I’ll confess: before I had a high-energy dog and a full-time job that kept me busy during the day and wiped out at night, the idea of doggie daycare seemed pretty… bougie. Now I realize that for me and so many other dog parents, doggie daycare is an invaluable resource. My dog gets socialization and exercise, and I get the comfort of knowing her needs are met while I’m taking care of business at the office. But not all doggie daycares are created equally. If you’re considering daycare for your pup, here are some things to consider:
What to look for in a doggie daycare
What is the intake process like? Your doggie daycare facility should require that all the dogs are up to date on their vaccines. They may also require that all dogs be spayed or neutered. Is there a temperament test involved? If not, there should be! Reputable daycares will require your dog to have a test day, or they may call it an interview, to make sure that your pup knows how to play nicely with the other dogs. Even if your little angel has done well meeting other dogs in the past, it’s important to know that their play personality may be different when they are with a large group of new dogs, for extended periods of time. You’ll also want the peace of mind knowing that the dogs your pup is playing with have been similarly vetted.
Is the facility clean and well-organized? When you walk in the door, does the lobby area feel organized or chaotic? Are the staff at the front desk knowledgeable – if you ask a question at drop-off, will you get the same answer at pick-up time? Are they able to take the time to address any concerns you may have, or does it seem like they are scrambling to get you in and out the door?
It’s also important to ask about cleanliness and sanitation standards. Accidents are inevitable, so be sure to ask about the clean-up protocol. Do they disinfect and sanitize each time there is a bathroom incident, or at set times during the day?
How are the dogs grouped? Are they separated by size? By energy level? A little of both? If the dogs aren’t separated into smaller groups, unless you’re looking at a very small facility, this could be a red flag. Sometimes larger, more energetic dogs don’t know their own strength, and may play too aggressively with smaller pups, who aren’t sure how to handle their playmate’s size, and this could cause trouble. Breaking into smaller groups keeps everything more manageable, both for the dogs and for the daycare staff.
Speaking of the staff – What is the dog to human ratio? How many dogs is each staff member responsible for at any given time? How interactive are they with the dogs? Some facilities encourage the employees to interact with the dogs. But others may tell their staff to refrain from playing with dogs in their care, because it can create jealousy, and potentially be distracting – if they are busy visiting with Rover, they could miss a tense situation brewing between Spot and Fluffy. You’ll also want to ask about the staff training. “Must love dogs” isn’t enough, so be sure to ask about how knowledgeable they are. The whole world is understaffed these days, but a good daycare won’t lower their standards. Do the staff know how read dog body language? Can they to recognize when a dog is becoming agitated, or when play has escalated to the point that a couple of pups need to be separated? Are any of the staff trained in canine CPR or first aid?
What if my dog gets sick or hurt? Every facility is different, but there should be a protocol in place in the event of illness or injury. Does the daycare have a veterinary office nearby that they partner with, or will they reach out to your vet directly?
Ask for a tour. If you really want to get a feel for how a facility is operated, ask for a peek behind the scenes. Most facilities will be willing to walk you through the space because they know it will bring you additional peace of mind. Now bear in mind that as we continue to muddle through these “unprecedented times” many facilities may be limiting the areas that they let pet parents into. If that’s the case, ask if they’d be willing to give you a virtual tour via FaceTime or Zoom.
This will give you a chance to see how the play space is set up. Do the dogs have access to fresh air and sunshine, or is the play area inside-only? How are the inside areas set up? Many facilities have short platforms the dogs can walk on to – just high enough to make a game of king of the hill interesting – but not so high that they should have difficulty getting up or down. Is there enough space for your dog to get away from the crowd if he’s ready for some alone time? Even the most social dog will need a break from the constant stimulation, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
Is there a schedule? Beyond the opening and closing hours (which are important!) some facilities build a lot of structure into the day, while others are more relaxed. Even the most social, active dogs will need to take a break to avoid overstimulation. Keep this in mind and ask if there is a set schedule for rest time – a predetermined time when all the dogs will be crated, or if the dogs are put on a staggered schedule throughout the day.
Do they offer additional services? If you might need overnight boarding at some point down the line, it’s an advantage to be able to take your dog to a place where they are already comfortable and enjoy being. Additionally, some daycares provide grooming services to the dogs in their care. When my dog spends an afternoon at daycare, it’s not uncommon for her to come home a little stinkier than usual, so it’s a nice bonus that our facility offers bathing and grooming services too.
Does the daycare fit your lifestyle? When looking for a dog daycare, of course you are seeking the best possible option for your dog. But don’t forget to ask if your needs will be met too. Does the facility offer weekend hours? Do they require reservations for daycare, or are drop-ins allowed? Is the location accessible, or close to your home or workplace? What are the drop off and pick up times? What are the costs? Do they offer half-day rates in addition to full days? What happens if you are running late to pick up – is there a late charge?
These may seem like inconsequential details, but over time, they can add up and you may start to feel like the daycare isn’t a great fit. I once found a wonderful facility for my dog, that on paper, checked all the boxes. But ultimately, after a few visits I found that the very structured schedule they kept didn’t mesh well with my day-to-day life. Since the location was across town, it was hard to get back to pick my dog up before my half-day of daycare became a full day. Once I made a reservation online for daycare, and their reservation system had me select my drop-off and pick-up times. An hour before my scheduled pick-up time, I got a call from a daycare employee, asking where I was… It turns out, they were closing early that day for a holiday weekend, but the reservation system didn’t get updated, and the early closing time didn’t got communicated to me. At least, not until I was late.
After that I decided that it was too much work to make this particular daycare work for me and my dog. So my search began again, but this time armed with more experience. I knew that for me, the special amenities that initially won me over (frozen stuffed Kongs offered during rest time!) weren’t as important to me as the practical considerations (being close to my house and staff that reliably communicated with me). It didn’t take long before I found a daycare that was a much better fit
Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error before you find a great fit for you and your dog. If you haven’t found a daycare you love, keep looking, and don’t be afraid to ask tough questions during your search.
What have your experiences been like with doggie daycare? Any other questions you’d ask a facility? Share your thoughts with us over on the DOGTV Pack Facebook group – our community of like-minded dog parents who can’t wait to connect with you.