In recent years, the concept of doggy daycare has exploded. Some people bring their dogs to these daycamps for canines out of necessity and others, for luxury. I am a great advocate of proper off-leash socialization for dogs and if you can afford it, doggy daycare is a great way to provide your dog with an outlet for mingling with his or her own kind as well as relieving the energy that otherwise would be spent destroying valuable objects in the home. However, not all doggy daycares are equal and therefore much research needs to be done before you leave your beloved friend at one of these off-leash facilities. Below is a checklist to run through when deciding whether a particular place is right for both you and your dog:
- Request a tour. Any reputable place should be open to showing you all the areas of the daycare. You should see the space where your dog will play with other dogs, the place where they will rest when not playing, and all other areas of the facility.
- Take a big sniff! Do you smell dog? A clean daycare with a good filtration system should not constantly remind you and your nose that you are surrounded by dogs.
- Make sure that the dogs are provided with structured downtime throughout the day so that the pups can rest and rejuvenate. Constant play can be wearing on your dog.
- Verify that all the handlers who will be responsible for watching and caring for your pooch have been well trained in safety procedures (including CPR), handling, and how to read dog body language. Handlers should undergo extensive training to ensure that they can keep both themselves and the dogs they are responsible for safe.
- There should be a screening procedure for all dogs before they are allowed to be integrated with the daycare population. Not every dog is fit for daycare. Specifically, aggressive dogs should never be allowed to stay in one of these facilities for liability reasons. Make sure that before your dog gets to mingle with any others that someone asks YOU lots of questions regarding your dog’s social history and that they actually observe your dog’s interactions with one or two other dogs before making the decision to accept them into the facility. Preferably, the person doing this “interview” is a dog trainer. Beware of anyone who tells you that any dog would do great in a doggy daycare.
- A reputable doggy daycare facility will allow you to watch your dog while they’re in daycare through a webcam so that you can see first hand whether or not your dog actually enjoys the experience. Don’t just trust someone to tell you that your dog’s having a great time. This also means that the daycare has to actually take responsibility for any actions they take with your dog.
- There should be different play areas to accommodate small dogs, big dogs, high energy players, and wallflowers. There have been tragedies in daycare facilities where a big dog has severely injured or killed a small dog. Make sure you never have to deal with such an awful event.
- Can you eat off the floor of the playroom? The facility should be clean, clean, clean. Any remnants of excrement on the floor is a huge red flag!
- Where do the dogs eliminate? Make sure that your dog has a designated bathroom area in daycare. Can you imagine having your dog trample through poop and pee all day and then snuggling with you at night?
- Does the daycare look like a doggy mosh pit instead? There should be a limit to how many dogs a facility accepts because overcrowding is dangerous. It can cause fights. It doesn’t allow enough room for exercise, which is one of the main reasons why people bring their dogs to daycare in the first place. It also means that the facility is likely understaffed and there are not enough people to watch your dog carefully.
- Trust your gut. Do YOU think that they show enough genuine interest in you and your dog? When you pick your dog up after a long day of work and you ask how Fluffy did that day, someone should be able to tell you how she actually fared.
- Ask for references and talk to the dog-owning public as well as veterinarians in your area to decide whether or not you should entrust your dog’s care to a particular facility.
- Make sure that your dog’s health is of great concern to the daycare. They should expect that your dog be up-to-date on vaccines and is not sick. I’ve heard of doggy daycares shutting down for several days for cleaning when they discovered that one of the dogs in their care had Kennel Cough or a parasite. Though this may seem extreme, I doubt you’d complain if it saved you a vet visit.
- Does the facility belong to the Pet Care Services Association (formerly the American Boarding Kennel Association)? It’s not a requirement, but it’s nice to know that the daycare is part of a trade association that has a code of ethics to follow.
That said, doggy daycares are generally a fabulous place for your dog to stretch his legs and develop social skills. Just make sure you ask lots of questions. Ultimately, you cannot take too many precautions. Your dog does not have a voice and cannot come home and tell you that his teacher was rough with him at school or that he doesn’t like going to daycare because it’s filthy. On the flip side, you also have to remind yourself that these are places where dogs (with teeth!) roam free. Accidents will happen no matter how much research you do.