Interviewing for doggy day care

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At the newly rebranded AKC Canine Retreat, every animal gets a behavioral evaluation


  • At the AKC Canine Retreat launch. Photo courtesy of AKC Canine Retreat.

  • Playtime at day care. Photo courtesy of AKC Canine Retreat

  • Toys and snacks. Photo courtesy of AKC Canine Retreat

In a crowded, bustling city, often the only friendly interaction you might have is with a four-legged animal that many New Yorkers adore. A dog to most people is a companion that pulls them out of loneliness. But can such a companion ever be judged not amiable or social enough in certain situations?

At AKC Canine Retreat, a dog gets a free comprehensive evaluation and is judged fit or unfit for day care based on social interactions with other dogs. “The question really is: is your dog social? Is it a young puppy with no exposure or is it an older dog with bad past experience?” said James Tysseling, COO of American Kennel Club (AKC) Pet Care LLC.

“Every dog is judged on their own behavior and it isn’t just that we throw them into a playroom to see if they fit; it’s a long procedure,” he said.

AKC Pet Care LLC acquired all of SPOT Canine Club’s locations last year and after a year-long rebranding process officially announced its expansion to five more locations in Manhattan in May. The rebranding involved a behavioral management system led by Eva Loomis, an animal behaviorist whom they hired as their dog-care manager.

“We re-trained all our employees to better understand dog behavior,” Tysseling said. “It is easier in child care centers because a child can tell you what they feel, but if your [dog is whining] in a corner, there has to be a reason and often it’s not easy to understand.”

Before a dog is admitted to day care, their owners, or parents — as they often like to be called — are first interviewed about their dog’s likes, dislikes and behavioral insights. The dog is then introduced to another dog in a private space. Based on that interaction, the dog is either deemed suitable or unsuitable for being let into the playroom with other dogs.

“We do tell people your dog’s not fit in terms of their social interaction with the rest of our dogs. For example, if the dog is very anxious, we recommend jogging and running services … over a social environment like day care,” Tysseling said.

The AKC offers a program called Running Paw that Tyselling claims is the first dog jogging and running service in the country. The service hires collegiate athletes who are also dog lovers. They are then trained in dog jogging and running before being certified and licensed to carry out the service. But this too doesn’t come without an extensive interviewing procedure.

Dogs go with a runner on a jogging interview. The runner observes the dog’s behavior to see if they pull away from the jogger when they pass other dogs or are oblivious to other dogs. Based on the dog’s interaction and capabilities, a suitable running distance and time is calculated and put in the databases. “They are married to the right athlete and they always have the same one,” Tysseling said. “The dog and athlete are a team.”

Owners may not always be able to follow the recommendations due to time or cost constraints. A yearly unlimited day care package costs $8,085, though additional dog discounts are available. A 30-minute jogging session costs $40 a day and $625 a month.

Tysseling, who owns eight basset hounds himself, wears a band inscribed with paws along with his engagement ring. “After the rebranding, we have turned dogs away that were clients before,” he said. “We recommend parents to enroll their dog in personal training ... that could bring the dog back to us.”

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