Dog Days San Diego
They’re Sirius about Daycare
By Kathy Hosler
The biggest mistake an owner or someone in our industry can make is to believe that dogs are babies in fur suits. Dogs must be respected and handled as the intelligent, powerful animals with complicated social structures that they are,” states Tammy Ahn, one of the owners of Dog Days San Diego, a cage-free doggie daycare and boarding facility located in San Diego, California.
“Dogs have social, physical, and mental needs that must be fulfilled, and we are here to help the owners fulfill them,” continues Tammy. “We are also here to assist, to educate, and to make the world a better place for dogs by teaching owners how to properly socialize them and by educating the owners about canine nutrition, grooming needs, and more.”
Tammy Ahn and her business partner, Jeff Santos, opened Dog Days San Diego in March of 2010, but the seeds that led them both to a career in the pet industry were planted long ago. “When I was seven years old, I got my first subscription to Dog Fancy Magazine,” says Tammy, “and I did my fifth grade project on Rhodesian Ridgebacks.” Tammy freely admits that her near obsessive compulsion to nurture means that her life is filled with plants, animals, and people to feed. Tammy also says that dog daycare is the perfect career choice for her, because it prevents her from becoming a hoarder. She laughs and adds, “I would probably be the best hoarder ever, with 100 or so really well-taken cared for dogs!”
Jeff has had a life-long obsession with dogs and was well-known for his dog handling abilities at a young age. When Jeff was nine years old, he used to rent White Fang on VHS week after week after week. He communicates best with dogs and prefers that Tammy handle “people” things like interviews for magazine articles.
Tammy got her start in the pet care industry by helping out at her local vet’s office, fostering dogs, and working in several doggie daycares. “I did very well and went on to become a trainer and kennel manager for a large Los Angeles-based daycare,” says Tammy. “That’s when I met Jeff, who was also a trainer and manager.”
When Tammy and Jeff decided to open Dog Days San Diego, they knew that they wanted it to be a cage-free operation. “Being cage-free is a more natural and mentally stimulating environment for the dogs,” says Tammy. “And it forces us as a staff to keep educated about dog behavior and social needs. I suppose you could say we are not completely cage-free, because we do have kennels that we use for feeding and for dogs that need to be isolated in an emergency situation of any kind or that need a minute to calm down in a time out.”
Dog Days San Diego’s number one priority is safety, and their number one goal is the quality of each dog’s stay. “We specialize in socialization and helping dogs learn to interact with each other away from the parents: everything from dog-to-dog relationships, to being handled by strangers, to coping with new environments,” says Tammy. “We are definitely more of a cerebral place than a ranch with acres for the dogs to run on. We liken ourselves more to a school where dogs come to learn.”
Every dog that wants to attend Dog Days San Diego is rigorously screened for things like aggression, and they go through a thorough temperament test before they are accepted. In most cases, Tammy’s Siberian Husky, Sirius, performs the temperament tests with potential clients.
“Siberian Huskies were bred to work in packs, so their dog-to-dog communication skills are particularly effective as a breed,” shares Tammy. “Some people assume that they are ‘aggressive,’ because they see the bare teeth or snap or muzzle punch/hold, but to me, that says they are particularly expressive and clear in their communications to other dogs while being reluctant to actually do physical harm. Sirius is a good combination of being communicative and receptive, as well as genuinely interested in meeting new dogs.
“During the temperament test, a new dog is taken from her parents to an area outside of the play room, and her leash is removed. While she is slightly distracted, Sirius enters the room and approaches her. By reading his body language, we can tell if he has judged a dog to just be shy and scared or outright dog-aggressive. The latter has only happened a couple of times, and Sirius has been obviously terrified and unwilling to approach both times,” shares Tammy.
“But for dogs whose owners are worried because of a history of fear-aggression expressed through snapping or snarling, etc., Sirius is very good at giving them heavy calming signals while still approaching. That lets us know that the dog is not aggressive; it just needs a little practice and exposure to teach them about being around dogs.
“For an adolescent who maybe got into a scrap at the dog park due to ill manners and escalating play, Sirius will take charge very quickly to put them in their place.” Tammy adds. “Depending on their interaction during the temp test, that also tells us who to bring out next to continue introducing the new dog to her play group, whether she needs gentle, mild dogs or playful young pups.”
Dog Days San Diego offers a service that they call Free First Day. It is a tryout day to see if daycare is right for a dog. Each dog that comes in for their Free First Day stays for at least five hours. The first part of their day is the behavior screening with Sirius or possibly another employee dog. Once the dog passes the temperament test, the owner can leave. Next there is a behavior evaluation as the dog is slowly introduced into a playgroup. At the end of the day, owners are updated on how their dog did.
“We are aware that new dogs must deal with three very important factors: new people, new environment, and new dogs,” says Tammy. “We try not to bombard them with all of them at once unless they have a particularly confident and outgoing personality.”
Dog Days San Diego has separate areas for large and small dogs. They can handle about 50 dogs in a typical day. They have a ratio of one staff member to 13 dogs, and there is 24-hour staffing. “We strongly believe in attendant presence in the playroom at all times. A human leader must always be on hand to guide and supervise, so you know exactly what happened if something goes wrong,” stresses Tammy. “Also, dogs just have a better time if there’s a person around.”
Since they opened Dog Days San Diego, Jeff and Tammy have expanded their services to include overnight boarding, bathing services, walks, and pick-up and delivery services. They are already outgrowing the space that they have and plan to expand in the future. “Jeff’s and my dream is to open a much larger facility with outdoor play areas,” says an enthusiastic Tammy, “and we will include a more specialized area for particularly needy dogs (those that are severely under-socialized or stressed, extreme health needs, etc.), a rescue area with a rehab center and maternity ward, a training center, and a place where humans can come to take classes and learn more about dog behavior.”