We all need to leave our pups behind from time-to-time. It may be because we have to put in some long hours at work. Or it could be because we’re finally taking that vacation we’ve saved up for. Either way, leaving our dogs alone in the house can often lead to pent up energy and unruly behavior. For many of us, a dog door with a big backyard isn’t an option, so we end up with the occasional mess because the dog-sitter doesn’t make it there in time to let them out. Luckily, doggy daycare centers are increasing in popularity, and are popping up all over the country. The only downside is that doggy daycare can lead to a dog ear infection or other common ailments that can be common to shared spaces. However, with just a few simple precautions and some smart daycare research, we can keep our pups healthy, well socialized, and well-behaved.
What To Look For When Shopping Doggy Daycare Facilities
Some of us use doggy daycare as a way to help our pups pass the time and enjoy themselves while we work our nine-to-fives. Others just like to give their pups some fun with furry friends, while we have dog-free get-togethers. Whatever the reason, the wrong doggy daycare will send home a frightened or even sick pup. The right doggy daycare will send home a happy, well-adjusted, and hopefully tired pup from playing all day. This quick reference checklist can help anyone understand what to look for when shopping locations and investigating whether daycare is a great fit.
Walk in and ask for a tour. It’s the easiest way to get a good look at where dogs are kept all day. Is it dark, bright, spacious, or cramped? Chances are, if we feel uncomfortable there, our dog will too. Be extra careful to check for unsupervised areas or blind corners where a doggy daycare leader may not be able to see some dogs while observing others. And look for comforts like a variety of clean toys. There should be lots of fresh water available from fountains, rather than bowls that can run out of water and can collect saliva and germs. Also, look around for practical design features like non-skid surfaces so playful dogs won’t injure themselves while running and jumping.
Some facilities boast cameras with a live internet feed, but nothing can replace actually walking through a facility. We can check for foul smells that cameras just can’t show us. A bad smell means they aren’t cleaning up after the dogs often enough. Does it look like they sweep and power wash often? If they don’t, we risk exposing our dogs to the many diseases and infections other dogs can bring with them. Do they have an indoor and an outdoor area? If so, are they both kept clean? And what about the dogs themselves? Are they pretty clean? Or are they running around an outdoor area that has mud puddles? Every facility should have an indoor and outdoor space, or at least a covered protected area. All spaces and everything in them should be clean at all times.
Intake and Orientation:
What does the intake or interview process look like? Do they take anyone as long as they can pay? Or do they have strict rules about the dogs they allow into their facility? Also, what is their process for eliminating problem dogs? We want our dogs to be as safe as possible, which means the intake process should be more than checking a vaccination record and getting a check. Do they insist on a trial period where they will test dogs to ensure they are sociable? Do they have relationships with local trainers so those who need a little work before being allowed into daycare can get a referral? The more interested they are in serving their community and keeping the dogs happy, not just the guardians, the better.
Ratios and Risks:
Even the most experienced dog sitter can only handle so many dogs at once. Some states have rules, but others do not. Many associations have made rulings about what they think is an okay ratio. On average, 15 dogs for every human guardian dedicated to keeping their eyes on the dogs is considered acceptable. More careful doggy daycare facilities will have smaller ratios to break up the occasional fight while keeping an eye on the other dogs. We all need to decide on what we’re comfortable with but listen carefully to the reasons the facility manager gives. Do they say, “it’s the best number because it’s the law” or do they say, “it’s the best number because we care about every dog getting the right amount of supervision?”
Training and Philosophy:
Sometimes we can make an educated assessment of the best ratio and weigh the risks if we understand the training each staff member has and their philosophy about animal welfare. Some are certified trainers. Others are high school students earning a few extra bucks working under a manager who has training, but who isn’t physically present with the staff member and the dogs. We can also ask them why they do what they do. Is it just a job? Or do they really love spending time with dogs every day? Do they believe dogs just need to fend for themselves as long as they don’t fight? Or do they want the dogs under their care to enjoy themselves, play, socialize, and have a good experience? The answers matter when it comes to the wellbeing, health, and safety of our canine companions.
Division and Details:
Dividing the dogs into groups and categories can be just as important as bringing them together into play areas. Puppies shouldn’t be placed in the same areas as full-grown dogs. Senior dogs need to be in a slower-paced area where they won’t be balled over by more youthful dogs running around at full speed. Big dogs and small dogs aren’t necessarily placed together because small dogs can look tempting to dogs who like to critter. And smaller dogs can be intimidated and frightened if they suddenly find themselves surrounded by several large dogs. Many facilities will require a temperament test to make sure a dog is fit for the very social atmosphere of doggy daycare, but that isn’t necessarily enough. Double check that the facility has rules about how pups are divided and the details behind their reasons.
Permits and Policies:
Many facilities will have rules and policies about the dogs they accept. They need to make sure the dogs are in good health, have all their vaccinations, are spayed and neutered. They’ll often have a limit on the number of days a dog can spend at a daycare in 1 week. This is because even though humans need a safe place to send their pups for a variety of reasons, dogs also need some downtime, away from the constant politics of group socializing. Otherwise, they run the risk of some dogs growing irritated over time. It’s also advisable that we all check the permits and licensing of doggy daycare centers. We can check with the chamber and the better business bureau. And we can look at reviews on Google, Facebook, and Yelp. These can be a critical guide when seeking a high-quality center with a good track record.
Amenities and Extras:
Amenities can set one facility apart from all the rest. And most centers don’t charge for their ‘extras’ because they want to advertise a minimum level of care. They know what canine companions deserve, rather than risk looking like they are trying to nickel-dime their patrons. Extras may include fresh, clean bedding provided for dogs who want to take a little mid-day nap. They may have a swimming pool with additional staff members available. Some facilities will offer up to two private-time meals per day with owner supplied food. They’ll usually also administer prescriptions if needed. And some facilities will even offer an exit bath at the management’s discretion, just in case dogs end up extra disty, have an accident, or are covered in playtime slobber.
From grooming to boarding, training to daycare, simple dog-sitting to resort-style spas, doggy daycare can offer a range of services and an array of options. Some may be a big room with some water and toys and where pups can play for a few hours while their guardians run errands. Others can end up being a canine companion idyllic home-away-from-home, where they are spoiled and love nothing more than to play with their beastie besties. Whatever we decide, we just need to make sure we make the best decisions for our fur-baby’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. We may need to choose something that will be easy on our wallet’s, but let’s also make sure our final choice is a place that will keep our pup’s tails wagging long after they’ve left, and with excited anticipation for their next visit.
Maria Harutyunian is the PR team lead at Vet Organics. She writes about dogs and pets, in general, to help pet owners like her take better care of their furry family members.