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.
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.
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.