Good Dogs, Unleashed!

How to Pick a Great Doggy Day Care
April 5, 2012, 5:25 pm
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Doggy day cares are a great option for people who work a lot or can’t give their dogs the exercise they need. For dogs who love other dogs, it’s a great way to work off energy, play, make friends and just have a general good time. Now, day care isn’t for everyone, mostly due to the fact that it’s EXPENSIVE. Many of the places in our are are $20-30 a day and most of us aren’t able to drop that kind of money more than maybe once a week. For those of us who can, finding a day care worth your money is important, so here are some tips as to how to pick one.

  • Access to the outdoors- Many doggy day cares are just a giant warehouse with no windows and no where for the dogs to go outside. That sucks. A doggy day care with a fenced in outdoor area is ideal. Not only does this give your dog all of the obvious benefits to being outside (smells, sounds, fresh air, things to roll in..) it also helps to decrease the amount of accidents that are being had inside the building. If you don’t have any day cares with outdoor areas, make sure that every dog is taken on a leashed walk to go to the bathroom every few hours, and that they’re not expected to just eliminate inside whenever the need to go. Which leads us to the next point:
  • Cleanliness- When you go to inspect the day care, take into account how clean the place is. Obviously if you’ve got 20 dogs running around, the place is going to have fur and mud and the occasional accident, but it should generally be clean. This means no half dry puddles or piles sitting on the floor, no mop bucket full of cloudy brown water, no trashcans full of accident clean up. It also means that water bowls are cleaned often and fresh water is always available. The building shouldn’t smell like a latrine, but it also shouldn’t smell like the inside of a bleach bottle. While cleanliness is important, your dog shouldn’t be inhaling chemical fumes all day, especially in a building with little ventilation.
  • Dog to person ratio- Watching a large amount of dogs can be fun, but it can also be difficult. Scrums happen and there should be enough staff to monitor the dogs closely while also interacting with the dogs by playing tug, tossing a tennis ball or frisbee and giving out belly rubs. A 10:1 dog to human ratio is ideal and a 20:1 ratio is unacceptable. Also, it’s generally better to have 2 staff members available at all time in case something does go wrong.
  • Staff training- How well trained is the staff? Are they taught to recognize canine body language, how to identify and separate dogs who look like they may be getting too intense, how to break up a fight if one were to occur? What about first aid training? Do the employees know what to do if a dog is injured? Ask the manager or owner these questions and then, if you can, talk to the employees themselves about their experiences. Make sure that none of the employees are ever allowed to dole out physical punishments.
  • Veterinary partnership- A doggy day care that’s part of an animal hospital would be perfect, but since most aren’t, ask if they have a veterinarian who they have a relationship with in case of emergency. If an animal is seriously injured, where will they take the dog and what type of medical care are they willing to provide? In addition, make sure that they have basic dog first aid kits in the facility for minor injuries and that staff are trained in how to handle those injuries.
  • Separation of large and small dogs- This is a personal decision, there’s no reason that large and small dogs can’t play and interact with each other in a safe way, however it can lead to unintentional injuries. A pomeranian can easily be squashed or trampled by two fat labs tearing from one end of the building to the other. If you have a particularly small dog that you’re concerned may get hurt while playing with large dogs, find a day care that has separate areas for different sized dogs.
  • Application process- Anyone looking to bring their dog to a day care should be required to provide proof of spaying/neutering and vaccinations (rabies, distemper, bordetella [kennel cough] and canine influenza). Questions on the application should address the dog’s experience with people and other dogs, it’s overall health, any allergies or medications and any behavioral problems that may be an issue in a day care setting. After an application is approved, a dog interview should be held before your dog is introduced to the entire group. During this interview process, two staff members introduce your dog to other dogs one at a time and monitor your dog’s interactions. Your dog should only be allowed to join the day care program if she does well with small groups of dogs first. Dogs who show aggression or fear should not be accepted.
  • Webcams- Many doggy day cares now offer webcam service so that you can check in on your dog while he’s playing. This is great because it helps you keep an eye on what type of interactions your dog is having with other dogs and the staff. Is he hiding in a corner all day sleeping? Maybe day care isn’t the right choice for him. Are the staff members actually interacting with the dogs or are they suspiciously absent or distracted playing cell phone games or reading a book? If your day care doesn’t offer webcams, make it a point to drop by unannounced to make sure that everything is going smoothly for your dog.

Besides these few guidelines, your best bet is to ask around for recommendations. Ask your veterinarian, groomer or trainer who they recommend. Ask your friends if their dogs attend a day care in the area and if they’re happy with their experience. Once you find a day care you like, stick with it and try to bring your dog on the same day(s) each week so that she can form relationships with dogs she sees regularly. Good luck!