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The best dog daycares

So what makes a perfect dog daycare? Below are my ideas. I’d love to hear yours.

At a perfect dog daycare, the dogs hang out in small groups of no more than five. This makes the pack manageable for the person supervising.

The majority of the time is spent outdoors, and a long walk or run is always first on the agenda to help relieve any stress and excitement the dogs are feeling about the new environment. The walk is at least an hour long and helps the dogs get used to functioning as a pack.

After their walk, the dogs have time to play with toys, lounge around in the shade or get inside to warm up, depending on the weather. In the summer, they have the option of cooling off in a pool.

The dogs go on at least two more long walks throughout the day, always to different places so they can experience different environments. They visit local parks, and they go for runs out in the country. The more energetic dogs might go for bike rides and rollerblading sessions once they are trained.

Bailey the golden retriever and colt the golden retriever in snow

All dogs are encouraged to have good leash manners. Dogs are rewarded for walking on a loose leash at the human’s side. No dog is rewarded for showing too much excitement. Dogs are not given any attention for barking, crying or jumping.

At the perfect dog daycare, there is time to work on tricks, obedience and agility, and the dogs love their mental workouts. Owners specify what their dogs need work on or what they would like their dogs to learn.

The owners also fill out extensive forms about what their expectations are for the daycare. They provide information about what their dogs like and don’t like, their energy levels and what manners their dogs need help with. The owners are always encouraged to offer suggestions, and they are always given detailed feedback on what the dogs did during the day.

Dogs are kenneled for short periods of no more than 45 minutes throughout the day, and kennel time is seen as a positive time for relaxing, chewing on bones and interactive toys or taking a nap. The dogs look forward to their down time because it gives them time to recharge. Dogs are in a calm state of mind when they walk into their kennels for a treat. The owners are very aware that their dogs might spend some time in kennels, and they are OK with this. If a dog isn’t kennel trained, the daycare will help the dog associate positive experiences with the kennel.

Before the dogs go home, they are encouraged to be calm. This is the perfect time to work on some obedience like long down-stays. Although the dogs are naturally excited to see “Mom” or “Dad,” they are tired from a long day of structure and fun. They are not frustrated, stressed, or bouncing off the walls.

The dogs can’t wait to return to daycare to see their friends and get out for more adventures.

So what makes the perfect dog daycare for your dog?

What worries me is that humans might have a different answer to this question than the dogs. Unfortunately, too many dog daycares cater to the humans’ emotions – lots of excitement, decorations, movies playing (for the dogs), snack times, lots and lots of toys. Even the very word “daycare” humanizes the dogs.

Dog daycare is only going to get more popular, and many are really great. There are also too many dog daycares crammed with large groups of out-of-control dogs. The atmosphere is pure chaos, and the dogs pace around indoors feeling anxious. Fights do happen, but the stress the dogs deal with day after day is also unhealthy.

Leaving your dog home during the day is a better option than leaving your dog at certain daycares.

I’ve toured most of the dog daycares in Fargo, and I worked at a boarding kennel/daycare in Minneapolis. Today I offer dog walking and dog running myself so dogs can stay in the comfort of their own homes. This is a much better situation for most dogs. I also take small groups of dogs for daycare from time to time, and we spend as much time outdoors as possible.

I’ve seen some very, very average dog daycares, and I just want to make sure dog owners think about what kind of daycare situation is right. Below are some questions you definitely want to ask before leaving your dog at a daycare facility. You may also be interested in my posts on questions to ask before boarding your dog and questions to ask a pet sitter.

Questions to ask a dog daycare provider

1. How often do the dogs go outside?
You’d be surprised how many dog daycares keep the dogs inside all day except for a few five-minute potty breaks.

2. If the daycare offers “dog walking,” how long are the walks?
The “walks” might really be two-minute potty walks.

3. What activities will my dog participate in?
Does the daycare have agility equipment for the dogs to train on? Will the dogs go on any outdoor adventures? Will there be time for training indoors? Basically, will there be any structured activities or is it just a bunch of craziness all day long?

4. How many dogs will be playing/interacting with my dog?
Ideally the dogs should be playing in small groups to prevent fights and too much excitement. If there are larger groups, then there should be several people supervising.

5. Will my dog be left in a kennel? For how long?
I don’t see anything wrong with minimal kennel time. It gives the dogs a much-needed break. Just make sure to ask how much time the dogs will spend in their kennels.

6. Do you offer any training? What rules will my dog be expected to follow?
Some dog daycares have experienced trainers on staff who will help teach the dog good manners. Ask them what kinds of training techniques they will use. Other daycares hire inexperienced “dog lovers” to play with the dogs. The average dog lover knows very little about dog behavior.

Lucky the lab and husky mix with blue eyes

7. What is your screening process like? What if my dog doesn’t get along with another dog?
There’s a chance your dog won’t get along with every dog. You want to know how this situation will be handled. Will both dogs be sent to a “time-out”? Will your dog be punished in any way? How does the daycare evaluate each dog’s temperament before allowing it to interact with the others?

8. How are the dogs disciplined?
You want to make sure the daycare staff uses training methods you are OK with. Do they use strictly positive reinforcement? Do they verbally scold the dogs? Do they ignore unwanted behavior? Do they do “alpha rolls”? Do they squirt the dogs in the face with water? Find a daycare that uses a training method you are comfortable with.

9. Most importantly, tour the facility before you leave your dog anywhere.
If the daycare will not offer you a tour, then it has something to hide. Don’t fall for the bullshit statement that they can’t let you back to see the dogs due to insurance policies. This is just an excuse. Trust me. I’ve worked at a kennel that did not allow tours because the facility was awful. If they won’t let you back there, you don’t want to leave your dog there.

10. Observe the dogs currently staying at the daycare.
Do the dogs look happy and relaxed or do they look stressed? A stressed out dog will pant very heavily and pace around, unable to relax. He may also run around frantically, spin in circles or bark nonstop. If his mouth is closed, his lips will actually form what looks like a frown. He might also be drooling heavily or “foaming.” His tail might be wagging wildly, or it might be tucked between his legs.

A relaxed, happy dog will be gently wiggling his whole body and tail, calmly exploring and sniffing his environment. He will calmly interact with other dogs, and his body and tail will not be tense.

Does your dog go to daycare? Let me know your thoughts on the perfect dog daycare.

Three of my adorable customers are pictured – Bailey and Colt (top) and Lucky.

Is Dog Daycare A Good Idea? Pros and Cons of Dog Daycare

Thursday 9th of November 2017

[…] See my post: The best dog daycares […]


Friday 17th of December 2010

This is great advice! I used to work at a dog daycare. I heard a number of horror stories about daycare facilities. Taking a tour asking all the right questions is extremely important.

Lindsay Stordahl

Friday 17th of December 2010

Yep, there are good dog daycare, and bad ones, just like with child daycares.


Friday 17th of December 2010

Just a month after we got our GSD pup, my husband, who normally works from home, was called for jury duty. We found a daycare that would be able to take Suki, once she had all her shots (which fortunately worked out, timing wise). She ended up going there at least 1x week for the next 18 months, until we moved earlier this year. Suki loved it! It was in a converted warehouse with special matting on the floors, plenty of "nannies" who would toss the ball, etc. They had kennels for chilling.

When we moved we looked at two possibilities - the first one we visited was awful! We had to schedule and pay for an evaluation in advance. When we went to pay we observed crated dogs, a slick floor, and no real space for play. It even smelled "doggie". We paid for the eval. and went to the second place. Right away we felt "at home". The owner has strict rules (dog has to sit and does not go through door first; no jumping on people, etc.). There was the play area at the back with special matting, the balls for throwing. Every day at 1 p.m. they have quiet time - classical music is played, the lights are turned down, toys are put away, dog beds are put out, and all dogs take a nap. Best of all: you can watch them on web cam!

Needless to say, we never did get the evaluation done at that first place.

Suki gets super excited when we pull into the parking lot and literally quivers with anticipation as she waits in the lobby for her turn to be taken to the back. She gets lots of play time, which is really nice this time of year when it is too cold to spend a lot of time outdoors with her.

Lindsay Stordahl

Friday 17th of December 2010

Sounds like you found the perfect place for her! That's so great to hear!


Thursday 16th of December 2010

This is a really informative post with a useful list. I don't know if I would ever use a day care facility, because of the many unknowns. But then again, I never even used day care for my kids! I didn't trust other people enough. An individual that I knew well, that would be better. Then I would know it was a small group setting and I could feel like there was more likelihood for individual attention, activities, down time and just general care. Everybody has different needs though, and there is always the cost and location to consider. Just like with everything, know what you're getting into.

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 16th of December 2010

I thought about leaving Ace at a daycare when I used to work such long shifts at The Forum. He probably would've liked it. It was just too expensive for me at the time.


Thursday 16th of December 2010

I've been thinking of doggy daycare once a week for our two dogs. My fiance is a contractor so they normally are with him all the time. As a way for him not to have them with him all the time, I've been looking into it.

I've been doing some research and I kind of like PetSmart's Day Care option. Your dog gets a private room and bed, a play time in the morning and afternoon, potty breaks and you can add a kong if you want.

The reason I like it is that I think its a good routine that helps to keep them calm and quiet. They aren't in with a bunch of dogs all the time but they do get some socialization with other people. And some play time.

We don't kennel our two, though I know the benefits of doing so in an emergency situation. And since we've moved we haven't put a dog door into the garage like we have been talking about. Hence the search for a good doggy day care. :-)

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 16th of December 2010

Well the PetSmart in your area might be a good option. The PetSmart in my area does not offer daycare that I know of, but it offers obedience classes. Let's just say their classes are not very impressive. The people teaching the classes are not very knowledgeable. They are doing what they can, I guess, but there are better options in my opinion.

Maybe your PetSmart has some better programs in place, better staff, etc. The daycare option you describe sounds like it might be a good fit for your dogs. Have you gone over and observed the dogs currently staying at the daycare?