To Doggy Daycare or Not?

Something that people ask me fairly frequently is the question, “How do you feel about doggy daycares?” Especially since I live in a city, doggy daycares are very common and are popular for people who work all day, and want their dogs to be able to play rather than stay home alone. However, many people have concerns, and rightly so, because when you have so many dogs together things can very quickly take a turn for the worse.

To give you some background information, I have over four years of experience working in dog daycare settings. I worked four years at a very good daycare, and then much less time at a worse one; in fact, I had to quit after just a month because of how bad it was. The daycare where I worked for four years was good because it was tailored to the dogs: they could run and play all they wanted, and there were tennis balls and pools for splashing in the summer. Above all, the dogs were allowed to be dogs. They loved it. The dogs were excited to get there in the morning, and went home tired from playing all day.

The lower-quality daycare, on the other hand, was tailored specifically to the people, and the highest priority was making money by packing in as many dogs as possible. They advertise by saying that they are popular and have up to 140 dogs per day; however, because there were so many dogs (separated into smaller playgroups by size), they were not allowed to vocalize at all. Any dog that barked even once was sprayed in the face with water. And though I understand that they didn’t want all 140 dogs to start barking, the point is that they should have limited how many dogs they were taking in each day so that it wouldn’t be a problem in the first place.

The other negative aspect of this daycare was that the dogs were not allowed to run around and play as much as they wanted to. Dogs that started chasing and getting “the zoomies” were given timeouts in kennels so that they could “calm down”. Basically, the dogs had the choice of playing quietly and tamely, just standing around, or being banished to kennels for being too “crazy”.

I don’t know about your dog, but my dog has the most fun when she can run around and play. When she wrestles with other dogs she vocalizes and growls harmlessly, but if she attended this daycare, she would be in a kennel for the majority of the day (which really defeats the purpose of taking a dog to daycare in the first place).

To avoid unwittingly putting your dog in a negative situation like what I just described, I drew up some questions that you can ask daycare owners in order to ensure that your dog is going to a daycare where they will prioritize his or her needs and safety.

  1. What is the ratio of dogs to people? Ideally, there will be a ratio of one person for every 10 dogs. That way, the dogs will receive the supervision that they need in case playtime escalates into being unsafe. Also check to ensure that the staff is Pet CPR Certified through the American Red Cross, because accidents do happen.
  2. Are the dogs separated into smaller groups? What is the basis of the separation? Typically, it is a good idea to separate the dogs into smaller playgroups based on size and play style. This way, you can make sure that your dog will be allowed to play in the style that he or she likes.
  3. What is the screening process for allowing dogs to come to daycare? Good daycares will conduct behavioral assessments to make sure that dogs are daycare-safe and will not cause problems with the other dogs.
  4. Can my dog run, bark, and play like he or she likes to? Good daycares will allow dogs to play and run as much as they want, just as long as they are not going overboard or putting the safety of other dogs in jeopardy. Be sure to ask what the daycare employees do if a dog goes overboard by, for example, incessantly barking at other dogs. Good options are giving a brief break, or trying their fit in a different playgroup.

Daycare can be a wonderful thing for dogs with certain personalities, and is a great option so that your furry pal isn’t home alone every day. Before you make this choice, don’t be afraid to ask plenty of questions in order to ensure that it is the right option for your dog!

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So far I haven’t felt the need to find a doggy daycare for Sasha. For now, we like to go to dog parks so that she can play and run.

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