You’ve been feeling a bit guilty that your four-legged friend might need more than just you for company. So you’re thinking about taking him to a nearby doggie daycare to get a little frolic time with his own kind. But are those places safe for your dog? Do dogs really enjoy them? We asked Nana Will of Gold Hill, Colo., a dog trainer for more than 20 years. Will conducts seminars to train doggie daycare staffers at her facility, and also does staff trainings and consultations for doggie daycare facilities around the country.
Q: How can I tell if my dog would like doggie daycare?
A: Look at his personality. Does he enjoy the company of other dogs? Does he like to be around other dogs? Does he play with other dogs, and how well does he play with other dogs? Does he go to the dog park and love it? And how active is he? Not all dogs are suitable for doggie daycare. It’s a lot of activity and they need to be able to enjoy it. Some dogs are more low key. They like to just hang out with other dogs, but not necessarily play a lot. You have to know what level your dog is on.
Q: Dogs have been killed at doggie daycares. Is it safe for my dog?
A: You need to really check with the individual facility. Do they do a screening process? Do they have proper supervision and staff on the floor at all times, and the dogs are never left unattended. How well is the staff educated? Do they have security measures like double gates to outside entrances, no electric cords in play areas and safe, non-skid surfaces in the play areas? Do they have emergency procedures in place and what are they?
Q: What’s a safe number of dogs per class? Is there a staff-to-dog ratio I should look for?
A: It depends on the experience of the staff person and the activity level of the dogs. Some states have mandated minimums, like Colorado, where it’s a requirement of one staff person to every 15 dogs. The Pet Care Services Association, a national organization that’s involved in daycare, boarding and other pet services, recommends one staffer per 15 dogs, although allowances are made for more active groups, where a ratio of one staffer per 10 dogs is preferred, or less active groups, where 20 dogs per staffer is acceptable.
Q: Should the dogs be separated by size?
A: It’s not just size, because small dogs and young puppies are the same size, but they’re not appropriate players. So I would also look at the activity level, the play style of the dogs. Look at the size and also the dogs’ personalities. For instance, Jack Russell terriers don’t play well with little poodles, although they’re roughly the same size.
Q: My doggie daycare wants to do a temperament test before allowing my dog in? Is that necessary?
A: It’s for the safety of both the dogs and the people. It helps to determine if the daycare is right for you and the dog. Again, not all dogs are suitable for daycare play. It’s also used to match your dog’s personality with appropriate playmates so your dog is placed in the correct playgroup.
Q: Are there some breeds that shouldn’t be allowed in daycare?
A: You really need to look at the dogs as individuals. How well has the dog been socialized? And how comfortable is the staff with the breed. If they’re not comfortable with that breed, then they shouldn’t take it into the daycare. Having a very good screening process in place for the dogs is the real key to it here.
Q: What kind of training should the staff of a doggie daycare have?
A: At a minimum they should have training in body language, signs of stress and basic animal care. But ideally you really want a good behavioral foundation of how dogs communicate and the intricacies of the canine communication. Almost nothing a dog does is incidental or accidental. There’s a lot being said by dogs and we don’t see it, even in their overt behaviors.
Dog behavior or communication is complex in itself and then you throw the dynamics of a group in there and it makes it even more complex. Of course it takes a while to learn all this, but staffers should know at least the basics and then the more they are aware, the more they see. People can learn so much just by watching dogs interact. I tell daycare workers to just go to a dog park without their dogs and just watch the interaction.
Q: How long should my dog spend in daycare? Is all day too long? How often should he go?
A: It depends on the dog. Some facilities require a set number of visits at first to incorporate a dog into the group. A good facility will let you know if your dog needs a break.
Obviously, younger, more active dogs need it more, otherwise they can get into trouble at home. Older, less active dogs might only need it occasionally. Take your cues from your dog.
Q: Should all dogs in daycare have their shots?
A: Oh, yes. The facility should require proof of vaccinations, so they have the records of the shots and records of each dog’s veterinarian.
Q: How can I choose the best kennel for my dog if I’m leaving on vacation?
A: Don’t wait. Start checking the facilities out now, not right before you have to leave. Ask your friends or veterinarian for references. Visit the facility you’re considering and get a tour. What kind of services do they offer? Are there structured daily activities? Can you bring your own dog food to keep your dog on the same diet? What are the sleeping quarters like and who provides the bedding? What’s their veterinary care? Just overall, how do they handle the dogs and what’s the cleanliness of the place?
And if your dog hasn’t been boarded for a while, and you’re leaving on a long-term vacation, it’s probably best to board your dog for a night or two first, just to get them used to it, before you leave for a long time.
Q: How can I tell if my dog is enjoying doggie daycare?
A: He should come home tired, but happy and relaxed, not agitated. There’s a difference between coming home tired from having fun and coming home tired from being stressed. So it depends on how the dog is acting. If he seems happy, his tail is wagging and he’s eager to go in there in the morning, then he probably is enjoying it. But if when you get there he puts on his brakes, he doesn’t want to go through the door, that’s a bad sign. He’s either going too often, or going to the wrong doggie daycare.