Dog daycare has grown hugely in popularity in recent years. And, like any new industry which has grown rapidly, the variety and quality of the provision varies greatly. So how do you decide –
- whether daycare is right for your dog?
- which daycare to choose?
Is Daycare Right For Your Dog?
Daycare isn’t right for every dog. Here are some points to consider when deciding if it’s right for yours –
- Is your dog anxious or lacking in confidence? While an under confident dog might grow in confidence in a smaller daycare they are likely (in my experience) to struggle in a large scale daycare. It can be tempting to think that by being around other dogs they will ‘get used to it’ but, very often, it’s totally overwhelming for them and actually makes the problems worse.
- Is your dog super interested in other dogs? And, if so, is giving him pretty much unrestricted access to other dogs likely to be helpful? Or do you run the risk of turning him into a hypersocial, overly friendly dog?
- Can your dog settle and relax around other dogs? If not they are going to be exhausted (and not in a good way…) after a day at day care. A daycare may say they have ‘quiet times’ but saying that is one thing…achieving it is altogether different.
- Can your dog tolerate rude, socially clumsy dogs? Do they have the social skills to defuse and de-escalate tension or might they react if they feel painted into a corner?
- Are you prepared to neuter your dog early? Many local authorities make neutering by a given age (often as young as 6 months) a condition of daycare licensing however early neutering can often be at odds with the health and well being of the dog, particularly for large breeds.
- Why do you need/want daycare for your dog? Is additional care a necessity? Are you out of the home for extended periods? Does your dog have separation related problems? Or are you simply looking for a socialisation opportunity for your dog? What other options are there and which would suit your dog best? For example would they get more out of spending time outdoors with a dog walker? Do they need to have access to human contact at all times? Would a trip to the park meet their socialisation needs (bearing in mind that socialisation is not just about meeting other dogs)?
- How will you mitigate or avoid the potential behavioural problems which can arise from daycare? The lessons your dog can learn in day care are unlikely to be helpful in the rest of their lives. Think about what daycare might teach them…they get unrestricted access to play with lots of dogs lots of the time, they may get little practice settling and switching off, they are kept physiologically aroused a lot of the time, they often practice using their voice a lot. Are these things that might become problematic in contexts other than daycare? How will the young, adolescent dog who plays all day with every dog in daycare react when he’s out in the world and can’t interact with every dog there? Frustration? Barking? Pulling?
If you’ve answered these questions and are happy that your dog would benefit from (NB not just cope with) a day care environment how do choose the right daycare?
There are many different styles of daycare from small, in home facilities which take only a handful of dogs to large scale daycares operating in industrial units which can have upward of 60 dogs on site. So what should you consider when choosing a daycare?
- Size. How many dogs are cared for at any one time? There’s a world of difference between being in a group of 6 dogs and one of 60. What will your dog be comfortable with (and what are you comfortable with)?
- How many groups does the daycare normally have? Will your dog be in a small group (<10) or part of a much larger group? Consider what the ramifications of a large group might be in the event of something going wrong.
- Human:dog ratio. Some daycares have a very low human to dog ratio. Ask yourself whether one person can safely look after 15 dogs?
- How will they treat your dog? Do they use punishment like time outs, water sprays?
- Can you keep an eye on your dog remotely via webcam whilst they are at daycare?
- What does outside time look like? Does it exist? Is it restricted to a concreted or astroturfed fenced in yard? Or do they dogs have access to fields or paddocks? Or, best of all, are they taken out for walks in nature?
- How experienced are the staff and what training do they have? Dog daycare is a physically hard, minimum wage job so while it might attract people who love dogs it can struggle to attract or retain people with experience and knowledge and staff turnover can be high. Do the staff have first aid training? Behavioural training? Knowledge of canine body language? Do they understand breed traits?
- What happens if something goes wrong? Do they have a rehearsed protocol for breaking up a fight? What emergency equipment do they have immediately to hand on the daycare floor? Do they have an evacuation plan?
There are many flavours of daycare and there’s a world of difference between a small facility with a higher human to dog ratio caring for half a dozen dogs and a large scale industrial daycare caring for 60. In my experience very few dogs thrive in the latter and it’s not something I’d choose for my own dog, in all honesty.
If you need daycare my advice would always be to look for a smaller scale daycare with outside green space; or consider alternatives like a dog walker or pet sitter. But the most important thing, no matter what you choose for your dog, is that you’ve made the choice based on the full facts. Always, always ask any pet professional specific questions like the ones above. They should never be reticent about answering (in fact they should be happy to!) and they should never make you feel awkward for asking. Entrusting your dog to someone is a huge leap of faith so make sure you have the information you need to make an informed choice.