Are Doggy Daycares a Good Idea?
Are Doggy Daycares a Good Idea?

Are Doggy Daycares a Good Idea?

We are (thankfully) evolving to a world where our pets are our family members, and as such, we want the best for our dogs, even if we have to leave them to go work all day.

This has created a big demand for the doggy daycare and boarding services industries.

As a certificate holder of the Daycare and Boarding Management course through Canada’s own Good Dog Academy myself, I have some tips to choosing a great Daycare for your dog.

The safety and well-being of the dogs should always be top priority

First and foremost, let’s go through what a Doggy Daycare should look like.

A responsible doggy daycare (often combined with a boarding facility) will be prepared for emergencies. Do not be afraid to ask your potential doggy daycare what their protocols are for various scenarios, including:

  • Veterinary access: Do they have arrangements in place for immediate access to a qualified veterinarian in case of medical emergencies, including after hours care?
  • First aid training: Are all staff trained in basic canine first aid and can respond promptly to minor injuries or health concerns?
  • Emergency contact information: Do they ensure to have updated emergency contact details for each pet guardian, as well as any relevant medical and behavioural history for their dogs?

Open Policies

Any potential doggy daycare will have comprehensive policies and will happily share them with you, taking the time to explain any questions you may have, such as:

  • Supervision protocols: Do they ensure that trained staff closely monitor all playgroup activities to prevent accidents and intervene if necessary?
  • Vaccination requirements: Are there strict vaccination policies to safeguard against the spread of contagious diseases?
  • Health checks: Do they conduct regular health assessments of each dog to identify any signs of illness or discomfort promptly?
  • Hygiene practices: Are there established rigorous cleaning routines to maintain a clean and sanitized environment, reducing the risk of infections?
Other questions you may have:
  • Do they ask for a complete a registration form, including:
    • proof of current required vaccines or current titer test
    • spay and neuter policy
  • Do they have age requirements of the dogs in their care?
  • Do they offer a trial or assessment day before accepting your dog to ensure it is a good fit?
  • Are they willing to give you a full tour of the facility and go over their daily routine with you?

More Specifically…

Health and Safety Policies:

  • Are they establishing a health screening process upon admission, including a thorough check for signs of illness, parasites or injuries each day?
  • Ask them to show you their protocols for handling dogs with contagious illnesses or parasites?
  • What are their emergency procedures for handling injuries or health emergencies?
  • Do they have a good working relationship with nearby veterinary clinics in case of emergencies?

Behaviour Management:

  • Do they have a clear definition of acceptable behaviours for dogs, staff and clients within the facility?
  • Have they established procedures for addressing aggressive or unruly behaviour to ensure the safety of all dogs and staff members?
  • What are the steps to be taken if a dog exhibits disruptive behaviour or consistently disrupts group play?

Staff Training and Supervision:

  • Are they able to show their qualifications and training for staff members, including knowledge of dog behaviour, first aid and CPR?
  • What are their guidelines for staff-to-dog ratios to ensure adequate supervision and prevent accidents such as injury or death?
  • Can they share their details of procedures when introducing new dogs to the playgroup?

Playgroup Management:

  • Are the dogs grouped based on size, temperament and play style to ensure safe and harmonious interactions? Ideally there should be separate spaces for each:
    • Small dog area – dogs under 30 pounds should be in their own play groups
    • Puppies under 6 months should be socialized with stable, calm adults just as often as other young dogs
    • Large active dog area
    • Adolescent dog area
    • Calm dog area
    • ‘Quiet time’ or ‘Break Time ’ area
    • Separate feeding area
  • Are there ever more than 10 dogs to one supervisor during active times of the day? (Hint: the answer to this should be “no”)
  • Is there a playgroup rotation schedules to prevent overstimulation and provide ample rest periods for dogs?
  • What are their guidelines for monitoring and intervening in play to prevent overexertion or conflicts?
  • What training can they show to ensure they have a basic understanding of dog body language.
  • Is there fresh water available at all times.
  • Do they provide shelter from weather (hot and cold) available at all times? 
    • Also ask if there is a safe place for a dog to retreat if they are feeling overwhelmed with their group-mates. This is an important key so that dogs do not get over stimulated and redirect their energy onto other dogs.
  • Do they have a no collars (or quick release collars only) policy? (The answer to this should be yes: this is to prevent injury during play.)
  • Are treats or toys allowed in play areas? (The answer to this should be no to prevent resource guarding.)
  • Do they immediately pick up feces? (Disease, illness and parasites travel through feces easily.)

Feeding and Medication Policies:

  • Is there a clear and separate feeding schedule and procedure to prevent resource guarding or food-related conflicts?
  • Are they able to outline their protocols for administering medications to dogs with special medical needs, ensuring accurate dosage and timely administration?

Client Communication:

  • Have they been clear on how clients can contact the facility for inquiries, updates or emergencies?
  • Will they provide detailed daily or periodic reports on each dog’s activities, behaviour and overall well-being?
  • How will they address client concerns or complaints?

Emergency Preparedness:

  • Ask them to go over their evacuation plans and procedures in case of natural disasters, fires or other emergencies.
  • Do they provide a list of emergency contacts, including nearby veterinary clinics and local animal control authorities?

But are they a good idea?

In my opinion, a doggy daycare can provide a wonderful outlet for burning energy and providing great socialization…
IF done properly.

If all of the questions above are answered properly, with a daycare that offers appropriate human supervision, including staff who are well-versed in dog body language, then yes, they can be a wonderful resource for your dog.

Keep in mind that socialization does NOT mean running wildly with other dogs for hours a day. That kind of doggy daycare is a recipe for overstimulation, creating dogs with fear, reactivity, aggression, and dog attacks… you do not want to your dog to come home from daycare days with more issues than they had before going in!

A bonus to a great doggy daycare with a low number of dogs in each group, separated and segregated into like-energy and play-styled pups, would be an enrichment area. This could include:

  • different textures for the dogs to walk on and explore, and ones that make different sounds as they explore them
  • different scents to trail
  • agility tools such as tunnels, balance boards, jumps, etc (all age appropriate, of course… puppies shouldn’t be doing jumps)
  • a calming area for those that just want to chill or need a break from play where they won’t be bothered (an educated staff will be able to notice signs of a dog that needs a break, as well)
In short: Amazing doggy daycares do exists, but unfortunately they are difficult to find as many current daycares do not follow the essential guidelines, nor do they have properly educated staff. Personally, I would not use a doggy daycare for my dogs. As much as they enjoy the company of other dogs, it’s just not worth it to me to risk something happening to them. They are happier at home, with me providing what I can for them. I have heard just too many stories about doggy daycares, as they are yet another unregulated industry.

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