Over the last two decades dog daycares have become a convenient option for many families. They can provide company for the dog with separation anxiety; keep the dogs that get bored and frustrated at home for the day, active and entertained; some people even use them to help socialize their younger dogs.
With the number of daycares available nowadays, you can be choosy. But how can you decide if one daycare is better than another? What things should you look for and what questions should you ask? When vetting a daycare there are many overlooked considerations that are just as important to your dog’s health and well-being as vaccines.
As with most dog-related services, daycares are unregulated. Because of this, anyone can open a daycare, no matter how limited their experience with dogs. Having a love for dogs or having them all your life are not qualifications for being responsible for looking after a group of dogs. Whether you are using daycare simply for babysitting or to help your dog develop skills around other dogs, it is equally important that you take the time to check out potential facilities carefully before you drop your dog off for the first time.
Finding out the facility’s philosophy, protocols and experience is a crucial first step. If these are not up to par, then everything else will be of little consequence. A modern, attractive layout is an eye-catcher for sure. And a clean and safe environment is certainly important for the care of any animal. Looks aren’t everything though and spending a lot of resources on making a facility attractive to people, but skimping on research, training and the education of those looking after your dog, is all too common and a BIG red flag.
One of the biggest drawbacks of most daycares is that their protocols and setup are not based on what we now know about dogs. Being responsible for looking after any number of dogs while using outdated information as a guide is not only inappropriate it’s also dangerous.
- Have they had formal training in dog behaviour?
- What is their philosophy in the handling and management of the dogs in their care?
- How do they handle misbehaviour? Do they use squirt-bottles? Do they correct the dogs? Or do they give time outs so the dog can take a break?
If they think dogs are wolf-wanna-be’s and the group at their daycare is a pack with individuals vying for position and needing to be dominated for control, RUN. This is old information. Any caregiver should be better informed. It is vital that you find out what the knowledge base and qualifications of the staff is. They should be skilled in managing the dogs in a safe and kind manner.
Another dangerous aspect of most daycares is that they don’t have a good understanding of what safe and appropriate interactions look like. Dogs are typically put together that should not be together, not supervised adequately and allowed to be active for too long.
- Most people ask what the maximum number of dogs allowed is. This a good question, but even more importantly is how many dogs are together at a time.
- How many people are actively supervising the dogs?
- Most play involves dogs pairing off. Can that happen?
- How often do the dogs take breaks during their visits and what else do they do other than play?
All too often dogs are over-stimulated and allowed to interact inappropriately. This allows some dogs to become rough and bullying in their behaviour, while others are left to defend themselves. Both situations can lead to behavioural issues. Dogs do not just magically learn manners and social savvy by being around other dogs. It takes skill, understanding and experience on the staff’s part to be able to organize, monitor and supervise pairs and groups of dogs. It is vital that those in charge of watching the dogs, understand canine body language and recognize signs of stress and arousal.
As touched on earlier, the facility should be set up so that it best suits the needs of the dogs.
- Are there separate areas for small or shy dogs?
- Can dogs pair off to play?
- Are there separate areas where dogs can safely rest or have a snack?
At our facility, our dogs have ample time for non-dog activity. Many choose to play with other dogs for only a part of their visit. I think parents would be surprised at how much time their dogs want to be doing other things than playing. They enjoy time to investigate and sniff without being hassled by another dog to play; time to chew or work at a food puzzle; time to have a nap or a cuddle with a best friend. In one-space only daycares, these activities are not usually possible. A single area just isn’t good enough. Dogs should be able to be grouped and there should be additional space to rest or participate in non-group activities without having to feel vigilant. It’s neither natural or healthy for a dog to play uninterrupted for hours at a time.
- How will they be provided a chance to go potty?
- Is there a secure, outdoor area with easy access?
Although it’s not possible for all daycares to provide a full-sized outdoor play area, it is a bonus if the dogs are able to have access to some kind of secure outdoor enclosure during their visit, versus having to go out for a walk to do their business and get some fresh air.
Another indication of whether the facility is up-to-date in their care, is the protocols in place for vaccination and pest management.
- Do they require annual vaccinations? If they do, oh oh.
- Do they accept titers?
- Can dogs be on a non-pesticide management program?
Requiring outdated health protocols is usually a tip off that they haven’t done their homework in other areas either. Adopting protocols that make it easier for the facility, rather than what’s best for the dogs, is not a good sign.
- What type of information do they require beyond vaccines and emergency contacts?
- How do they get new dogs started at their facility?
- Are dogs allowed to come everyday?
Many dogs lack the skills, experience or confidence to safely and comfortably be around other dogs in a daycare setting. It’s important that the daycare wants to get behavioural as well as health information from you AND meet your dog before staying for a visit. The facility should be interested in your dog’s early socialization; whether your dog has attended any other kind of group activity; whether they have ever had an incident with another dog – either on the giving or receiving end; if they have bitten a person; whether they are segregated in any way at home; or have shown resource guarding towards items, people or food. These are just a few of the things that should be discussed.
Along with an pre-visit interview, a good daycare should ask for at least one short set up visit. Having an easy, carefully supervised introduction to the daycare will allow them to keep new dogs comfortable, get to know them properly, introduce them to the other dogs properly and recognize any potential issues.
Not all dogs can handle the same amount of time at daycare. Restricting how long and often a dog can attend shows concern for the dog’s well-being versus profits.
And finally, although incidents will be rare at a well-run facility, with good management and prevention keeping dogs safe and comfortable, being prepared for the worst is important.
- What happens if 2 dogs get in a fight? How would they break it up?
- Is their a person with an animal First Aid certificate on site at all times?
- Do they have a relationship with a local vet clinic? What is their policy for emergency vet care?
Having a plan and good protocols in place not only makes good sense, it will afford you extra peace of mind.
Although this list is not complete, I hope that it gives you an idea of the considerations that are important in finding a facility that will make your dog’s daycare experiences fun, safe and positive.
It’s important to recognize that not all dogs are suited for daycare. Dog Days has been able to provide an environment that was supportive and safe for many dogs that really are not candidates for regular daycare.
For more care and training information for your dog visit: