Dog Daycares- What to Look For

If your dog gets anxious when left alone or even if you just want to enrich his days, you might decide a dog daycare is the solution. Our Doggie Day Care Guide shows you what you should look for before leaving your four-footed family member with strangers.

Dog Day Care worker supervising
A little research will help ensure your dog has a positive experience.

Physical Conditions of the Facility

When you first walk in, what do you smell? A general dog smell is okay, but what you don’t want to smell is strong cleaners that could be harmful to your pet. A facility that smells antiseptic may be pouring it on a bit too thickly, especially if they’re expecting visitors. You have to wonder what it normally smells like when you don’t have an appointment. And naturally, you don’t want to smell dog doo. They should be cleaning up messes immediately after they’re made and storing the waste in covered containers.

As you take a tour of the place, check out the types of surfaces on the walls and floors. Are they easily cleanable or are they porous, allowing dirt and debris to soak in? Good flooring material is sealed concrete, linoleum, or tile. Area rugs are okay for warmth and comfort, but a daycare would probably have a very hard time keeping wall-to-wall carpeting clean and odor-free. For the walls, regular old sheetrock covered in paint is most common, but even better is the type of material you would use for shower walls.

Check out the noise level. Obviously, the dogs will be barking to greet you, but is there anything in place to absorb the din? Noise-absorbing ceiling tiles or even just fabric hung on the upper part of the walls or draped from spot to spot on the ceiling will help to dampen the sound to keep it from becoming overwhelming.

Day care staff with dogs
Watch how the staff interacts with the dogs in their care. Do you feel they enjoy their job?

Condition of the Dogs

Look at the dogs who are currently being cared for. Do they appear to be happy and healthy? Are they playing with each other or fighting? Does the staff interact with them?

A good daycare will have enough staff to provide each dog with at least a little personal attention throughout the day, as well as to clean up messes as they happen. If the staff members are sitting in a corner reading, texting, or gossiping, only reacting when the dogs get too rambunctious, this is not the facility your dog deserves.

Are big dogs physically separated from small dogs? Although many small dogs enjoy romping with the big dogs and don’t realize the size difference, this is a recipe for disaster. Big dogs may play too rough or even unintentionally step on a toy-sized dog. There doesn’t have to be malice or aggression, it’s entirely possible the bigger dog won’t even realize he or she has injured the smaller dog.

Dog ready for vaccination at the veterinarian's office
A good day care will ask you for health records-- they should be concerened about the well being of all dogs in the facility.

Screening and enrollment requirements

Ask the daycare what is required before your dog can attend. At a minimum, they should be asking for vaccination records, and they should complete a temperament screening. Families should be asked to provide proof that the dog is current on vaccines for rabies, parvovirus, distemper, canine hepatitis, and Bordatella bronchiseptica, the bacteria associated with kennel cough. Depending on where you live, Borrelia burgdorferi (associated with Lyme disease) and Leptospira vaccinations may also be required. Check with your vet to see if you live in an area at high risk for these infections.

Temperament screening will include an interview with you, and may involve having your dog evaluated by a member of the daycare staff to see how he or she reacts to strangers, how protective they are of their toys and food, and how they react to loud noises or visual stimuli. Information about one such test can be found on the website of the American Temperament Test Society.

Man Walking Dogs
How will your dog fit in with the other dogs in the day care?

Lastly, there ought to be some evaluation of how your dog “fits” with the existing population of dogs at the center. In other words, does your dog play well with others? Your dog should be introduced to the other dogs from the other side of a fence. Each of the other dogs should be given a chance to make friends with your dog, with a qualified observer watching for signs of aggression from your dog as well as from the other dogs in care.

If one or more of the dogs doesn’t get along with your dog, ask what options they offer. They may have every-other day attendance, or they may have separate accommodations for different groups of dogs based on how they get along with each other. As a last resort, they may allow each dog to be in the daycare part of the building for a half-day, then locked up in a kennel for the other half-day if you can’t get there at mid-day to drop off or pick up.

Check out the staff

Ask about the background of the staff that will be working with your dog. Have they been background checked to make sure they don’t have any animal cruelty charges in their past? Also, you should be aware that several other crimes including domestic violence are associated with animal cruelty and should be a red flag.

Watch how the staff interacts with the dogs who are already there, and with your dog if you bring him or her for the introductory tour. Is their love for dogs apparent? Do they stop to greet your dog and give him or her a little scratch behind the ears?

How does your dog react to the staff? Often they are the best judges of character. Do they back away from the staff or approach them eagerly?

Once you are convinced of the suitability of the day care program for your dog, be sure to check back frequently to make sure conditions haven’t changed. Excessive staff turnover may be an indication of a problem, and a change in management may have a profound impact on the physical condition of the building as well as on staff attitude and work ethic. In addition to your normal drop-off and pick-up times, try to stop by unannounced at least once a month or so just to see what goes on when no one is expecting visitors. There should not be any appreciable difference in standards on a surprise visit from what you see on a normal basis.


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