We are a nation of dog lovers – and lockdown has cemented the bond with our four-legged friends. The latest research estimates that the UK dog population has risen by 10 per cent since the pandemic began, and now totals more than 11 million.
Dogs are part of the family. We let them into our lives, our homes, our beds. And it can be hard to part with them when we go away.
Enter the dog hotel.
Yes, you read that right – dog hotels offering cotton sheets, organic food and even facials to their canine guests.
The dog hotel industry is booming this summer.
“Luxury dog hotels and spas are now big business,” says Carmen Rustenbeck, founder of the International Boarding Pet Services Association.
“Research shows that the UK pet boarding and daycare market is worth around £1.3billion a year– and it is growingfast.”
But what is it like being at the helm of a hotel for Britain’s most pampered pooches?
Is it a dog’s life, or do their guests drive them barking mad?
Here three hoteliers reveal all…
I’ve always loved animals, and have worked at both a dog rescue centre in Thailand and at a kennel in the UK.
But in 2016, I decided to turn a Georgian farmhouse into a boutique hotel for dogs, which I now run with my partner Michael.
I wanted The Country Dog Hotel & Spa to be different. And I’ve certainly achieved that for our guests, whose owners pay from £50 per night to check in with us.
The hotel is set in rural farmland, and guests are chauffeured to us in a Landrover Defender, listening to Classic FM
on the way.
Inside, there are no kennels. Guests are free to sleep beside the Aga, log burner, on one of the sofas or in a snuggly dog bed.
For the VIPs (Very Important Pooches), staff can even stay overnight and share a room with the dogs – who sleep on the human bed.
During the day, our four-legged guests enjoy activities like running around the three-acre enclosure, watching a film with ‘pupcorn’ in the outdoor cinema or snoozing in the library – the older dogs like this room best of all.
Other hits are our homemade biscuits and the wood-fired hot tub, especially designed for dogs. One of our regulars, a labrador, would spend all day in the warm water if we let him.
Many of the guests enjoy our spa too.
We offer bathing in a raised roll-top bath, a full groom and nail clip, mud and paw treatments as well as blueberry facials.
Clients have recently included a cavapoo and a French bulldog, both had facials and loved them.
Our guests are certainly pampered pets. We even have a couple of Maltese and cavalier King Charles spaniels that arrive with their own Louis Vuitton cases containing food and clothing – the bags are bigger than the dogs.
Our celeb clients include Lorraine Kelly and Harry Redknapp, but we don’t just cater for the wealthy. The dogs come from a wide range of backgrounds.
One of our regulars is a rescue shih-tzu belonging to an elderly gentleman who lives nearby.
Whatever the dog, and whoever the owner, we always give the same five-star service.
As a teenager, I worked in an old-fashioned kennels with concrete floors and iron bars. I always wanted to open my own place and do it differently, but found a career in radio instead.
I worked in London for 12 years as a producer, but then suffered a slipped disc and had two spinal operations.
I thought: “If I don’t follow my dream now, I never will.”
So in 2014, I moved to Devon with a clear vision for the Canine Country Club. Set on five beautiful acres, I modelled it on a luxury human hotel.
All of the 15 suites have memory foam beds, cotton bedding, garden views and underfloor heating. The dogs love the rooms, and even when we’re full, it’s quiet inside.
It’s no surprise though because our guests have a full itinerary. We have beach and woodland walks, play time, grooming, fun swims or therapy in the 13ft hydro-pool and afternoon naps. We offer organic food and a chauffeur door-to-door service with air-con.
Most of our dogs are collected from Chelsea and Westminster in London, and prices start at £36 per night.
Our guests come in all shapes and sizes but ‘doodle’ breeds, like labradoodles and cockapoos, are the most popular. The dogs usually stay for three weeks, or longer, while their owners visit second homes. However, we have a lot of international owners too, who fly their dogs in ahead of their stay in the UK.
Only last week, I collected a Pomeranian at Heathrow Airport who had flown in from New York.
Dog parents may worry about their pooch while they’re away, so we send daily updates of their pets enjoying themselves on a walk or playing.
But the quirkiest request I have received has to be for a basset hound, whose owner asked me to read her dog a bedtime story every night.
“He’s up to this page,” she told me, opening the children’s book.
Of course, I read from where she had left off, and the dog seemed to like it.
Looking after up to 20 guests at a time, plus my own dog, is hard work. But I wouldn’t change a thing.
When I was made redundant from my HR job back in 2016, I decided to open a luxury dog hotel with my husband Brian.
We currently have five dogs and, in the past, have struggled to find nice places for our own pets to stay, so I knew there was a demand.
The Dogchester name is a playful take on the ultra-luxe hotel in London, and our purpose-built hotel is situated on 14 acres. We opened in 2017 and no expense has been spared in furnishing the eight suites.
All rooms are thermostatically controlled because some breeds feel the cold more than others. Yorkshire terriers, for example, like to be warm, whereas the Newfoundland guest that stayed during the recent heatwave spent all day on his private patio cooling off in a paddling pool.
Each room has a chandelier, a mini iron bed and a giant TV. Owners tell us the programmes their dogs enjoy.
Our guests can be particular about food too, and nothing is too much trouble. We recently delivered room service snacks of carrot sticks each afternoon to a collie.
Some owners even request tea and toast for their dog’s breakfast – or cornflakes.
It’s usual for dog ‘siblings’ to stay together. Last week we had eight tiny chihuahuas who couldn’t be separated – so they had our biggest suite.
Occasionally, naughty dogs do behave like rock stars and rip up their bedding. But three walks a day around our fields soon tires these guests out.
Nervous pooches have an inside play area away from the bigger dogs.
And if the guest likes it, cuddles are part of the service.
I’ve looked after every breed imaginable, and we charge £35 per night per dog. The longest-staying guests were two golden retrievers whose owner went travelling in Australia for two months.
While it’s lovely working with dogs, I do spend a lot of time cleaning. So when I turn the lights out at 9.30pm, I put the hoover away, pour myself a glass of wine and toast our pampered pooches.