Daycare can improve some dogs’ behavior and aggravate others. How do you decide whether it’s right for your dog? The term “doggie daycare” has become a, “Cure-all” in recent years for all manner of canine behavioral ills. Does your dog engage in destructive chewing? Nuisance barking? Rude greetings? Poor canine social skills? Mouthing and biting? Separation anxiety? Just send him to doggie daycare and all will be well; you hope.
The fact is, many of today’s canine companions suffer from a significant lack of exercise, stimulation, and social time with their own kind. A good daycare provider can go a long way toward meeting those needs. But daycare is not the one-size-fits-all answer that we would like it to be; there are many factors to take into consideration before enrolling your dog in your friendly neighborhood doggie hangout.
Who Shouldn’t Go to daycare:
Not all dogs are appropriate daycare candidates. Just because they are a social species does not mean all dogs get along with each other. Humans are a social species and we certainly do not all get along! It is important that you honestly evaluate your dog’s personality and behavior to determine if he/she has the potential to do well at daycare. If he plays well with others, is comfortable and confident in public, and does not mind being separated from you, then daycare may be a fine choice. If any of those are questionable, proceed with care.
If your dog does not enjoy interacting with other dogs, he/she will likely find daycare a very unpleasant experience, and his dislike of dogs will probably get worse.
When the planets are aligned just so – with a well-managed, highly trained staff and a perfect set of playmates – some dogs who are mildly fearful of other dogs may develop greater social skills and ease around their own kind. But many a dog-fearful dog has become reactive-aggressive as a result of being forced into proximity with other canines. Total immersion in dogdom is not an appropriate behavior modification or management plan for a dog who is intimidated by his own kind. Many dogs simply become less dog-playful as they mature, and a day at doggie daycare is not the fun party for them we imagine it is. Of course, geriatric dogs and those with medical conditions should not be asked to endure the rough-and-tumble play of dogs at a daycare center.
A canine bully or any dog who is otherwise offensively aggressive toward other dogs is also not an appropriate daycare attendee. Do not think sending him to daycare will teach him how to play well with others. It is more likely to do the exact opposite! He will find it quite reinforcing to have the opportunity to practice his inappropriate bullying or aggressive behavior. Behaviors that are reinforced variably increase and strengthen.
Finally, dogs who suffer from separation anxiety are often horrible candidates for daycare. Owners of dogs with separation anxiety often hope their dogs will relax in the company of other dogs and humans. Trainers often suggest daycare as a solution for the dog who is vocal or destructive when left alone, but if your dog is at the extreme end of the separation-distress/anxiety continuum, sending him to daycare does not make him any happier. It only makes those who have to spend the day with him (canine and human) stressed as well. Less severe manifestations of isolation/separation distress may be alleviated by a daycare provider. Be honest with your prospective provider about your dog’s separation-related behavior, and see if they are willing to give it a try. Be ready to celebrate if it works, and look for another solution if it does not.
Who Should Go to Daycare:
In contrast, if your dog loves to play with others, does not have significant medical problems that would preclude active play, and has energy to spare, he/she the ideal candidate for doggie daycare. This professional service, offered by a high-quality provider, is the perfect answer to many dog owner’s prayers.
Perhaps you have a friendly, active, young dog and you just do not have the time you would like to devote to his/her exercise and social exposure. You come home exhausted from a grueling day at work and he/she greets you with a huge grin on his/her face, his/her wagging tail clearly begging for a hike in the woods or an extended session of ball-retrieve. If you do not exercise him/her, you risk the emergence of inappropriate behaviors such as chewing, but you are just too tired and you have to work on a project due tomorrow. Daycare, even one or two times a week, can be the perfect outlet for his/her boundless energy, giving him/her the social time and dog-play time he/she covets, and relieve yourself of the oppressive guilt of not being able to take him/her for that hike.
One of the pitfalls of suggesting daycare to clients is the scarcity of high-quality providers in most areas. If you are considering sending your canine pal off to a professional dog-sitting facility for the day, you want to be confident that he will be as safe and happy in their hands as he/she is in yours. You should see each prospective provider’s facility (preferably when dogs are present), and talk to the manager and staff. You may need to make an appointment in order to get the best tour of a daycare facility. There are times (especially in the morning during peak drop-off hours and in the afternoon during peak pick-up hours) when it will be extremely difficult to spare a staff member to show you around. Call ahead and ask when it would be best to see the facility. Always keep in mind that taking a tour is much different than observing your dog at play. Facilities should take precautions to keep your dog safe at all times. This includes but not limited to allowing you to take the tour with your dog and/or watch your dog at play. Your dog’s behavior is completely different when you are present. Allowing you to watch your dog at play can create a bad atmosphere as long as he/she can see you.
As you visit facilities and interview managers and staff, observe the dogs that are present in the daycare centers. They should appear happy, not stressed. Staff should also appear happy, not stressed and be interacting with the dogs. The environment should be calm and controlled, not chaotic. Your take-away impression should be one of professional competence as well as genuine caring for dogs. Trust your instincts. One of the most important things to ask about is the dog to staff ratio. This can range from 10 dogs or fewer per staff person to as many as 20 or more dogs per caretaker. Of course, the smaller the ratio, the less risks of injury. In a full-service facility, trained staff members keep the dogs busy with indoor /outdoor play. Many facilities provide a variety of toys and balls as well as playground and agility equipment to enjoy. Good daycare centers also include rest time or “Time-outs” so dogs do not get over-stimulated by having too much fun.
Cost is also an important factor, but do not select your provider by cost alone; neither the lowest-priced nor the highest-priced facility may be suitable for your dog. Depending on where you live and the specifics of the facility, cost per day can range from a few dollars to $40 or more. Facility specifics vary. Multi-staffed facilities are naturally costlier, but can offer a much wider range of services to meet the needs of individual dogs.
Other Things to Ask About Include:
- First Aid and CPR: Employees should be trained in pet first aid and CPR. Ask what the daycare’s protocol is in the event of an emergency, injury or illness. How frequent are serious incidents, requiring staff intervention, of inappropriate behavior between dogs? How do they deal with incidents involving inappropriate behavior between dogs? Incidents should be defused by separating dogs calmly. What if a dog is injured? Do they have a regular consulting veterinarian who is available during all daycare business hours? If not, is there an emergency clinic available? Will they transport to your veterinarian if that is your preference? Who pays the vet bill? The provider should notify you immediately if your dog is seriously injured, either by another dog or some other physical mishap, and honor your preference for veterinary care if at all possible. There are reasonable arguments on both sides of the “who pays” question, but you should be aware in advance of their policies so you are not surprised.
- Vaccination Requirements: The doggie daycare facility should require mandatory checks for health risks such as Bordetella, the vaccination for tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) at least one week prior to daycare. There should be requirements for vaccination or titers, and sick dogs should not be allowed to enter the daycare or boarding facility. All dogs should be on a heart-worm, flea, tick and parasite preventative.
- Spayed or Neuter: The daycare policy should prohibit unaltered male or female dogs. Nothing throws off the chemical balance and harmony of a group of dogs quicker than that of a female in heat or an intact male. AYBNC reserves the right to make the final decision of whether your intact male is a good candidate for daycare. Absolutely NO females in heat allowed. In addition, neutering and spaying your dog will add years to their life!!!
- Floors and Fencing: Floors should be cushioned and easy to clean. Typically washable rubber mats on the floors makes a good choice. This protects them from slipping and hurting themselves. Also, fencing should be enclosed with many gates in the middle of the room to prevent any dog from getting backed into a corner. In addition, any fencing should be high enough to prevent dogs from jumping over.
- Layout of Facility: How many play areas are there for dogs? Are there fresh clean water stations in each play area? How often are they let out to go potty?
- Behavioral Control: How does the daycare staff determine appropriate play groups? Dogs are individuals and come in many different shapes, sizes and ages and have varying temperaments, play styles, energy, sociability, and fear levels, etc. If you get the proper answer (play style, size, and age) make sure your observations of the groups playing support their answer. Keep in mind that accidents and injuries can happen in all facilities. Dog daycare is like a child’s playground, and by allowing dogs to play together there is a risk of injury. Discuss this conundrum with your potential provider to see how they handle it.
- Treats: Do they feed the dogs treats? If so, are the treats a type and quality that is compatible with your dog’s diet – especially if he/she has allergies or you are committed to high quality foods? Can you provide your own treats to give him/her, and if you do, can they ensure he/she gets your treat and not the others? If you ask them to refrain from feeding treats, or limit the amount, will they?
The benefits of dog play are numerous, and it is well worth the effort to find a professional facility that can allow your dog to be as happy, well-rounded, and well-exercised as he/she deserves to be.