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A Daycare is Only as Good as Its Team

All Dog Daycares Are Not Created Equal...Your Guide to Evaluating the Best Option for Your Dog

Join us for Part 2 in our 4-part series on how to assess and choose a good dog daycare. In this post, we will discuss staffing.  A dog daycare can only be as good as the team that supports it.  From the person with the pooper scooper in hand to the person making policies, it is the people who create and maintain a good (or bad) experience for the dogs in their care.  I will separate this post into several sections, with questions you can ask a prospective daycare about their staffing.  In each section, I will give you my opinions on what makes for a good dog daycare team.

Longevity and Turnover:

  • What is your average staff turnover rate?
    • Why would this be important to the care your dog is receiving? The answer is consistency and experience.  When staff is turning over constantly, there is no consistency for the dogs.  It also leads to being short-staffed.  High staff turnover means that there are new trainees constantly and expertise can be in short supply.
    • The pet care industry suffers some of the worst employee turnover rates, sometimes as high as 125%. I believe this comes from the concept that working with animals is always fun and fulfilling, so people want to do it.  But once the reality of working with pee, poop, vomit, and overly energetic adolescent dogs sinks in, it doesn’t seem quite as fun, so the duration of employment can be pretty short.  This doesn’t have to be the way it is though.  By finding the right team members, setting expectations, and providing support, people can succeed and thrive in the pet services industry.
    • Daycares should know their staff turnover rate. There were times when we did not and that was a mistake.  Once we started tracking our employee turnover rate, we realized that we needed to take measures to improve our culture and our processes.  Our goal is less than 20% and we have hit that target from 2019 until this year. We had a turnover rate of 26% in 2023, which was up from our previous years.  This was due to some of our staff moving on in their lives (college graduation, careers, moving).   We attribute this low turnover rate to thoughtful hiring, our staff training program, and efforts towards creating a positive work culture.
  • What is your average length of employment?
    • Do team members stick around? Are there team members who are making dog daycare their career?  These are the questions that can be answered by looking at the length of employment.  44% of Play All Day’s team has been with us for 3 years or longer.  Our average length of employment is 3.8 years.  We don’t have statistics to compare to in the pet services world, but based on feedback from my colleagues across the country, I would venture a guess that most daycares have a one-year average. For me, the average length of employment speaks to happy employees who are where they want to be, doing what they want to be doing.  It speaks to careers rather than jobs.  
  • What is your target pool of candidates when hiring?
    • Where a daycare is hiring from does matter. Are the playgroups being monitored by high school students working their first job or by adults who have chosen to work in the dog daycare world?  High school students can be very good with dogs.  That is not the issue.  The issue is consistency.  High school schedules do not allow for a commitment to becoming an expert dog handler.  Play All Day has found that college students, on the other hand, do make for good daycare team members.  Their schedules are more flexible and they can commit to becoming experts.  And it’s a bonus when the college student is enrolled in animal-related studies.  But we really love it when we can find non-students who are looking to make working with animals their career.

Play All Day has 10 staff members with 3 years of experience or more. Left to right, top to bottom, we have:  Tera: 9 years, Aly: 8 years, Kim: 9 years, Al: 5 years, Kate: 11 years, Mae: 5 years, Paige: 3 years, Noah: 5 years, Jade: 4 years, Kendall: 4 years.  63 years total of dog daycare experience in this picture, not including April’s 13 years of experience.

Employee Training:

  • Do you have a formal training program for new employees?
    • If the answer is no to this question, it is a red flag. This is another non-negotiable characteristic of a dog daycare that I would choose for my own dog.   Team members need education, hands-on training, and supervision before they assume responsibility for a dog group.  I believe that lack of training is one of the biggest contributors to the high staff turnover rate in the pet industry.
    • Play All Day’s training program includes education on dog body language, playgroup dynamics, dog behavior, dog training, and how to manage unwanted behaviors. This is taught using video resources from professionals in our industry, reading material, and one-on-one training with a mentor.  Our employee handbook and policies and procedures are the guide that the new staff member can follow from day one.
  • How long is new staff trained before becoming responsible for a playgroup?
    • Believe it or not, there are daycares that allow new staff to oversee a dog group within 24 hours of starting employment. This is an unsafe practice because there are so many skills that need to be acquired and knowledge to be gained before one can safely manage a playgroup.
    • Play All Day offers two weeks of training with the same mentor. Prior to declaring the new staff member competent, they are monitored on video camera to make sure that they can successfully manage a playgroup solo.  They must also have their competency checklist completed.  After training, new staff members are followed closely for the first three months of employment.

Policies & Procedures:

  • Do you have policies and procedures for all job responsibilities?
    • My healthcare background has helped me to see the importance of this issue. Without P & P’s, staff members do not have a guide.  They do not have a resource to help them make the right decisions.  Expectations cannot be set.  Lack of P & P’s results in everyone doing the same task just a little differently and ultimately there is not a correct way of doing it.  I believe this is another part of the high turnover rate in our industry.
  • How do you monitor adherence to policies and procedures?
    • Without a system for monitoring adherence, P & P’s are just documents without meaning. A daycare should have systems in place to address adherence.  At PAD, we monitor staff on video camera randomly, giving feedback and listening to concerns.  Oftentimes, when an employee is not following policy, it is not out of laziness.  It is usually from a lack of understanding.  Performance monitoring allows these misunderstandings to come to light and to be addressed.  The employee learns something and sometimes PAD learns something and re-writes a policy so that it is clearer.

Continuing Education: 

  • Does your staff participate in continuing education?
    • Opportunities for team members to learn can only benefit your dog, whether it is pet first aid, topics on dog behavior, or dog training. Just like our dogs need to have mental stimulation, so do employees.  Having opportunities to become an expert in your field is important for career-minded employees.  It is the difference between a job and a career.  And ultimately, the dogs benefit from this continuing education.
    • We believe in continuing education at PAD. We recently implemented a program that incentivizes learning and advancement.  It is called the Leash Board.  On the leash board are the requirements for different levels of achievement.  As an employee reaches each level, a new slip leash of a different color is awarded to recognize their achievement.  Slip leads are a part of every dog handler’s uniform and an important tool.  The different color not only signifies their achievements but is also a badge for new employees to recognize and know who to go to for information.
  • Are there opportunities for advancement in your organization?
    • For those that have chosen to make dog daycare their career, advancement within the organization is an opportunity to grow and shine. At PAD, opportunities exist within dog care, our market, customer relations, and leadership.  Without the opportunity to grow, talented people will move on.
  • Does your team operate within a shared set of values?
    • Culture is so important to an organization….any organization. I did not fully recognize this when I started PAD.  We were very small and it just so happened that our team was all on the same page.  But as we grew and more personalities joined us, I saw that we had differing views on what a good dog daycare should be.  As the leader, it was my responsibility to unite us with a set of shared values.  We now use these values to set expectations when hiring, to help us make business decisions, and to coach current employees.  We feel our values are so important to our culture, we have them on our employee application.  You can view them here.

Staff In Action:  What would a post on Staffing be without a little show-off time from our staff at Play All Day.

  • Follow this link to watch Jackie perform PAD’s longest sit/stay in history. I think it is around 2 minutes.  It is not riveting YouTube watching but you will get the point of it.  These are dogs in a daycare with all of their buddies and lots of distractions.  They could be playing with each other, chasing balls, or peeing on things.  But they choose to work with Jackie for a reward.
  • Tricks are a great way to get your dog to focus on you and great way to insert a pause in daycare. Aly is working with Gemma on her favorite trick, twirling.    You can view it here.
  • We talk a lot about impulse control at PAD because it is so important to a well-run daycare. One of the things we work on a lot with our new team members is training impulse control.  Here it is in action at the gate, asking the dogs not to cross over the invisible gate boundary. Click here to view.
  • Follow this link to see pictures of the PAD team and to read their bios.

A well-trained, committed team of staff members is vital to the success of a dog daycare.  If you are considering daycare for your dog or are evaluating your current daycare, a look into how the daycare is staffed is worth your effort.  Managing dogs in a playgroup does not sound like a difficult job, but it is.  It takes talent, skill, patience, and the right attitude.  Not everyone is cut out for it.  But those who are, and receive the right training and support, make a huge difference for the dogs in their care.

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