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Look Behind the Doggy Daycare Door: What Makes Quality Doggy Daycare with Ally of Soulmutts (Part I)

Updated: Feb 13, 2020

Henry Toller Tails (dog on the left) hanging out with Ally (human on the right), owner of Soulmutts
Henry Toller Tails post interview hanging out with Ally, owner of Soulmutts. Photo Credit: Soulmutts

For many dogs and their humans, a doggy daycare plays a role in ensuring a happy and healthy dog. But what exactly goes into creating a high quality doggy daycare? This is what we wanted to know.

The criteria for a high quality doggy daycare meant that the doggy daycare had to have the following:

  • enough room to accommodate dogs of all sizes, types, ages and temperaments.

  • off leash play time and play spaces for all dogs, and the dogs had to be grouped appropriately.

  • good human staff to dog ratios.

  • mandatory assessment of a dog’s needs and temperament as part of its intake process.

  • required vaccinations.

  • did not leave the dogs in crates for periods of time or warehouse them and only letting them out of their crates for limited time.

  • provided a separate feeding area for dogs on an eating schedule.

  • pickup or shuttle services for humans who have either mobility issues or are unable to drop off their dog.

  • options such as dog walking, boarding and/or grooming services.

  • excellent onsite security and cleanliness protocols.

So, what goes into creating a high quality doggy daycare?

Based on our criteria, we undertook a thorough search of all the doggy daycares in our region. That’s when we found Soulmutts, which was truly unique and frankly met all the criteria and is creating a gold standard for urban doggy daycares.

We asked Ally, the owner of Soulmutts, if she would be willing to talk with and explain what goes into creating and running such a high quality urban doggy daycare.

Henry Toller Tails (HTT): Thanks Ally for sitting down with me and explaining what goes into making a really high quality off leash doggy daycare. Can you tell me, why did you start Soulmutts?

Ally of Soulmutts (ASM): Soulmutts began as a labor of love over 10 years ago. I had formerly graduated and planned on continuing my academic path with my PhD studies in economics, but that was all derailed when I began walking dogs. A mother’s worst nightmare? I started out with just one, then two, then three and then a truck load, and then 2 truck loads, and the rest is history. I bought a larger condo with my then brand new husband (who was thrown immediately into dog life) and started boarding dogs at home.

Then when I outgrew that space we bought a big house on the East side so we could board more dogs and had our own large private backyard for them, as well as a big 2 car garage for secure loading and unloading. But we were always searching for the right place, the place where we would really make a one of a kind dog-tastic space; with a ton of outdoor space and something that was away from residential neighbourhoods so that we could actually spend our days outside playing!

It took 2 years, but we found that perfect space in Toronto’s Portlands and that is where we call home to this day!

HTT: When my humans were researching doggy daycares, they immediately saw how different Soulmutts was from most doggy daycares. What makes Soulmutts different from other doggy daycares?

ASM: There are a few elements that differentiates Soulmutts from other doggie daycares.

Henry Toller Tails (Dog) running with other dogs.
Henry & Friends. Photo Credit & Copyright: Soulmutts.

1. Our space is unique in that it has a lot of both indoor and outdoor space, and it is located in downtown Toronto. This is something that took a long time to find in the downtown core because outdoor space is hard/impossible to come by. We knew that we wanted to make sure that we always had lots of outdoor space and never wanted to be an “indoor-only” daycare or a “one room” or “warehouse” daycare where the dogs really only go outside to pee/poo but not for extended high action running and playing.

2. The space that we are in now is a very cool heritage building that was one of Toronto's first fire halls.

Soulmutts Dog Daycare indoor space.
One of Soulmutts Indoors Spaces. Photo Credit: Soulmutts

One of our main playrooms is actually where they used to bring in the huge fire engines to wash them down!

In all, it has 6,000 square ft. of indoor space, as well as 6,000 square ft. of outdoor space, giving us our very own private indoor/outdoor dog run - the largest private space downtown.

Dog daycare indoor space with dog beds
Soulmutts total of 6,000 Sq Ft of indoor spaces. Photo Credit: Soulmutts

Even better, because Soulmutts is in the Portlands away from everything, our dogs are able to run, bark and play outside all day without having to worry about noise complaints from neighbours. This is a major inhibitor for any outdoor play for daycares located right next door to residential neighbourhoods where there are serious noise restrictions in place.

3. The next big difference is in our Soulmutts Custom Dog Shuttle vehicles. Keeping the needs of our doggy clients in mind, we created a fleet of upfitted Mercedes Benz Soulmutts Dog Shuttles that have some pretty sweet upgrades. They are fully insulated by the same pros that do the pimped out SPCA vehicles. Our Custom Dog Shuttles also have upgraded security systems (including remote engine immobilization, GPS and remote monitoring, temp control), professional grade air conditioning units, steel caging for added crash protection/ road safety, separate riding areas for small, medium and large dogs and they are BIG! This way all of our dogs; young and old, large and small, can all ride comfortably and safely through the busy city.

HTT: Describe a typical day, if there is such a thing, at Soulmutts? What does the day look like from a human point of view?

ASM: Our daycare opens bright and early! The dogs that had a sleep over with us the night before eat their breakfast and then head outside for an early morning stretch and romp.

Our parents begin dropping off their pups to us in the morning and they get to spend their day running and playing off leash with all their friends.

We group our dogs into packs based on their age, size, temperament and energy level. Then those packs are set up in different areas throughout all the indoor and outdoor play areas where they are free to ham it up with their pals and move at their own pace.

We then do our Off Leash Outings using our Custom Dog Shuttles. This is where we pick dogs up from their home, bring them out for a mid day, high energy, off leash play and then we bring them back home afterwards.

As the day goes on, some of our daycare dogs catch a ride home in the Soulmutts Dog Shuttles and some get picked up into the evening by their parents from our dog run. The dogs that are staying overnight eat their dinner and then we help them wind them down for the evening. This is when we get the best snuggle pictures.

Right before we close we set them up for sleepy time after a long day of running and playing with their buds. The dogs sleep like logs. They are so tuckered out by the end of the day. We do a late night check to ensure all is well. Then we wake up and do it all again!

We’re open 7 Days a week, 365 days a year!

HTT: How do you assess if a dog will be able to blend in or settle into a dog pack?

AMS: We perform mandatory “Meet & Greets” with every dog that stays and plays with us.

  • At the Meet and Greet the dog owner is required to bring their dog in person, we ask, and answer questions.

  • The potential new dog client is introduced to a few other dogs in a separated, controlled area for assessment.

  • We never introduce new dogs to big groups of dogs, or put them into the whole off leash dog pack at once – to do that is asking for trouble. Also, it puts the new dog in a position where they are extremely likely to be afraid, uncomfortable and may even show fear aggression. That is not a good way to assess and see how a dog behaves normally when meeting new dogs, and it is also very unsafe and likely to cause more harm than good. Dogs have to be introduced to only a few dogs at first so we can really see their social skills in action, and we can tell if there are any real signs that they might not be a good fit for social off leash play.

HTT: Do dogs have to be fully vaccinated?

AMS: Yes. Dogs are required to have all the mandatory vaccinations.

  • DHPP Round 1, Round 2, Round 3 and Rabies Vaccine. These cover Canine Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus and, of course, Rabies.

  • We strongly recommend the Bordetella Vaccine (Kennel Cough) but this is not a mandatory vaccine in Ontario. It is also important to note that the Bordetella Vaccine is not 100% effective, so even if your dog has the vaccine, they can still get kennel cough. Think the flu shot - there are different strains of cold and flu virus.

HTT: Why is it important to ensure your dog is vaccinated so they can go to doggy daycare?

AMS: As a dog owner who plans to give their dog a healthy, social lifestyle you have to be prepared for a few things. Much like children going to school, dogs pick up bugs.

There are certain more serious issues for which crucial vaccines have been developed and those are the ones that are mandatory. These vaccines are imperative as these protect against the more serious, fatal diseases that have become completely preventable.

Then there are things like Kennel Cough, or Giardia that are passed from dog to dog and go around affecting the whole city. Public dog parks are used by all dogs; vaccinated and unvaccinated - there’s no way to tell and no control over it at all. Some dogs don’t even show symptoms at the time that they are contagious, so they go into the dog park and pass on a bug to another dog through saliva or feces.

I would venture a guess that all dogs who attend dog daycares at some point or another, if not all the time, have been to public dog parks. The dogs in our pack visit public dog spaces with their parents during their own private time all the time, so there is always the chance that they might pass something on to a friend. Just like a child going to school and passing on a cold to their friend - it happens.

The most important things to remember when it comes to your dog and assessing their health if they have a social lifestyle are:

  • Knowing your dog’s routine and moods. Notice if they are “off” or they have visible symptoms (i.e. vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, etc.) and try to keep them away from other dogs and public dog spaces.

  • Learn your dog’s tummy strength. Some dogs have runny poops and vomiting from just licking a yucky puddle and catch illnesses very easily, and others can eat mud like its birthday cake and are completely unaffected.

  • Keep a few essentials on hand. Rice and Pumpkin are great for binding loose stools and they are gentle on an upset tummy. If your dog becomes ill very often then you need to assess the safety in socializing in high risk areas.

HTT: Soulmutts is unique in its non-crating policy. All the dogs when they arrive at Soulmutts spend their time playing and hanging with a dog pack? What’s behind this approach?

AMS: We are a high energy, off leash, dog pack environment. Not every dog in the pack has to be the biggest social butterfly out there, but they all have one thing in common - they like to be with someone or other dogs. Whether they prefer to follow their favorite people around, or they are all about their furry friends, it’s all about companionship at the end of the day.

We group dogs into packs based on their age, size, temperament and energy level. So, for instance, if a dog is a young, super hyper, large breed (even if he or she is very sweet and well meaning) we would still not group him or her with a small dog like a Teacup Yorkie.

There is a safety risk of physical harm coming to the Teacup Yorkie during regular innocent play. Or if we have an elderly dog, putting them in with a bunch of younger ‘wild ones’ could easily result in the elderly dog snapping at one of the younger ones, through no fault of their own, to tell them to back off because they can’t handle that level of play or energy.

We do have several large built in stalls (3’ x 5’) for dogs that require crate sleeping or crate training at home, but we only use those if and when this is requested by the dog’s parents or if we are working with specific issues like destructive habits or potty training. Otherwise, these stalls are primarily used for feeding - because you never feed dogs in groups, that is very unsafe.

HTT: What are the overall health benefits for dogs who spend time at a doggy daycare?

AMS: We are dog people who are here to offer a haven to dogs and their people. What I mean by that is that no matter how much we love and baby our dogs, they are dogs.

Our pups don’t come to Soulmutts and sit on pillows all day. Our dogs run outside in the rain or shine, snow or mud. We play, we roll around, we wrestle and romp, we chase and goof around.

At the end of the day Soulmutts’ dogs are tuckered out and want to go home and snuggle on the couch with their parents. That is the sign of a good time! When a dog gets used to this lifestyle it’s something they come to love, expect and crave. Dogs are social creatures and unless they have been held back from that for some reason or another, it is what is natural for them. So, Soulmutts provides them with the chance to get really doggy in a safe and controlled environment.

HTT: Thank you Ally for sitting for this interview!

Woofy! Woof! Keep an eye out for Part 2 of out A Look Behind The Doggy Daycare Door articles where we will discuss with Ally what humans should look for when looking for a quality doggy daycare and what should they ask.

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