Dog daycare facilities are becoming increasingly popular places for dogs to go during the day while their owners are at work. While a well-run daycare can be a great place for a sociable dog to spend the day, if the facility if poorly run or the dog is not keen on spending time in a large group of dogs, then it can be stressful and possibly even harmful for their welfare.
If your dog has a temperament that is suited to being amongst groups of dogs, a well run daycare facility can be a great place for them to go while you are at work
When a Dog Daycare Can Be Useful
If your dog enjoys the company of other dogs, a daycare can be a great option for a dog that would otherwise be left for prolonged periods while you are at work. It is particularly useful if you have a dog that suffers from separation anxiety or is very high energy. They will be kept stimulated throughout the day and have constant company, whereas a dog walker would only have your dog out for a shorter period part way through the day.
Some daycares also cater for puppies and senior dogs (having separate areas in their facility to care for them). Walkers are often not suitable for these types of dogs because of their lesser exercise requirements.
When a Dog Daycare is Not a Good Option
If you have a dog that is nervous or reactive around other dogs or gets too overstimulated when they are in a group of dogs, then looking for an alternative option would be fairer and less risky. Even if they pass the initial temperament test done at the facility, while your dog may behave and not cause any scuffles, this is likely only because they are shut down or they recognise that challenging a large group of dogs could be dangerous.
Sometimes the energetic atmosphere of a daycare can be too much for more mature dogs and, if there is not separate space for them then puppies could be injured playing with the bigger, rougher dogs or start to get on the more mature dog’s nerves.
If your dog is scared or intolerant of other dogs or just prefers their own space then a daycare is not the best choice
What To Look For in a Good Day Care Facility
If the facility is not a top notch one with transparent policies, suitable and safe space, careful supervision and staff with good knowledge of dog behaviour, then it is likely not the best choice. Even if you are really keen to secure a space for your dog somewhere, take the time to look elsewhere.
Are They Properly Licensed?
First up, is the facility complying with all laws and regulations? Do they have the required licenses and insurances. Don’t be afraid to ask to see confirmation.
Are the Staff Knowledgeable About Dog Behaviour?
This is probably one of the most important things to gain an understanding of. Sometimes people with a real love of dogs will set up a daycare and they may also have staff that love dogs too. While this may seem like the most important thing, if these individuals do not have solid knowledge and experience in working with dogs then they may not be able to provide the best support to the dogs in their care.
They need to understand how to read dog body language, know how to handle any minor scuffles or escalating aggression.
It is not inappropriate to ask about the training, experience and continuing professional development that the staff have. Good daycares will also have provided their staff with canine first aid training.
If staff are inexperienced and can’t understand the nuances of dog body language this could lead to more instances of aggression occurring within the daycare
Does the Facility Assess Your Dog’s Temperament?
As mentioned, some dogs are not suited to the busy environment that they will experience at a daycare facility. If the facility is happy to book your dog in without meeting them and getting more first-hand knowledge of their temperament, then this should be a cause for concern.
A good daycare facility will meet you and your dog to go through an evaluation procedure. They will usually then suggest a trial morning or afternoon where they allow gradual introductions with other dogs. If they just throw them straight into the group of dogs, this could be a recipe for disaster.
If the daycare does come back to advise that they don’t think your dog would be a good match, don’t be offended. Rather, be pleased that the facility has the integrity to be honest for the wellbeing of your dog and the others in their care.
What Training and Behaviour Methods Do They Advocate?
If they use choke or prong collars or, even worse, shock collars and other aversive tools or methods then we would recommend finding another option.
We would always strongly recommend finding a facility that promotes force-free and positive training methods and techniques to help keep the dogs happy and under control while in their care.
What is their Staff to Dog Ratio?
No matter how passionate, knowledgeable and kind the staff are, if there are not enough of them then this can be putting dogs at risk. The maximum appropriate number often quoted is one member of staff for every 15 dogs. Of course, if it is less than this, then that is even better.
This should be staff that are actually present, supervising and fully interacting with the dogs too. It should not include staff working on reception, dealing with transport runs or administration.
It is crucially important that there are enough staff to supervise the number of dogs under their care
Do They Have an Open Door Policy?
If the facility only allows people to visit by appointment you need to ask why. Sometimes it may be to do with staff ratios and, if they have to give a tour to unexpected visitors this could take away from the number supervising the dogs, but if they have a permanent member of staff at a reception and they are not willing to let you see the dogs in the environment then this should set off alarm bells. Ideally, you want to see the dogs and staff together. See how the staff interact with the dogs, how closely they are supervised and how happy they appear in the space.
How Happy And Relaxed Are the Dogs in Their Care?
When you do get a tour or you watch videos of the dogs while they are there it is important to observe their body language and their interactions with staff and other dogs. Are they relaxed? Is there too much high energy, almost out of control play? Are there dogs that seem shut down, trying to escape the space by retreating to a corner?
What Are the Facilities and Space Like?
Another reason that being able to see around the daycare facility is important is to evaluate how suitable the space is. Sometimes the space may not be appropriate for the number of dogs in their care. It could be badly maintained or unhygienic.
It is important to see how the dogs are grouped. Do they separate the dogs by size? Ideally, you want a space for smaller dogs and one for larger dogs to help prevent any accidental injuries or intimidation. Even in play, a big dog is more likely to do an injury to a dog much smaller than itself than a dog of a similar size. If there is any aggression again it will be a small dog that will come of worse in a mixed sized group.
Is there suitable space for an elderly or quieter dog to retreat to if they want space? Don’t forget though, if you have a dog that just can’t really be bothered with entertaining other dogs, regardless of what the space is like, then a daycare is likely not the best place for them to be attending.
Is there a separate area for puppies? Again puppies are often more delicate than larger dogs, they need to learn in a more gentle environment the boundaries of play and, let’s face it, they can also be too much sometimes for the adult dogs. While puppies bones are growing, it is also important that their activity levels are carefully managed. Too much exercise can damage their soft bones. If they are left in with the adult dogs to play to their heart’s content it could be too much.
It is also important to look at what sort of enrichment activities the facility provides. If it is just an empty space that the dogs are allowed to play in this is not as stimulating as one that offers different surfaces and spaces to play etc. Some have sand or ball pits, some have sensory spaces with different smells and textures, some may have agility items.
If they have outside space is there enough shelter from sun or bad weather if needed.
Are entry and exit points all very secure? You don’t want there to be any risk of your dog escaping.
A good daycare will have a separate space for puppies
Does the Facility Encourage ‘Rest Time’?
If the daycare staff tell you that your dog will be so tired out when they come home because they have the opportunity to just ‘play all day’, this is actually not as great as it sounds.
While some dogs, given the chance, would do this, it is not healthy for them to be in this state of arousal all day. Not only is it exhausting, but they are not getting any downtime to relax, destress (yes, even playing can carry some stress) and let the adrenaline levels lower.
Constant play like that can make it difficult for your dog to relax as their cortisol levels will remain high (this is the hormone that is released when your dog has a burst of adrenaline).
It is important that the staff encourage downtime and that there are suitable spaces within the facility for them to have this.
Constant play and overstimulation can end up manifesting problem behaviours in the home like increased vocalisation, an inability to settle, bad manners around other dogs and a lack of impulse control.
It is important that the daycare encourages ‘downtime’ and that they have appropriate space for this
What are Their Emergency and Safety Policies
It is important to also understand if the facility is well geared up for any emergency situations and that they always have the safety of your dog at the forefront of their minds.
- What do they do if any dog does manage to escape?
- Do the dogs have to take off their collars before entering, to reduce the risk accidental of strangulation during play?
- Do they have procedures in place to deal with a dog fight and what are they? Even the most well organised and knowledgeable daycare may have to face this scenario at some point so it is important to know that they are prepared.
If They Do Transport Runs How Are the Dogs Restrained?
Some daycares offer a pick up and drop off service for dogs in their care that are within a certain distance of the facility. If this would be a useful service for you, then it is important to find out how your dog will be transported, how they are being restrained, how long they are likely to be in the van. If they are using vans, they should have well fitted and made crates, the vans should be well ventilated and the journeys should not be overly long.
Your dogs must be appropriately separated and secured in any daycare vehicles. There should be well made and well-fitted crates
Are the Staff Communicative and Transparent?
Do you get regular updates from the staff about how your dog is doing? Are they happy to let you know if your dog has had a bad or unusual day?
If the staff let you know that they are not sure if your dog is right for daycare, this should not give you cause for frustration with them but rather respect. It shows that they are not willing to keep the dog coming just for the money even if they are not happy or are possibly a risk to the other dogs in their care.
Don’t Forget to be a Responsible Client too
Finding a good facility is incredibly important but there is also an onus on you to be a responsible and fair client and owner too.
Be honest with yourself about the suitability of your dog to be attending daycare. Do they really like to be in the company of lots of other dogs? Can they be a bully or show signs of aggression during play sessions or interactions with other dogs? Even if they never show any signs of aggression, do they always seek to avoid other dogs or show signs of being uncomfortable around them? If your dog falls under any of these categories then it is likely fairer for them, the daycare staff and the other dogs in the facility if you make alternative arrangements.
If your dog loves attending and loves to play but is always exhausted at the end of the day, then maybe it is better for your dog to attend just a couple of times a week rather than 5 days a week. Again this relates to their cortisol levels and minimising the risk of them being too overstimulated.
Never send your dog to daycare if you are aware they are unwell. Not only is it unfair on your dog, they would be better relaxing at home, but it could increase the chance of something viral spreading and it is unfair to expect the staff to have to deal with your sick dog.
A good daycare will expect dogs to be neutered and they will also expect dogs to be vaccinated, or at least titre tested, to minimise the risk of spreading any infectious diseases, and it is important that you keep up to date with these.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.