Dubai is getting a few new doggy daycare facilities over the next months which is fantastic to see as it’ll hopefully translate to more pups being socialized and trained properly and will also likely mean an exit for some facilities which shouldn’t have ever existed in the first place!
We’ve noticed a couple of facilitates adopt (read: blatantly copy) a lot of our look, feel, language, initiatives and philosophies. This is totally fine and has been incredibly flattering to see and as we are so grateful more businesses are putting their customers first, sort of.
Our general stance on competition is, it’s an amazing thing as it means more (generally) like-minded individuals, with the collective goal of increasing the quality of lives for all the woofers of Dubai! All good things!
While we’d love to see our family grow to serve everyone, choosing a daycare is an incredibly personal choice (one size doesn't fit all), so we care less about where you go, so long as you go somewhere!
When I was looking for a daycare for Ipod and Nano my two Bichons, before we built SPOT! here was my list of questions and criteria that were “must-haves”:
Natural Light & Ventilation
This should be the first thing on your checklist and should be super binary in your mind - Yes or No. This item separates the daycare novices from the OGs (the folks who have owned and operated / studied daycares for a while). All warehouses are not the same and I’m about to drop some knowledge.
In daycare, dogs take time to self-regulate and re-gain control of their circadian rhythm along with their metabolic pathways. They get SO MUCH stimulus from the handlers, other dogs, the (light blue) KONG balls (If you see a daycare with "tennis balls" walk away, they have no idea what they are doing), the garden, that they sometimes forget to drink water or to eat their food because all they want to do is PLAY – can you blame them? Natural light through large windows, helps with self-regulation as it allows for dogs to keep a time-check on what part of the day they are in, so they can nap appropriately, play appropriately and eat and drink on time. Without natural light from the sun, you create an environment where dogs don’t know what time it is, which results in all sorts of medical and behavioral issues. Don’t believe me – read this: https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/is-your-dog-getting-enough-sunlight/
Of all the checkpoints on the list – this probably ranks Top 3. No natural light, walk away. Taking them out to the garden for 20 minutes is not good enough.
Dog to handler ratio
A lot of daycares claim to have a 1:10 dog to handler ratio, I’ll be the first to tell you that’s BS. At SPOT! we try to maintain a dog to handler ratio of 1:10 and stick around there for the majority of the day, but we do surge during the afternoon when folks boarding are meant to get picked up and daycare folks have just come in. Some daycares manage their ratio by kenneling a lot of their dogs for the day but since we are an active play facility (read: as much play as possible) we don’t prefer this method unless specifically asked by an owner. A quick way to test a facility’s true dog to handler ratio is to take their overnight capacity and divide it by 10 and then count the number of handlers on the floor at any given time. So if they have 70 kennels and are 100% full for the summer, they should have at least 8 active handlers on the floor since this won’t include their daycare customers.
If they don’t, something is off.
On the topic of handlers, you want to make sure that you know who they are. Your woofer spends more hours with them, then they spend with you, so knowing whose care they are in, and what is their level of experience is critical. An answer like “our handlers come from all the other daycares in Dubai” is not good enough. Specifically ask what initial and ongoing training have they / do they receive. You also want to make sure the handler team has low turnover. If you see a lot of folks leaving in quick succession, there is something more systemic happening which is not an ideal environment for your pups.
This is one, which directly affects your woofers, specifically their skin and paws. Ensuring materials are non-harsh and environmentally friendly are critical to maintaining a facility that is good for its guests and for the environment in general. At SPOT! we use Anovet along with a number of other natural cleaners.
Our floors are so clean, I could eat off them!
There are a number of facilities that do not have an outside area. This means woofers have no choice but to relieve themselves indoors. This is an automatic NO. Woofers should have the choice so they can continue all the positive behavior they have learnt at home! The outdoor area should ideally be grassed or astroturfed to allow for fun play without worrying about joint issues from jumps or scrapes from harsh concrete during play.
Again, no outdoors, walk away.
Chlorine free pools
Chlorinated pools for dogs used to be a thing in the U.S. like 20 years ago, until people realized how damaging chlorine is for your woofers skin. I cannot tell you how many bath requests we get on a Saturday or a Sunday from woofers who’ve been in chlorine filled pools the day before and just towel dried off, allowing for that itchy chlorine to seep in! We’ve partnered with BarkPark who will be building a 3,500 sqft iodized, fresh water lake! In our mind, this is the ONLY pool in Dubai your dogs should be swimming at. All the woofer’s at SPOT! will have access to this facility through our partnership!
The one exception to this is hydrotherapy and hydrotherapy pools. DOGWALK, down the road from us have an excellent team that work with pups with injuries or disabilities in their pool but this would be the only reason I'd have my pup step into a chlorinated pool.
This is an easy one. Does the facility of have a trained, and certified vet nurse on staff to cater to all the woofer’s needs? If so, ask to meet him / her. It’s really a Yes or No answer. If the answer is No, walk away.
Access to management and owner / quick response times
When you entrust your woofer in the care of a facility, do you personally know the owner and management team there? If you had a question or wanted to raise a complaint do you have a number to the person responsible for solving your problem? How quickly do they respond? An hour? A day? Do they respond at all?
At SPOT! everyone has access to the entire management’s numbers, mine included, and no matter what the issue, time or time zone, I will respond, in under 5 minutes and get you to a resolution. Don’t believe me, ask anyone of our customers who has interacted with me over whatsapp. Your pup is your family, their stay is your only priority so you are well within your right to get updates as many times you like. Note: This is not a critical requirement, its just the way we treat our work at SPOT!
Here is a quick story. Coco is a GSD currently boarding with us and I gave her mom my number who said, “ Big mistake because I am going to bug the s*** out of you!”. She did, and that is perfectly fine :). Toby’s mom dropped Toby off for some trial daycare and I knew she was nervous and pre-empted this by going into our rooms, and caught a few videos of Toby playing with a few of his new friends, and sent them to her via whatsapp. Every bone of anxiety (well almost) was put to rest. You should always demand of your daycare whatever it is you need and no ask should be too big.
Temperament matching / groups
This is an easy one but playgroups should be matched by size and temperament. If it is one large free for all, that is a no-go.
Active play and personalized feedback
When in daycare, unless otherwise requested, dogs should be out on the floor for playing, socializing, learning new tricks and techniques. They should be actively engaged in physical and mental stimulation to have as “complete” a day as possible. Anything short of this, or dogs kenneled for long periods of time is a big no-no as it creates unwanted physical and psychological behaviors but also is not good value of your dog’s time or your money!
Ask to be taken on a tour and to see every crevice of the building and do not accept any silly excuses. Ask, in depth about practices, staff training, daily schedules, cleaning, and incidents rates. Ask to speak to management directly if you are uncomfortable about the answers you are getting. Do not stop asking until you are 100% satisfied and comfortable with the environment you are about to entrust with your dog’s care.
Partners & Discounts
Partners are good sign that the daycare has the support of others in the industry; so much so, they are willing to partner with them in a meaningful way. ALWAYS ASK FOR DISCOUNTS!!!
SPOT! is not perfect (I often share with our customers at checkout where we can be doing better), no daycare here, or anywhere else in the world is. When I think about selecting a daycare I think about whose message, team and price points resonate well with me, and who has de-risked their offering while providing and incredibly personalized standard of care.
Much love and see you tomorrow!