Making Sense of Dog Daycare Services
With the increased popularity of dog daycare services we have seen more and more people getting into the industry over the past few years. This can be a great thing - more space to meet the demand for dogs to be cared for during the day while owners are at work - but can also be problematic when not done with the dogs best interests in mind. Because we don’t have the capacity to take on every dog needing daycare, we want to lay out a few things to consider when looking at any daycare service for your dog. By doing your research upfront you are protecting the long time behavioural and physical health of your dog, so take your time and find the right fit for you.
What is the process of getting your dog into the daycare?
Do they ask about your dogs history? Do they insist on a temperament test/assessment/meet and greet before putting your dog in a group? While your dog might be a happy go lucky dog that loves everyone, it’s important to know that the dogs they will be interacting with have gone through some sort of process to assess their suitability before being thrown in with the other dogs. And once they’re in the group it shouldn’t be a free for all either - we encourage careful introductions, building a relationship with the dog and helping them settle into the new environment at a speed that works for them.
What is the staffing situation like?
You are trusting these people to look after your dog and make sure they are being kept safe, not practicing unwanted behaviours and are having the best possible experience. Consider what experience does the owner has with dogs, and how how are they training their staff before they are given sole charge of a group of dogs? Have they got the ability to recognise problem behaviours and intervene before it escalates to a larger issue? Have they got enough staff to handle the number of dogs safely, especially at high arousal times such as when the dogs arrive in the morning? What techniques do they use to move the dogs from area to area, entertain the dogs and manage their behaviours? Formal qualifications aren’t the be all and end all (many of the best dog people I know don’t have any!) but a true passion for dogs, continuing education and most importantly - hands on time spent with dogs is invaluable.
Can you go and visit the facility?
Having people coming and going all the time can disrupt groups so it’s understandable to have some limits around this, but if you are unable to go visit at all and see for yourself where your dog will be cared for and meet the people who will be taking care of them then that’s a big red flag.
What sort of environment will your dog be in?
While not everyone has the luxury of the outdoor spaces we are lucky to enjoy, look at what they’ve done to make their space as safe and enjoyable for the dogs as possible. Slippery concrete floors in particular are a big concern, causing a lot of injuries especially when the dogs are playing on it in an uncontrolled manner for extended periods of time. Also consider the size of the space vs the number of dogs. While social interaction can be great for dogs, they also need space to be able to get away from a situation if they feel uncomfortable at all or just want to chill out.
What is the structure of the day like?
Constant stimulation isn’t good for any dog and time out is important too, but if you’re sending your dog to day care you’re also not paying for your dog to be locked in crates the majority of the day or left to their own devices out the back somewhere without regular attention. Look at things like how groups are integrated in the morning - are dogs constantly coming and going (higher risk of issues) or are they all arriving at a similar time, getting settled and enjoying their day? Have they got adequate space to go and chill out for a bit to recharge, or are they needing to be go go go all day and coming home overstimulated and grumpy?
What is the communication like?
If you have any concerns, do you feel comfortable discussing these with the daycare team? Do you feel like they are open and honest about what their processes are and how your dog is doing? If your dog is having behavioural challenges at daycare, will they sweep it under the rug and tell you it’s all perfect to keep your money or will they work with you on a solution or even let you go for the benefit of your dogs and the other dogs long term welfare?
And with all this in mind, is daycare the right fit for your particular dog full stop?
It’s not a service that every dog enjoys or benefits from, so if your dog has been assessed and is not going to benefit from a service then it may be worth exploring other options such as walkers, more structured day training services or even just staying at home with some nice enrichment toys to keep them occupied. Just like people, not all dogs love being surrounded by other dogs all day and that’s okay. It’s about finding the right fit for you and your dogs to ensure they live long, mentally and physically healthy lives.