Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Doggie Day Care - Behind the Scenes at Barkingham Palace

If you've ever wondered whether or not day care would suit your dog, you're in luck:  Kelsey Noakes of Barkingham Palace has stopped by to offer some advice. 

I found Kelsey through word-of-mouth, specifically my vet's mouth, which is a mouth I trust.  At that point, Mabel was doing what young pups do best: distracting me.  My work didn't always fit into the cracks in Mabel's day.  I hated telling clients I was on a rigid crate schedule, but they figured it out if they called and heard the bark-track. 

On top of that, Riggs was being... well, an ass.  Let's just say it.  He wasn't happy sharing the limelight with Mabel and he made that clear every time she emerged from the crate.

So I decided to take the dynamic duo over to Barkingham Palace for an assessment.  I was a little worried (okay, a lot worried) about Riggs making the grade.  And I was a little worried (okay a lot worried) about Mabel being trampled or becoming a hooligan.  But someone had told me that sending the two together might foster their bond.

To my relief, Kelsey gave them both a pass.  Mabel charged in and never looked back.  Riggs, however, had a few howling meltdowns at drop-off.  At first he didn't mix with the others, and followed Kelsey like a lost soul.

Finally, however, he adjusted, and I started seeing photos on the Barkingham Palace Facebook group that warmed my heart a little in that long, cold winter.  "They play together all the time," Kelsey told me. "You'd be surprised."


I was surprised--and delighted--when they came home in one piece, tired and happy. 

It worked for us.  Read on to see if day care might work for you.  Over to Kelsey...

1. How did you end up launching Barkingham Palace?

I'd been working for a wonderful vet clinic for a few years as a vet tech and receptionist, and loved every minute of it. Unfortunately, the clinic closed.  I’d already been working part-time at an emergency vet clinic and one of the vets there hired me to work at his clinic.

At the time, I had a grumpy, old Maltese who hated to stay home alone. I’d always brought her to work at my previous clinic, but that wasn’t possible in my new job. For six months, I dealt with her horrible separation anxiety, coming home to ripped up floors and walls.  Finally, I decided I needed to put my dog first.

I decided to team up with a friend and my then-boyfriend to open Barkingham Palace in East York, Toronto in 2003.  I can't say it was a hard decision.  I had worked as a grooming assistant for a couple of years so I was confident I could handle the grooming. I also love dog behaviour and had previous experience at a horribly run dog daycare . . . so I knew exactly what NOT to do!  We were successful pretty quickly.

Running Barkingham Palace also allows me to offer free grooming to the dogs I foster, and those of a few different rescue groups.

2. What services do you offer?

Barkingham Palace offers day care to dogs of all breeds and sizes. All dogs must pass a mandatory behavior assessment prior to attending day care to ensure the health and safety of our client dogs.  Unlike some similar operations, we have a small yard for outdoor access all day; we also take daily trips to a local dog park.

We offer all-breed dog grooming in a fun and friendly environment, and do a limited amount of home-style boarding for approved daycare clients.

3. What do you love most about your career?

Obviously, I adore dogs! I'm never happier than when I'm surrounded by exuberant pups, especially when they are tired and content from a great, safe day of day care.

4. What are the biggest challenges and success factors in running a day care for dogs?

An average day at Barkingham brings about 25 dogs of all sizes, ages and breeds. With that many dogs in one place, you need to make sure you know them very well. You have to get to know each dog as an individual and how they play, which dogs they enjoy playing with, and which ones they either annoy or find annoying.

We try to keep play groups small and never allow any bullying behaviour. We use positive reinforcement mixed with time-outs. This is where the assessment becomes very important. You have to meet each new dog and monitor how it interacts with others. Not all dogs are right for day care.  It doesn't mean they're bad dogs, just that our environment doesn't suit their particular needs. This can be hard for some owners to understand.

5. What advice would you give owners who are considering sending their dogs to day care?

For dog owners seeking day care, I would recommend they ask around and get referrals from neighbours, vets and local pet stores. Call the day care, speak with the owner and find out what training they have, how many staff members they have, and whether they are qualified in pet first aid and/or behavior training.

Make sure the day care assesses your dog beforehand. Ask about how the dogs eliminate—during walks, in the yard, or both.  

Then give it a test drive.  Many dogs will love day care, and will be exhausted and happy at the end of the day. Some dogs, however, don't need or want a full day of socialization, and would do better with a walker. Anxious or fearful dogs may never do well in a day care environment.

I believe the sign of a good day care is one that turns away almost as many dogs as it accepts. This shows they aren't just throwing multiple dogs together.  They actually care about a harmonious pack!

Now, with that being said, dogs will be dogs and even a great pack can have minor issues once in a while. Dogs are living creatures who have bad days when they're tired, sore or not feeling well. Nips, scratches even skin tears can happen from a small skirmish or even during play. However, if your dog is coming home often with bites or injuries, you are probably in the wrong place.

You can learn more about Barkingham Palace here.   (But the action is really on the Barkingham Palace Facebook Group.)


  1. Kelsey, when you make a trip to the dog park, how do you handle other dogs that might be there that are not part of your group. Does that ever pose a problem? I know you work your butt off every day but what a fun way to spend the day!

  2. Thank You for your answer Kelsey. How wonderful that you have such a close dog community.

  3. In case anyone is wondering here is Kelsey's answer...she had a hard time posting.
    Thanks Sandy!
    Hi Laurie, thanks for your question. We are fortunate to know the vast majority of the walkers and owners that frequent "our" park. We've developed close relationships with them and their dogs. We all seem to stick to the general unspoken rules of: no large or out of control play groups, no bullying, no humping and always cleaning up after our charges.
    When an owner or walker enters the park that we don't know, we pay close attention to their dog's body language. We encourage our pack not to crowd the newbies and allow then some time to acclimate.
    If we're uncomfortable with a particular dog's behaviour, we will kindly speak with the owner or walker. If we're still not 100% sure, we will leash up and leave. Thankfully, that's a rare occurrence but safety is always our priority!


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