Tuesday, 16 August 2022
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Thought the Preschool Interview Was Hard? Try the One for Doggy Day Care

Poe seemed anxious. He was acting antsy and clingy. And though the adults tried talking to him in the hope of helping him get acclimated, Poe wasn’t having any of it.

The two-year-old miniature pinscher and whippet mix pulled and tried to break free as he was led into a small, bright doctor’s office-like room for observation. A black desk and chair remained off to the side. A dog’s bed sat in one corner. A few toys were scattered on the floor. The soft talk, the treats — even bringing in another dog or two for playtime — were not helping.

It wasn’t working for Poe’s owner, either.

“I’m nervous about leaving him,” said Silas Taylor, 35, as he filled out a multi-page application and supplied vet records and proof of vaccinations and shots. “I’m not home a lot and he doesn’t get enough action during the day.”

Poe had just started his free, four-hourlong interview process at AKC Canine Retreat, a doggy day care and boarding facility on West 57th Street.

“First we see if they understand commands: sit, stay, come, and lay down,” said Garrett Reed, 27, the traveling general manager and safety coordinator for all six locations. “They also need to be good at making eye contact with us. Then we do a touch test to make sure the dog is comfortable being patted by humans and touched by other dogs.”

Evaluation dogs stay on the leash in a training room as others who have already passed are let back in, one by one, to see how the one standing trial will interact with them.

“We add dogs based off vibe and temperament. If that goes well we take them on a walk together outside for controlled bonding,” he added. “If they show teeth or get defensive of their space, that’s a flag.”

If a dog passes “the walk” portion of the exam, next comes the kennel test, a stall-like cage with a bed and water, where the dog can relax and nap.

Pooches who remain anxiety-free, nonaggressive, and acclimate well are granted two additional hours of observation, mostly spent in the playing field being observed by staffers. More dogs are introduced matched by age, size, type of play and personality.

Some behave poorly, get overwhelmed, shy away, show aggression or can’t be controlled. Of the 40 or 50 who go through the interview process in a month, only a handful fail, Mr. Reed said.

An hour in, Poe looked like he might be on his way to flunking out. He stayed by the door, shook, didn’t want to play, and growled.

“The need for interviewing started because years ago facilities offered a caged experience. Not anymore,” said Saran Nurse, 44, who owns Kiki’s Pet Spa and Boutique, on DeKalb Avenue in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “Dogs roam freely so emphasis is placed on behavior, temperament and personality,” she continued. “The more dogs you have, the more personalities there are in one room. That also means different behaviors and issues.”

Kiki’s interview sessions go for five hours.

“Owners are usually a distraction, so we have them leave,” Ms. Nurse said. “We keep dogs on the leash for 10 minutes with an attendant to see how they react and try to understand their personality. If they are O.K., we take them off the lease and introduce them to other dogs.”

Like Canine Retreat, Kiki’s has separate groups and playing fields.

The majority of dogs pass. Some fail; others are expelled.

“That only happens three or four times a year,” Ms. Nurse said. “We’ve had to expel dogs because they’ve developed behavior issues. They become aggressive and bite. That can be dangerous.”

As a last resort, before kicking a dog out of day care, Ms. Nurse said that staffers might change a dog’s playgroup or recommend additional training.

Dealing with a problem pooch has its share of awkward moments when it comes to human interactions. “It’s complicated,” Ms. Nurse said. “You develop a relationship with the human client. Their dog is having a behavior problem, not them. It’s very hard.”

Unlike Canine Retreat and Kiki’s, Biscuits & Bath’s doggy tryout process is not free. It costs $51, the facility’s day rate.

Here, owners are put in the hot seat, too.

“We vet our clients as well as the dogs. We want to get to know everyone,” said Brian Annett, 27, manager at the Financial District location, near Bond Street and Broadway. Currently there are more than 10 Biscuits & Baths within Manhattan. Before coming in, potential clients are emailed a 20-page handbook and asked to fill out a four-page application.

“New clients come in before the morning rush,” Mr. Annett said. “We check for bumps and bruises. We give a tour, and let clients linger.”

Handlers are given a run down regarding the dog’s personality, and dogs are welcomed right onto the playing field.

“The chihuahuas and Shih Tzus like to hang out together. Large Boston terriers interact with golden retrievers,” he said. “Parents are updated throughout the day via texts and photos posted to Instagram accounts.”

But if things don’t go well, expect an old-fashioned phone call.

That’s what happened to Poe’s owner.

“I was told he wasn’t in a very social mood and was attaching himself to people more than the other dogs,” Mr. Taylor said by phone. “I should have done this a year-and-half-ago. He’s like a little kid who never went to preschool and likes being with his dad. He just wasn’t a good fit. And that’s O.K.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/16/nyregion/thought-the-preschool-interview-was-hard-try-the-one-for-doggie-day-care.html

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