Kathy, dog day care business owner greeting a guest dog

How to choose the perfect dog day care to help your dog combat separation anxiety

So as lockdown measures are starting to ease, those of us who’ve been working from home with our dogs as constant companions need to consider how they will react to our return to work or even, possibly, should we be contemplating a break away from home.

We have asked Kathy Hopton, of The HollyWoof Hotel in Exeter to give us the benefit of her experience. Kathy has been in the dog care business for seven years and in that time has very successfully run both home and facility based dog care businesses, so she knows what works best for dogs from all angles.

Kathy Hopton with a lurcher dog care guest


Your dog isn't just a pet - (s)he's family! And that's why finding the very best doggy day and holiday care for your four legged friend is so important. Let me explain ...

Hi, I’m Kathy and in 2014 I opened the doors to my first doggie daycare, a specialist facility that focused on a healthy holistic canine lifestyle. We welcomed up to 25 dogs per day and got to know our furry-friends like family, it was a great success until we got too busy… good problem to have right!

After five years in business we were turning new pawrents away on a daily basis, which meant turning away dogs that needed our love and support. This was a huge turning point for me, as a solo business owner.

 I knew I had just two options :

  1. Expand and open up a second business, or
  2. Sell and hand over the leads.

As a middle aged lady who single-handedly built this business with nothing more than a genuine passion for dogs, going ‘bigger’ felt like I would be losing the individual care and companionship I originally built the business for. I didn’t want to spend more time doing admin, I wanted more time socialising and caring for dogs. Therefore, in 2019 I sold.

After 12 months off, volunteering for the Dogs Trust and expanding my dog care related qualifications, I sat down and reflected on what a ‘successful’ dog care facility looks like now for our furry-friends, as we are just about to come out of a pandemic and most work-life routines have completely shifted.

Separation anxiety in dogs

Dogs, like us, are social animals. Due to the Covid-19 lockdowns, your dog may have become increasingly use to having you around. As restrictions lift and life returns to normal, the sudden separation can be confusing and disorientating. This is called separation anxiety. Whether you leave them alone for just a few hours or for most of the day, it can be a difficult time for both your dog and you.

So what are your options to prevent separation anxiety developing? Well, one option is doggie day care. Depending on the establishment, a facility can offer physical exercise, socialisation, mental stimulation and human interaction, but how should you go about finding one that is right for both your dog and your purse?

These are my top 5 things to consider when selecting a dog care option:

1. A home based or commercial establishment?
It makes no difference; both must be licensed by their local authority. You should look up any registration number provided with your local authority and if they can’t provide a registration, they have no insurance. You really need to do a bit of research to be sure the company you are considering are genuine.

To hold a licence means the company have proven strict policies and procedures in place to ensure your dogs’ safety and well-being, especially if they are feeling extra anxious. This is a benchmark. They will have met DEFRA conditions by satisfying veterinarians and are monitored by the local authority. They will be fully insured and the licence should be visible to the public.

2. Ask to look around the venue.
This may not be possible during opening hours for insurance reasons, or that the daycare wants to maintain a calm environment for the dogs, which is desirable, but they should be able to accommodate an out of hours visit. I would be looking for a clean, odour free, well ventilated, light environment with happy hounds and happy staff.

3. Who are the carers looking after your pup?
As a parent, leaving my pride and joy in these carer’s hands, I would expect them to give me the opportunity to discuss my dog's individual needs, his/her quirks, my expectations, the ratio of staff to dogs, how are dogs separated into play groups and how are they supervised? At this point, it is important to ask their experience with dog anxiety and how they would manage this.

Individual dogs should have a care plan which should be explained to you. You should ask to see an example of one, and when you decide on a particular facility, you should be given a copy of the one done for your dog and asked if you are happy with it.   

dog day care - home of facility based?

4. Is your dog taken off site for exercise?
If your dog is taken offsite for exercise, have a look at the vehicle he’s transported in. Will he be crated? This is the safest way. Are the crate beds supportive and comfortable? If transported in a car, will your dog be harnessed in a seat belt? All equipment must be clean and in good repair.

This might be a good time to say that I bought beds and crate mattresses for my daycare from Dru at The Big Dog Bed Company when I first started out. They had heavy wear on a daily basis, dirty feet, urine, sickness and worse at times. We were always punctual in wiping them clean and they were washed every few months as per the instructions. I can honestly say they looked as good as new 5 years later, the mattresses under the covers were unstained and they held their shape. Worth every penny.

5. Ask the right questions and answer yours, honestly!
Ask questions to be sure you are happy with everything. Ask how they will integrate your dog into his group and should an accident happen, are the staff Canine First Aid trained? Has the day care got an affiliation with the local vet if it’s not practical to go to your own, should it be required while your dog is in their care?

Dogs behave differently in a pack environment compared with at home. Be honest when asked questions about specific behaviour. None of us have the perfect pooch. I’m sure your daycare provider will have seen it all and telling them in advance of any trigger point for reactive behaviour in your dog will ensure your dog isn’t unknowingly put in a vulnerable situation.

These are all questions as a small dog care business owner I am delighted to answer on a daily basis, showcasing my competence and ability to ensure your dog has an amazing day in a social, safe and supervised environment. Walk away if you are not confident you have received competent and knowledgeable replies when you are looking for day care or overnight accommodation.

HollyWoof Hotel dog day care transport van

On a personal note

As a passionate dog lover who has missed sharing an active lifestyle with four legged friends over the last 12 months, I am delighted to now be starting my new venture - The HollyWoof Hotel.

We will be offering luxury staycations, daycare and holistic grooming services to a small number of lucky dogs. This is an all-round care service, going back to the individualised care and companionship our furry friends need.

I hope these key points might be of help and if you would like more information or some honest advice, please feel free to contact me, Kathy, on hello@thehollywoofhotel.co.uk. Happy to help!

 Kathy Hopton

Owner of The HollyWoof Hotel, Exeter, Devon


Dog day careDog daycareDog separation anxiety


Lynne and Freya

Lynne and Freya

My lovely rescue lurcher, Freya, who had had a horrendous start to life, was completely unsocialised and had separation issues, began her rehabilitation with Kathy; Freya adores her and came on in leaps and bounds with walks on the beach, Dartmoor, and other dogfriendly places. having moved away from Exeter we are still in touch with Kathy and she is my first point of call if I need Frey cared for and Frey witters away in the car when we approach her home – I cannot recommend her more – and Frey loves the big beds!!



Had my miniature dachshund puppy just before lockdown so was worried he wouldn’t get socialised so contacted Kathy I was really worried that she would understand his needs only being able to exercise for 30 minutes as a puppy but she totally understood and bought a pet carrier to carry him in .He is nearly six months old now and goes to Kathy 3 mornings a week while I work he absolutely adores her. She is so good at reckonising the needs of different dog breeds. Robby is spending the weekend at the Hollywoof Hotel and I know he will have a great time. Highly recommend the Hollywoof hotel 😊xx

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