New Opening: Dogtopia

Anyone who's ever owned a dog knows that kennels can be dark places, both literally and metaphorically. Vast rooms filled with row upon row of metal cages, they're anxiety-provoking places for dogs that aren't used to (what is to them) a terrifying canine prison with no soft couches or on-trend wall paint.

Now, dogs who need to be boarded while their families go away for a day or a week can enjoy a more calming, luxurious facility at the newly opened Dogtopia -- a daycare, boarding and spa facility for dogs, located on Burnhamthorpe between Erindale Station and Creditview.

"Dogtopia is new in Ontario," says Anita Samadian, the brand's regional developer for eastern Canada. "It's a 7,500 sq. ft. facility built with safety in mind. We have three separate playrooms with walls instead of chain link fences because sometimes seeing other dogs can be over-stimulating and we separate them by size and temperament."

The facility, which opened this spring, offers pets a more animal-oriented, tranquil environment conducive to lower stress levels and better dog-on-dog socialization. It also offers pet parents peace of mind, should they be nervous about boarding their dog for anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks.

"We do touch, behavioral and crate tests to see how [the dogs] communicate with each other and we determine what room is best for each dog. For example, our toy room is for small dogs as well as older ones who are more docile."

The idea of a pet daycare -- and I mean literal daycare with toys and plush flooring and grooming options -- might seem preposterously first world to some (not me, I think my dog deserves plush carpet for his teeny tiny footers), but it does offer something unique that acknowledges that our relationships with our pets have changed. For some people, their pets are very much their children -- especially if they're empty nesters, live alone or are ill or suffer from mobility issues. People want to know their pet is safe, comfortable and being cared for by people who have experience dealing with ill, timid or anxious dogs.

"Animal daycare is just starting to become prevalent," says Samadian. "People are starting to realize it's not just cute, it's important for the mental health of dogs. They need to spend time with other dogs and learn dog language. They need to learn how to play with other dogs correctly. This can even help out with behavioral problems in the home."

Dogtopia offers a lot in terms of structure and organization, similar to a daycare for children. The facility opens at 7 am and has open playtime for dogs until noon, at which time the dogs will have the opportunity to nap (awwwwww!). After 2 pm, the dogs can enjoy open play until 7 pm. The facility offers longer-term boarding options for traveling pet parents and there's even a special suite for animals who are too anxious to sleep in crates (or too crafty in escaping them).

"The staff is highly trained in dog behavior," says Samadian. "Dogs can be anxious, especially a dog that hasn't socialized much with other dogs before. We put [anxious] dogs in a smaller room and slowly introduce them until they're comfortable."

As for those still anxious about leaving their dog somewhere for a few days while they venture outside the city, Samadian recommends easing the pet into the idea.

"We recommend a half day of daycare prior to boarding," she says. "It gets them used to it and lets them know their parents will come back."

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