Dog Daycares: Not All Are Created Equal

As a trainer and a former manager of a daycare, my students ask me all the time about enrolling their dog in daycare. Not all daycares are the same, but a well-managed daycare is the perfect place for a young exuberant dog to get its needed exercise. But how do you find one?

The problem with most daycares is that they open with the best intentions, but usually take in more dogs then what is safe, don’t create play-groups based on play style, age and size, don’t educate their staff on canine behavior and don’t give the dogs enough breaks throughout the day.

Daycares should ALWAYS do a temperament test on every dog who is considered. A test is only as good as the person who is giving it, so ask questions of the experience of the person(s) giving the test. Ask them what they are looking for in behavior, and make sure you as the dog’s owner, get to watch the process.

Daycare should be a place where your dog is safe. Look for a daycare that has a ratio of 1 human attendant per every 6-8 dogs. Play-groups should never exceed more than 12-15 dogs and should be based on age, size and play-style. Dogs shouldn’t be allowed to play for more than an hour without a break. Breaks should be given in a quiet room preferably with crates or kennels. Breaks can help keep arousal levels low and reduce dogs getting overtired and cranky.

Obedience training should not be ignored. Pulling on a leash, door darting and jumping are common problems with dogs that attend a poorly run daycare. The staff should be in partnership with you to help curb these behaviors.

Here is a short list of things of observations and questions when considering a new daycare:

  • Visit the daycare without your dog during their ‘pick up’ time. Is the lobby chaotic? Are the attendants bringing the dogs to their owners in a calm controlled manner?
  • Does the building have an odor? What is their disease management? What vaccines to they require?
  • What is their protocol if a dog comes down with kennel cough or tests positive for giardia (a zoonotic parasite that causes severe diarrhea)
  • Does each dog go through a temperament test? What does the test involved and do you get to watch the process
  • How many employees do they have and what is their training? Do they know first aid?
  • How many attendants manage a playgroup ?
  • What is their employee turnover rate? (an ill run daycare will have a high rate of turnover)
  • What is the protocol if a dog gets bit? Is the biting dog excused from daycare?
  • Have they ever excused a dog and what were the circumstances?
  • Do they have a veterinarian they work with and is the clinic close by?
  • Do they allow toys? Snacks? Why or why not?

I suggest anyone considering a facility that they visit a few times and interview them prior to bringing their dog and ask for references. If you are able to do so, watch the dogs playing. Are the attendants paying attention to the dogs or are they texting or talking on their cell phones?
Dog fights certainly do happen in daycare, and it’s a risk that a dog owner should know before they take their dog. However, a well run daycare will have policies and procedures in place to minimize this from happening.

One last note: Your dog will come home tired but daycare is not a substitute for training. Having your dog attend daycare 5 days a week can minimize your relationship, so balance your relationship with enrolling your dog in a class such as agility, noseworks or rally-o. If your dog has separation anxiety, then daycare can help in between training, but is not a substitute FOR training. Daycare should never be a ‘lifestyle’ for any dog.

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