. He would have definitely failed the interview,” she said. “I’m not worried about Cannoli at all.”

She was right. Cannoli passed, becoming the newest “camper,” as they’re called at Camp Bow Wow.

Interviewing and evaluating campers is one way to lower risk in a dog-eat-dog world, says Heidi Ganahl, founder and chief executive of Camp Bow Wow, with 110 camps in the U.S. “Screening the pups assures us the dogs are good candidates for our all-day play environment and [that they] will be able to play safely,” she said.

Henry was kicked out of a Naples, Fla., day care for aggressiveness. But he was accepted at another facility and took obedience classes.


At Camp Bow Wow, dogs are separated by size. Some day cares, such as Virginia Woof in Portland, Ore., and Wagville in Los Angeles, consider temperament and activity level in addition to the dogs’ sizes. “We generally don’t put dogs smaller than under 25 pounds with the bigger dogs. But sometimes we put big dogs that are old or timid with the little ones,” says Julie Shine, owner of Wagville, which has an eight-page application form.

“We usually introduce campers of the same sex first to judge if a dog is aggressive,” says Stephen Neagus, a former financial trader who now owns the Long Island City franchise of Camp Bow Wow. “Just like humans, dogs can feel threatened and compete with members of the same sex.”

Doggie day cares started popping up in the early 1990s, Ms. Ganahl said, and now number in the thousands. Many started out as kennels, boarding dogs when their owners were away.

The concept expanded with open yards and supervised playtime to appeal to busy owners who didn’t want their dogs cooped up all day while they were at work. (In Cannoli’s case, the family was undertaking a bathroom renovation and didn’t want to cause unnecessary stress for him.)

Photos: At Doggy Day Care

On a recent summer morning, Cannoli, the seven-pound Maltese shown here, had to wow evaluators at Camp Bow Wow in Long Island City, N.Y., in hopes of being accepted at the doggie day care.

What Doggie Day Cares Look For in a Dog

Sample questions from a Wagville application:

Where/how did your dog start living with you? (Please provide any relevant background information, such as history of abuse or lack of socialization before entering into your care.)

Describe dog’s normal socialization with people and with dogs (e.g. Goes to dog park once a week; Always alone at home; etc.). If they go to the dog park, please tell us how they act at the dog park.

Are there any places your dog does not like to be touched, during grooming or otherwise?

Where does dog usually sleep (in bed with you, on doggie bed near your bed, in another room, etc.)? Is your dog allowed to get on the bed (i.e. can he or she do so here at WagVille?)

Dog’s favorite toys (eg: plush squeaky; bones, ropes)

What are your favorite things about your dog?

Sample questions from a Camp Bow Wow application:

Is there any PERSON, type of DOG, or SITUATION your dog seems uncomfortable with?

Can you take a food item away from your dog without him growling?

Has your dog ever jumped a fence or barrier?

Has your dog ever played with dogs over 15 pounds?

Has your dog ever played with dogs under 15 pounds?

A full, eight-hour day of day care usually costs between $25 and $32, while overnight boarding can range from $35 to $55.

Only a small fraction of dogs—from 5% to 10%—are rejected from day care, usually because they’re aggressive, territorial or very uncomfortable interacting with other dogs, day-care operators say. “When we reject aggressive dogs, the owners normally say, ‘We figured,’ Mr. Neagus says. Also, most day cares require that dogs older than six months be spayed or neutered.

After only one week at day care, Henry, a pointer, in Naples, Fla., was told not to come back. “They said that he did not know how to play with other dogs because he had not socialized with other dogs,” Henry’s owner, Brad Sprowls, says. “There were complaints about growling, barking and lunging.”

Shortly afterward, however, Henry was accepted at a Camp Bow Wow located in Naples. The camp counselors suggested that he be enrolled in a five- to six-week basic obedience-training class, advice that Mr. Sprowls and his wife, Robin, followed. They also started walking him every day and took him to outdoor fairs and dog parks. Henry still goes to camp at least twice a week.

“Now, he plays just fine with other dogs,” Mr. Sprowls says.

Timidity, nervousness and stress kept Rita, a 13-year-old Papillon, out of Virginia Woof, the Portland, Ore., day care. Complicating the process: Lorraine Smith, Rita’s owner, is the manager of Virginia Woof.

“She doesn’t attack dogs. But she just doesn’t enjoy being in a group,” Ms. Smith says. Rita “doesn’t like it when other dogs come over and sniff around her or try and play with her.”

Many day cares allow dogs that appear to be too timid or nervous during the evaluation period to come back once or twice to see if they fare any better. Some centers recommend that the dogs try smaller day cares or dog parks, where they can interact in smaller groups in order to get used to hanging around in a pack.

‘Tell-Tail’ Signs

Normal dog greeting: Sniffing, tail wagging, partially raised hackles that say, ‘I am a little unsure’

Aggression/dominance: Growling, completely raised hackles, chest sticking out, tail up, snapping at other dogs

Offensive: Barking aggressively, rolling and jumping on other dogs, ears that are ‘up and alert’

Fearful: Tail between legs, urinating frequently, crawling on belly

Stress signs: Hiding in corner, whining, drooling,shaking, pacing

WSJ Reporting

Christine Anderson, owner of Wag the Dog, another Portland, Ore., day care, believes in giving “bad dogs” some leeway. Each dog can get three timeouts—a three-minute period in which dogs are taken out of the play area and put into single kennels. “Everyone can have a bad day. Sometimes the poor behavior—like playing too rough—can be because the dog is too tired or not quite understanding what his friends want,” she says. After three strikes, they’re kicked out of day care.

“Outside training can help, but aggression is something that can be managed, not cured,” Ms. Anderson says.

The owners’ personality has a lot to do with a dog’s behavior, day-care owners say.

“If the owner encourages them to interact with other dogs, they are going to be social,” says Ms. Ganahl of Camp Bow Wow. “If the owners themselves are holed up or nervous, the dogs will mirror that behavior.”

Written by bevanddara

August 11, 2011 at 10:12 am

Posted in Pets

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