How to pick the right doggie daycare for your pooch

By Dr. Parker T. Barker

Many owners recognize that their dog may need more company and stimulation than just following them around all day. One solution is for both of you is to go out for a long walk, off leash if you can find the right place. A second option is to send Fido off to doggie daycare for some time away from you where he can find new friends and have a rousing good playtime.

The first step is for you to access your dog’s personality – does he like being with other dogs? Does he have fun at the dog park? Not everyone is suitable for daycare. He might be so laid back that he would never get off the sofa and have any fun. Then it becomes a waste of money. So what are the issues around picking out a good spot for ol’ Fido assuming you think he has the personality to benefit from it? Here are my seven areas to look for when choosing a doggie daycare facility.

1. You need to personally visit each daycare facility you are considering to review their policies and procedures. What is their screening process? Is there staff on the floor at all times? How well trained is the staff? How many dogs do they have at one time? Do they have security measures like double gates to outside entrances? Do you see any electric cords in play areas? Are the floors in the play area non-skid surface? And most importantly, do they have emergency procedures in place and what are they? Plus, they must require proof of vaccinations from every dog as well have copies of each dogs records of shots and the phone number for the Vet you use.

2. Getting the right mix of sizes is important. Small dogs and puppies are about the same size but it’s not appropriate for them to play together when the pups are a very young age. You should also look at the activity level of the dogs that are already enrolled – what is their play style? Some dogs just don’t like other breeds of dogs. For myself, I can’t bring myself to put up with Jack Russell Terriers – sorry guys but you just ain’t for me.

3. Ideally, the facility should ask to do a temperament test on your dog. This is a good safety precaution for both the dogs and the staff. It helps to determine if the daycare is right for you and the dog. Again, not all dogs are suitable for daycare play. The test is also used to match your dog’s personality with appropriate playmates so your dog is placed in the correct playgroup.

4. Don’t panic if the facility has dog breeds that make you nervous. You really need to look at the dogs as individuals. How well has the dog been socialized? And how comfortable is the staff with the breed. If they’re not comfortable with that breed, then they shouldn’t take it into the daycare. Having a very good screening process in place for the dogs is the real key to it here.

5. At a minimum the staff should have training in canine body language, signs of stress and basic animal care. Don’t be shy about asking about this. Just because Betty Sue loves dogs doesn’t make her the best candidate to keep an eye on Fido.

6. How many days a week should I plan to send Fido to doggie daycare? It all depends. Some facilities require a set number of visits at first to incorporate a dog into the group. A good facility will let you know if your dog needs a break. Obviously, younger, more active dogs need it more; otherwise they can get into trouble at home. Older, less active dogs might only need it occasionally. Take your cues from your dog.

7. And the litmus test as to whether your dog likes daycare is how he comes home. He should be tired, but happy and relaxed, not agitated. There’s a difference between coming home tired from having fun and coming home tired from being stressed. So it depends on how the dog is acting. If he seems happy, his tail is wagging and he’s eager to go in there in the morning, then he probably is enjoying it. But if when you get there he puts on his brakes, he doesn’t want to go through the door, that’s a bad sign. He’s either going too often, or going to the wrong doggie daycare.

So pay attention to your pup. Some will have a great time and some won’t. Don’t force the issue. And always remember, daycares are always in a state of flux with some new dogs coming and others going. Like any social group, the dynamic might change to a point where a previously happy dog doesn’t want to go play with the “new guy who’s a bully.” Can’t say I blame him. Good luck!

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