My dog inspired me to open my own doggy daycare centre

By Hoe I Yune, Aug 13, 2020

Elayne had always wanted a dog of her own. So when she moved into her own home in 2012, it was the perfect time to welcome a golden retriever into her life. She named him Alfie.

Alfie was a shy pup, which worried Elayne and sparked her interest in learning to become a better owner and trainer. The more she learned, the more she found that she had a natural affinity for this. For three years, she got certified, pet sat, and trained Alfie and other dogs. Eventually, she opened her own doggy daycare centre, The Snuggery, in Singapore.

Since it first opened doors, The Snuggery has grown its range of services — from doggy daycare and training to outdoor walks and grooming. Now in her 30s, Elayne gives us a glimpse of what it’s like to run a doggy daycare centre, as well as the challenges that she’s facing as a small business owner in this time of COVID-19, and how Alfie continues to inspire her after passing on.

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The bond between human and dog is a special one. Dogs can be so attuned to your emotions and they are generous with their love and attention. It is calming to have a dog rest on your lap or nuzzle you with their nose, especially when you’re feeling blue. They aren’t called a (wo)man’s best friend for nothing. 

Like human beings, every dog has its own unique personality, although their breed might influence certain characteristics. For instance, golden retrievers have a reputation for being outgoing and affectionate. 

That was very much the case for my dog Alfie, although it took a bit of time to coax him out of his shell. When Alfie was five months old, he was a fearful puppy. He lacked confidence while walking with a leash and would hide in the different corners of our home. He was shy with everyone including me.

I instinctively knew that he needed a confidence boost and wanted to see what I could do to help him adjust to socializing. I read up on ways to set up Alfie for success using reward-based training and asked friends who were fellow dog owners to find out what I could do to build his confidence. The more that I learned about pet-owner bonding and ways to train Alfie, the more intrigued I was on how I could be a better owner to him.

When I found out about The Michael Ellis Dog Trainers School in the US, I flew to California to participate in the dog trainer’s programme because I wanted to see what else I could learn outside of Singapore. It exposed me to what well-trained dogs can do, as well as taught me the different ways to keep a dog engaged and strengthen our bond.
 

I enjoyed myself so much that when I came back to Singapore, I offered to help friends train their puppies in one-on-one sessions for free. 

I wanted to be able to help friends understand their puppies better and prevent bad habits such as puppies nipping owners and children. 

Dog walks with Alfie reminded me to be present and connect with nature. It is such a stress relief.

Dog walks with Alfie reminded me to be present and connect with nature. It is such a stress relief.

Seeing friends and dog owners benefit from the pointers I offered gave me great satisfaction and convinced me to leave teaching in 2013 to pursue my passion in dog training full time. I joined a small dog lovers community here to build my network and the friends I made were incredibly supportive. As word of mouth spread, I grew confident that there was a demand for a doggy daycare centre.

In 2015, I took the plunge and started The Snuggery. Pet owners are usually really good at giving their puppies the necessary cuddles but they might not have the time or know-how to train their dogs. Puppies especially are bundles of energy!

Common behavioural problems include separation anxiety among puppies and dogs lunging, barking incessantly, pulling on leashes during walks and resource guarding by being possessive over toys and food.

I had to get by on a lower salary and longer hours than I had before as a salaried worker, but the trade off is worth it when I see the dogs overcome challenges and having fun.

A day in my life involves seeing almost a dozen dogs in one room on a daily basis. Dogs under our care at The Snuggery get to participate in morning walks, playtime, brunch time, training sessions, nap time, and more.

A day in my life involves seeing almost a dozen dogs in one room on a daily basis. Dogs under our care at The Snuggery get to participate in morning walks, playtime, brunch time, training sessions, nap time, and more.

Being owner and head trainer means having to do a lot of administrative work and ensuring that as part of business operations, the dogs’ activities schedule runs smoothly. But there’s always that good feeling at the end of the day when owners are reunited with their pets. I try to catch up with owners as often as possible to share what sort of behaviours their dogs have been exhibiting and if they can give new training techniques at home a try. They can also tune in to our daycare webcams, to catch their dogs in action throughout the day.

Not all dogs get along so as trainers and handlers, we need to know when to intervene so that no dog feels discomfort under our care. If we notice an imbalance between two dogs during playtime, we redirect the more playful or hyper dog’s attention to teach the dog fair play.

It tends to be easier for puppies to adjust to daycare because when they are young, they’re more open to learning good manners from the older dogs. It takes a lot of patience but one of the big rewards is watching our daycare dogs grow up healthy and happy. 

Some of the dogs have been with us since we first opened and we’ve seen cheeky, frisky puppies grow up into well-mannered dogs, eventually becoming role models of sorts to newcomers. 

Training and caring for dogs is a lifelong learning process, which is why my team and I are constantly upgrading our skill sets by attending dog behavioural courses. Over time, we have incorporated more services, such as trick training and bringing dogs out for walks around places such as Gardens by the Bay, Bishan Park or Botanic Gardens.

COVID-19 hasn’t been easy on us and I’m in the midst of streamlining our services to ensure that running a daycare remains sustainable. What remains constant is wanting the dogs to return home each day feeling well engaged and happy. 

Even though more people are working from home now, it is heartening to have clients who are still sending their dogs to socialise under our care. Some have even offered to pre-pay for packages in advance to tide us through the pandemic, while others who dialed back on services have shared with us how much their dogs miss coming to The Snuggery. The encouragement reminds me that my priority is to make sure that The Snuggery remains sustainable in the long run. That way, my team and I can continue to do what we do for the dogs we love. 

Besides being my inspiration for starting The Snuggery, caring for Alfie over the years has also influenced the way that I work. He passed away a few weeks ago but his joyous attitude and forgiving nature continue to inspire me every day. In the eight years that he has been in my life, he made me realise that a dog’s love is unconditional. 

I think many people often underestimate the impact of the passing of a pet, although the consolation for me was knowing that I was able to bid Alfie farewell prior to him leaving. Friends have been strong pillars of support, and a dear friend designed a tribute of Alfie after he passed.

I think many people often underestimate the impact of the passing of a pet, although the consolation for me was knowing that I was able to bid Alfie farewell prior to him leaving. Friends have been strong pillars of support, and a dear friend designed a tribute of Alfie after he passed.

It had been tough on Alfie ever since he suffered a sudden spinal injury known as Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) in 2017, which resulted in him losing mobility in his hind legs within two days. It all happened so quickly. 

Because he could no longer walk, he had to be carried around on a cart. I also learned a lot about palliative care — making sure he didn’t spend too much time on his cart because it places a lot of weight on his two front limbs. He’s a huge dog at 30kg and required the strength of two adults to be moved from the ground to his cart. He also couldn’t control his bladder.

It was devastating for me when Alfie lost his mobility and we had to adjust to the new normal. Alfie was upset for the first few months and couldn’t zoom back and forth like the active dog he once was, but he soldiered on with his friendly and loving disposition. 

Some doggy friends might have been apprehensive when approaching him on wheels as after his injury, he couldn’t express his stance to play as well as before. He could no longer demonstrate the play bow — stretching his front legs to the front and bringing his chest low to the ground, while his rear remained up in the air, however Alfie continued to try his best to engage with the other dogs. 

We used to enjoy dog hash sessions together, joining other dogs and their owners on hiking trails before his paralysis. The trail clues were usually made up of flour, chalk or toilet paper, and it was a great way for dogs to exercise and explore the outdoors. 

Like many golden retrievers, Alfie loved the water. Both before and after his paralysis, we would head to Tanjong Beach where he would have a splash.

Like many golden retrievers, Alfie loved the water. Both before and after his paralysis, we would head to Tanjong Beach where he would have a splash.

The moment Alfie entered my life, he changed it completely and I certainly did not see it coming. Alfie means brave elf and he certainly lived up to his name. 
 

Even after suffering from his spinal injury, he continued to brave each day. Alfie’s spirit fuels me as a dog lover and business owner, and I believe he lives on in the form of The Snuggery. I started the doggy daycare because of him and strived to give him the best quality of life that I could. Now, I want to keep doing the same for our daycare dogs.

Photos provided by Elayne.

Writer’s Note:

My name is I Yune, and you can find me at @i_yune on the Dayre app. On my personal account, my parents’ and boyfriend’s dogs sometimes make an appearance, and I write about everyday musings — from what it was like losing my first pet to setting life goals.

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