Doggie daycares are the rave these days. As with any service, the quality of the establishment can vary to very good (really hard to pull off) to terrible. Personally I do not see doggie daycares as the solution to dog home alone. I think some dogs can benefit from attending a *reputable* daycare perhaps once or twice a week and hopefully not for the whole day. Of course, every dog is different but trust me, few and far in between really enjoy daycare as much as their people think they do.
For most it is way too much mental stimulation, this reason and not necessarily all the fun play that goes on is why dogs come home exhausted from daycare. Some young dogs really might enjoy the company of their pals and they might even engage in play thru the day. However, running a good day care is not a simple enterprise.
There are many reasons for this, but here are the main ones as I see them:
1. In order to be profitable, daycares must have a sizable amount of dogs attending. The more dogs the higher the chances for scraps between dogs, sanitation issues and management issues.
2. Staff that is barely knowledgeable in dog ethology and behavior. Staff that has really outdated information such as the “alpha” model which is so 1950’s and so not good for dogs – topic for another post.
3. Owners not being well informed about what to look for and having unrealistic expectations about the place or how much their dog truly enjoys being there.
I am not saying that no dogs should go to doggie daycare. However, what I am saying is that if you think your dog will enjoy the company of other dogs on a regular basis, I encourage you to really do your homework and arm yourself with some good information before signing and dropping off your pup to daycare. Below is a list of things to look for and questions to ask.
Go by and see if you like the place:
Is it clean in appearance? Does it smell too strong on elimination?
How do they screen for dogs?
What is their policy for dogs that are not neutered or spayed?
How about puppies? At what age are they admitted and are they mixed-in with the adult population? If so, at what age?
What are the dogs actually doing? Hanging out? Playing? Or they are constantly stopped the minute they try to engage in play?
How many people are actually with the dogs?
How many dogs attend when the day care is at full capacity?
Are they divided by sizes?
Ask them about their person to dog ratio. Which means: How many people are watching and managing dog interactions per number of dogs attending at a given time.
What kind of “enrichment” activities they have for the dogs?
Ask: Who walks the dogs? Where? Will they make absolutely sure to not allow your dog to pull on leash?
How do they deal with potential fights? Believe me there will be fights. Here again it depends on how many fights take place on a regular basis and how they handle the fights that can tell you quite a bit about the reputability of the place.
Who will pay for the vet bill should your dog get into a fight and needs medical attention?
How do they notify about the fight or any other potential problem?
I have had my client’s dogs attending local daycares where their dog came home bleeding, but no one mentioned anything to them. When they called about it the daycare did not even offer to be responsible for the vet bills. Pathetic!
I have also known of “good” daycares that have had a dog in their care escape while on their premises… sigh. The dog was eventually found.
More questions to ask:
Do they separate dogs by size? Age? Etc.
What kind of feedback or information will you get about your dog when picking him up?
Ask about possible professional certifications if they mention or offer any training whatsoever? Loving dogs a lot and having had dogs since an “early-age” is not a professional qualification or certification!
If and when you are satisfied with the answers given above and the physical inspection of the place, go and drop by without your dog on a given day. If the facility has nothing to hide they will not mind you doing this. If they do, think twice about leaving your pup.
If you end up dropping your dog off, observe if the next time he is being dropped off he appears “happy” to go back or instead he appears upset: panting, not wanting to go inside, etc. For this test you will need to be able to abort the mission and take your dog back home etc. so it’s important to plan ahead.
Of course, some dogs might just be nervous because they lack the experience and confidence of being left behind at first. Similarly to kiddos and kindergarten. This is again a judgment call. If your dog just lacks the confidence but the daycare is a good one, your pup will eventually (3-5 visits) come out of his shell. If he does not, leaving him behind in my professional opinion is frankly kind of cruel.
At the end of the day, the best advice is to follow your gut instinct and do your homework! Ask as many questions for you to be comfortable with the place.
Remember: Your dog needs you to advocate for him.
By this I mean, that your dog’s interest and well-being must be taking into consideration.