I have always wondered what it would be like to own and run a dog daycare business in an environment other than in home-style boarding. How do people find great locations for doggie daycare? What are the things to take into consideration for a successful business? What is a typical day like?
I offer dog boarding in our home; my business is on the smaller-scale. If you live in Toronto, like I do, there are restrictions with dog numbers in your home unless you are a breeder. I love that I can be at home and enjoy the canines that visit, providing a “dogcation” for people’s pets while they are away.
I pre-screen dogs prior to a visit and require that clients fill out forms similar to those parents would fill out for a child heading off to summer camp. Lots of questions are asked and dates get booked. I take into consideration the age of the dogs and their individual needs when scheduling visits.
A few weeks ago I was delighted to discover a dog daycare facility in Toronto that I had never heard of. They are not located in my area, which explains why I hadn’t heard of them. I loved their name – Pack of Paws. I became immediately curious after reading about their business on Facebook and online.
The couple who run the business – Diana and Jeff – obviously love dogs and I approached them to see if I could interview them for my blog. Their professionalism and love of dogs are very evident. The following are my questions and Diana’s answers.
Q: Have you both been around dogs all of your lives?
A: Yes I have! Part of growing up in Canada means having a dog as a family member for a lot of people. This was no exception for me. I’ve had dogs on and off all throughout my childhood and when I was old enough (post-university life) to get a place of my own and started working, I got Dante, who is now the mascot/ training assistant and greeter at Pack of Paws. I think most Canadian communities can attest to having dogs around because we view them as members of our society and associate having a dog with having a family/ pack experience.
Q: What made you decide to open Pack Of Paws?
A: I was sick of slaving away at my job and I always knew deep down I would own my own business as I come from a family of entrepreneurs. When I moved to Parkdale (next door to Liberty Village) I got to know the area and saw all the dogs; I realized that there were no dog services other than dog walkers in the area. I wanted it to feel very boutique and personal. I really believed that Jeff and I had some valuable dog knowledge to share with other fellow dog owners.
Q: How did you find the location?
A: I only looked for about 2 weeks and saw the posting on MLS, called the agent and went to see it the next day. I made an offer the day after that. It was the perfect location as it was across from a green space. The space was run down so the landlord didn’t really care what we wanted to do with it either. There is also a fair amount of foot traffic which passes by the space, as it is really close to some of the bigger business buildings in Liberty Village.
Q: What was important to you regarding the design for the dogs?
A: Open concept was key! I wanted to keep it simple but still feel modern and approachable, not like those stuffy froo-froo places. I knew I had to have rubberized flooring as the dogs can really play hard and I knew that rough-play on concrete would be really hard on their joints day after day.
Q: What elements were important for the owners to experience?
A: We wanted to provide dogs and their owners a holistic service where dropping their pups off at the day care so that they wouldn’t bored during the day was just one part of their experience. We offer dogs and their owners proper training in their areas of concern as well as a place for all our dogs and owners to feel good coming to. This is why we believe in including dogs of all sizes, breeds and condition into our pack. We want to remove the stigma associated with certain breeds and sizes; dogs don’t judge us, so why should we judge them? It’s very important to us and to the owners of our pack members that they feel included and that they have a community for support, balance and love. Our philosophy on inclusion and acceptance is something that keeps Pack of Paws such a positive and strong community.
Q: There are many other dog day care facilities in Toronto. What makes you unique?
A: Location: We are located in the heart of liberty village where a unique mix of business and residential clients mingle. There are tons of parks and grass around the neighbourhood; the neighbourhood is extremely dog centric where dogs are welcome. Most businesses put out water bowls in the summer months, which shows you how accepted and welcomed dogs are in the area.
Exercise: Regular bathroom breaks? Sure! Of course! But how about rollerblade rides? Or swimming trips to the lake? We load them up and show them around the city. Bad weather? No worries, we even have an indoor dog treadmill for light jogging for our high energy dogs so that they can go home happy, satisfied and tired.
We try to set Pack of Paws aside from other dog day care facilities in Toronto by creating a sense of family life. When some of our owners go away, we’ll board their dogs in our home where they become “our” dogs; we’ll work on any issues of concern and of course eat, sleep and live together.
Jeff – my partner – is also a dog behaviourist as well as the main caretaker of the daycare. Our daycare dogs are not only being taking care of by dog lovers but people who truly understand dog behaviour and dog dynamics.
Q: Describe the routine on a typical day at Pack Of Paws.
A: We open at 7am because we want to accommodate clients who want to drop their dogs before they have to go to work. And we close at 6:30. We usually stay in the daycare between 7am and 10am to wait for our daily pack members to arrive. After that we usually go to the park in groups of 6-7 and Jeff will take our high energy breeds for a rollerblade around the grounds at the CNE – he usually take anywhere from 6 to 8 dogs at a time. From noon to 1:30 we have rest period and wait for our afternoon dogs to arrive and will then prepare to go for shorter pack walks in smaller groups. Also throughout the day the dogs get about 2-3 bathroom breaks. After the dogs usually settle down around 3pm, we do some daily clean up like vacuum or mop dust while the dogs sleep. Then we will start preparing for pick-ups which happens between 4-6:30pm. The dogs are never crated at our daycare and are always controlled and given structure and stimulation.
Q: How many dogs come on a regular basis during the business week?
A: We’re busy! On any given day, we have around 25-30 dogs. This is fantastic because we now have such an amazing diversity of dogs. It’s also been overwhelmingly heartwarming to know that we’re a place dogs and owners call “second home.”
Q: Do some of the dogs have special friendships with each other?
A: Oh yes! They sure do. Dogs are very social beings, and they’ll gravitate towards other dogs with similar energy as they do. It has nothing to do with size or breed. We have best friends and boyfriend/girlfriend relationships between so many dogs. Some of them may even get jealous when their best friend plays with another new exciting member! Dogs are so emotionally honest and some of their special friendships are just so heart-meltingly cute. They’re sure to put a smile on the grumpiest person’s face. All our regulars even know the names of their dog’s friends, and because of our open concept design the owner usually will see who their dog’s friends are – they love it!
Q: What are your dreams for your business?
A: We dream of expansion and offering more training services within the Greater Toronto Area. We also hope to open up a training/boarding facility outside of Toronto where Jeff can concentrate on providing an environment where he can rehab dogs with more challenging behavioural issues.
Q: Tell us about some of the challenges since first opening.
A: We were lucky. We picked a really good location and I honestly think Liberty Village had a craving for a dog daycare. I did a lot of research before opening up and with my marketing background business picked up very rapidly. We did struggle with inconsistent clients and it was hard to predict revenue but as we got busier we now have a rule that any new member has to commit to attending at least once a week. This also helped in an operational standpoint because owners don’t realize the challenges that can occur bringing a new dog into a setting like a daycare.
Q: What are some of the regulations doggie day care facilities must follow?
A: There really isn’t anything. As of now it is a pretty much unregulated industry. The only thing I would consider mandatory is having business liability insurance and also getting trained in pet first aid. Everything else we choose to do for the betterment of our dogs/environment. We use environmentally friendly product to clean, we use biodegradable poop bags and we obsessively clean the place all the time. We really strive to hear our clients come in and say “wow it never stinks in here!”
Q: Do you have your own dog?
A: Yes we have an 8-year-old German Shorthair Pointer who brings so much inspiration to our lives.
Q: How do you screen new dogs?
A: To be honest we usually can tell within 10 seconds of meeting a dog whether it is suitable for daycare. Their approach and response to us tell us a lot, and because we don’t always take “perfect” dogs we like to screen them for their potential to become more well-adjusted and socialized. The biggest factor is talking to owners and finding out what they want out of our daycare and their previous experience with dog ownership.
Q: What demographic are your clients?
A: This is also another aspect of my business that I love. The demographic for clients is so diverse and interesting and they’re all here for one common interest: the love of their dog. Being in Liberty Village, we get our fair share of clients in the creative field. We never get a dull response when we ask “so how was your day?” We have clients that are architects, business owners, lawyers, bankers, photographers, waiters, students and even an animation artist! We have learned that it not about how much money our clients have but how much they believe in fulfilling their dog’s life and in the value of our service that make them such loyal clients of POP.
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