Dog daycare sounds like a great idea. We humans generally like the idea of our “fur kids” running around in a “play group” all day filled with games, activities and snacks.
We don’t like to picture our dogs bored on the couch. Or, God forbid, locked in a CRATE. (We’re kidding, we’re a fan of crates!)
But … dog daycares are all very different and every dog is unique. It’s important to think about dog daycare from your dog’s perspective, and we really mean YOUR dog.
What might sound like fun for you might actually be incredibly stressful or scary for your dog.
It’s not so simple as “does he love other dogs?” Or, “Is he high energy?”
Lindsay’s dog Remy LOVES other dogs, for example. He’s extremely friendly and high energy, but he’s not necessarily a good candidate for dog daycare, and we’ll explain why.
IN THIS POST:
- What are the different kinds of daycares for dogs?
- Who should consider dog daycare?
- Questions to ask the dog daycare owner or staff
- Pros and cons of dog daycare
- Are doggy camps good for socialization?
- Is doggy daycare good for separation anxiety?
- Is dog daycare stressful?
- Other services dog day camps offer
Most common form of dog daycare
A dog daycare is most often an overnight dog boarding facility that also offers “day care” where dog owners can leave their dogs for a few hours during the day.
There is usually an outdoor fenced area or a large indoor room where groups of dogs can move and play off leash.
The number of dogs in the daycare varies greatly depending on the facility. Some might keep the groups to 5 to 10 dogs. Others might include groups of 20, 30 or even 40+ dogs! Some might have one large playroom while others have multiple play areas for different groups of dogs.
Smaller in-home dog daycares
There are smaller dog daycares managed by dog lovers in their own homes. These are obviously much smaller and the owner might take in 3-4 dogs or even just 1 dog.
Lindsay used to offer this service and would take the dogs on multiple walks throughout the day paired with plenty of time lounging around and a bit of training and play.
The owners would drop their dogs off in the morning and pick them up later in the day after work or running errands. Overall, it seemed to be a good experience for everyone.
See our post: The best dog daycares
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Off-leash hiking groups or field trips
Also growing in popularity are off-leash dog hiking groups or “field trips” which is a more adventurous form of dog walking and gives the dogs a chance to socialize in a small group.
Typically, the dogs are picked up in the morning by the business and then dropped off in the afternoon.
If you work long hours and you have a social, active dog, it would make sense that you might want to consider leaving him at a dog daycare.
If you’re considering dog daycare for your dog, first, think about it from your dog’s point of view. Make sure it is something that is truly in the best interest of your dog.
IN GENERAL, larger dog daycare facilities are potentially a good option for:
- medium to high energy dogs with good social skills who enjoy other dogs
- dogs that are confident enough to stand up for themselves
- dogs with a high tolerance for rude behavior from other excited dogs
Some laid-back dogs are better off at home
If you have a low-key, mellow dog, he might be happier at home lounging around on the couch in a calm environment or even staying his small kennel or crate. All that activity at dog daycare is stressful for some dogs!
Dogs enjoy a routine, and as long as you’re providing your dog with a long walk every day and some daily training and interaction, you shouldn’t feel guilty about leaving your dog at home while you go to work.
We do not buy that myth of “if you work long hours, you shouldn’t have a dog.” That’s just not true.
There are lots of different dogs and plenty of them would gladly take up space on your couch all day while you’re at work.
Lindsay’s Lab mix Ace is the perfect example. She adopted him when she worked 10-hour shifts at a newspaper. (2018 update: Ace has passed away.)
She would walk or run with him for an hour every single day before work. They never missed a day. Lindsay had an hour off in the middle of my shift where she would come home, quickly eat dinner and let Ace out for a 10-min walk.
Since Ace is a fairly mellow, low-key dog, even when he was 12 months old, this worked just fine!
Is dog daycare a good idea?
Dog daycare is too exciting for some high-energy, excited dogs
On the other hand, some dogs are extremely hyper, to say the least (Remy!).
While running around all day playing at a dog daycare might SOUND like a good idea for your boxer, it might actually be too exciting for some high-energy dogs.
Dogs that are naturally nervous, anxious and INTENSE often do better in a calm environment. They don’t necessarily need encouragement to be MORE hyped up.
For example, Lindsay’s weimaraner Remy loves other dogs and he has unlimited physical energy.
She likes the idea of sending him to a large daycare, but that kind of environment is too overwhelming for him for long periods.
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Remy enjoys playing with other dogs, but after about a half-hour he starts to get mentally overwhelmed and tired. It happens at the dog park, and she’s seen it happen when he plays with friends’ dogs.
When Remy gets overwhelmed, he tries to move away from other dogs and ignore them. That’s when Lindsay knows it’s time to leave the dog park. If dogs continue to push his limits, he will snap to tell them “KNOCK IT OFF.”
This is good dog communication, but Lindsay doesn’t trust the daycare staff to recognize when her dog needs a break.
She’s an overly protective dog mom, and she hates the thought of Remy needing to lash out in order to defend himself!
The last thing Lindsay wants is for Remy to be labeled “aggressive” for standing up for himself.
TIP: Ask about smaller and shorter “playgroups”
Some dog daycare facilities are good about catering to your dog’s specific needs.
This is a good solution for Remy.
The dog boarding and daycare facility Lindsay uses offers shorter play options.
There’s the “all-day play” which is not ideal for Remy. And then there are shorter “1-hour play” sessions with a small group of compatible dogs.
Lindsay signed Remy up for the “1-hour play” 6 or 7 times, and it’s a good option for him. When he’s not in the play group, he waits in his own private kennel space and of course he still gets to head out for potty breaks every few hours.
Which brings us to …
Here are some sample questions to ask the staff to help you decide if dog daycare is a good idea for your dog. We don’t mean to go crazy and ask every single question but to consider your unique dog and get the information you need to make the best decision.
Also make sure to tour the area where your dog will be. Observe the behavior of the dogs and the staff, the noise, the cleanliness, etc.
Questions to ask about dog daycare:
1. How many dogs are in each group?
2. What is the typical staff to dog ratio?
3. How are dogs evaluated?
4. What kind of training does your staff go through?
5. Do you combine large dogs with small dogs?
6. How long are the play periods? Are there breaks? How long are the breaks?
7. Are there toys out in the group play?
8. What is your process for disciplining a dog?
9. What is your process if there is a dog fight?
10. What happens if the dog is not a good fit for group play?
11. What kind of feedback will you be able to give me about my dog’s behavior?
What are the benefits of doggy daycare?
Pros of dog daycare
- Provides your dog with some physical exercise and mental activity during the day
- Helpful option if your dog does not like to be left alone
- Decreases destructive behavior in your home
- Decreases barking
- Your dog will likely come home mentally exhausted and sleep (Make sure that’s really a pro)
- Your dog can learn social skills
- You won’t need to let your dog out mid-day
- Helpful if you don’t have time to walk your dog that day
- Helps provide your dog with exercise and activities if you have a busy schedule (but nothing can replace a long walk with you!)
- Good option for some puppies who need extra potty breaks and socialization
Is dog daycare bad for dogs?
Cons of dog daycare
- Too exciting and overwhelming for some dogs
- Some dogs will be mentally exhausted due to stress or fear and not because they had “fun”
- Cost (on average $25 per day+)
- Your dog could learn bad behaviors such as jumping on people, being annoying to other dogs, growling at other dogs if he constantly has to defend himself, etc.
- He could be bullied or injured
- Your dog could start a fight with another dog
- You can’t control the behavior of your dog, other dogs or the staff
- Some people will use it to replace walking their dog but walks are still very important
- Your dog could pick up fleas from other dogs or an illness like kennel cough
As we just outlined in the pros and cons section, doggie camps have the potential of being good for socialization. That’s because:
- Dogs get to interact with a variety of people from the camp staff.
- They spend time with other dogs.
- It’s a great learning opportunity for puppies and younger dogs who are still exploring the world. Getting to know different people, dogs, places, sounds, and smells sets them up for becoming confident dogs.
- It’s also wonderful for ongoing socialization for dogs who are already social and playful as it’s important to practice those skills throughout a dog’s life.
However, doggie camp will not be a useful opportunity for socialization for:
- Shy dogs who will be overwhelmed by the intensity of the camp sounds and stimulation such as incessant barking, constant running around and potential bullying from more confident dogs.
- Dogs who haven’t been properly socialized. They can instead become fearful of other people and/or dogs if they aren’t properly introduced to them.
It might be a better approach to hire a dog trainer to help with socialization skills in adult dogs as opposed to throwing them into a highly stimulating environment such as doggie camp. Once a formerly undersocialized dog has made progress and is comfortable around other dogs, doggie camp can be an option for ongoing socialization purposes.
Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety act irrationally when their owners leave them alone for acceptable blocks of time. Let’s clarify that when we’re talking about dogs being left alone, we don’t mean all day long. We mean for 4-5 hours at a time. Remember that dogs are social animals who need a healthy form of human interaction and entertainment.
But back to separation anxiety. It usually kicks in when the dog is home alone after their owner leaves for work. It can also happen outside of the home when the owner disappears from the dog’s field of vision, such as during a vet visit or in a group dog training session.
Extreme cases of separation anxiety can occur when a dog is so focused on their owner that they completely shut down and refuse to engage in any type of behavior when separated from them. This can be really problematic in certain scenarios, such as if the owner gets sick and needs to be hospitalized for an uncertain amount of time.
Symptoms of dog separation anxiety are:
- Destructive behavior like chewing and digging
- Soiling in dogs who are housebroken
- Excessive barking and whining
- Excessive drooling
Daycare for dogs with separation anxiety
Doggy daycare can be a good solution for dogs who suffer from separation anxiety. It helps the dog be away from her owner in a positive way as long as she has a good experience at doggy daycare and doesn’t dread going there. If she puts on the breaks as soon as you pull up to daycare and get her out of the car, it’s probably not a good idea to follow through with the plan of dropping her off.
In order to minimize that risk, remember to tour the doggy daycare you’re considering for your dog prior to taking her there (ideally unannounced), and to ask questions about their routine including breaks, naptime, group sizes, and initial evaluations.
Remember that your pup doesn’t necessarily have to stay at doggie daycare for an entire day. You could drop her off in the mornings on the way to work, and pick her back up during your lunch break. By that time, the pup should have expanded a decent amount of energy by running around and playing with other dogs. Maybe she even went for a swim session if it’s offered at that particular doggie daycare location.
Tired dogs are much less likely to act up than those who aren’t getting enough physical exercise and mental stimulation, so there’s a good chance that your dog might just curl up into a ball and nap the afternoon away until her favorite person – you – comes back from work.
Other ways to help your anxious dog
Note that it’s important for the owner to be calm around their dog and not feel bad for leaving their pup alone, neither at home nor when dropping them off at daycare.
Dogs are very intuitive to our human emotions and tend to mirror them. If they sense that we’re nervous and feeling guilty for leaving them (alone), chances are good that they will reflect that in their own behavior. “You’re feeling tense and nervous? Something must not be right with this scenario, so I better start pacing around, bark excessively, and then eat the couch”.
One might argue that doggy daycare is not an ideal solution for dealing with separation anxiety because the dog is not getting used to being alone after all. However, it can still be a good stepping stone in working towards making the pup more comfortable being away from the owner.
Overall, doggie daycare is a somewhat stressful environment because of the constant input dogs are exposed to, but for many dogs the mild stress is worth it.
This is particularly true for dogs who spend a full day at dog daycare. There’s simply a lot more going on than in their homes where the occasional squirrel sighting or doorbell ringing might be the only interruption of an otherwise uneventful day.
That being said, a dog daycare can be a less stressful alternative to the loud and hectic environment of a house remodel or similar disruptive happenings at home. It comes down to knowing your individual dog and making the right choice for him.
There are various signs that can point to stress in dogs. Pay close attention to how your dog behaves after his first few daycare sessions, and evaluate his overall demeanor. Behavior that seems to be out of the ordinary can be a sign that your dog is indeed stressed out:
- Excessive yawning
- Excessive barking, panting, and drooling
- Fur loss
In contrast, should your dog be his happy-go-lucky self, curl up or stretch out for a nap once you’re home and not seem to be traumatized in any way, he must have had lots of fun and an overall great experience at daycare!
Most doggie day camps try to position themselves as a one-stop shop for busy doggie parents and offer additional services besides daycare such as:
- Overnight stays/Boarding
- Training classes
- Veterinary care
- Physical rehabilitation including hydrotherapy
Barbara has experienced two different day camp facilities in North Carolina and Tennessee.
Example: Dog day camp in North Carolina
The one in North Carolina is called Riverbark Pet Retreat and truly is a one-stop shop. It features all the services listed above except individual walks and is not only located right next to a veterinary clinic, but connected to it by a covered walkway.
The vet was there first and decided to expand by adding the pet recreational and rehabilitation center next door. It’s turned into a buzzing place that pet lovers in the area love and appreciate.
One of Barbara’s pet sitting clients, Samoyed mix Bear, went to their rehab center for hydrotherapy sessions after an injury. You can watch Bear on the underwater treadmill and read more about hydrotherapy here.
Indoor doggy swimming pool
Riverbark’s indoor doggie swimming pool is definitely a feature piece that Barbara’s own dogs Missy and Buzz loved going to for swim sessions.
Not only is swimming great for physical exercise, but Barbara also had peace of mind knowing the pups wouldn’t be exposed to snakes that are a common sighting in NC’s lakes.
It’s also a gentle way of exercising aching joints of senior pups. Unfortunately, Barbara’s current dog Wally doesn’t like swimming at all, so he hasn’t been to that particular indoor doggie pool.
Barbara also used Riverbark’s boarding services several times. The boarding area itself features webcams, which is great for the peace of mind of a worried dog parent! However, the outside play area isn’t covered by webcams, which certainly leaves room for improvement.
Another example – Doggie day camp in Tennessee
The doggie day camp in Tennessee provides considerably less services than the one in North Carolina.
Besides day camps, they offer overnight stays, grooming, and training classes. It’s actually a franchise that’s called Camp Bow Wow and has close to 200 locations in the US. You can check out their location finder to see if there’s one near you.
What differentiated them vastly from the daycare in North Carolina was their extensive socialization “interview”. It’s essentially a test to assess if a dog will be a good fit for the daycare by determining how they behave around other doggie “campers” and people.
Buzz went there for his initial “interview” during which the staff tested his people skills, which he passed with flying colors.
Dog evaluations for day camp
Next up, they brought him into an evaluation room and exposed him to a friendly female dog, followed by a friendly male dog. Buzz did fine around both. He was then allowed to spend three hours at daycare. It was a limited amount of time to ensure that he wouldn’t be overwhelmed by all the new sights, sounds, and smells.
Barbara was able to observe Buzz’s socialization “interview” on a TV screen in the reception area. This simple monitoring gave her the peace of mind of knowing that Buzz was in the best hands possible and is the reason why she confidently recommends the place.
When Barbara picked Buzz back up from his three hours at daycare, the staff informed her that Buzz was fine with groups of dogs up to ten, but that he started mounting dogs in groups that exceeded ten.
Since Camp Bow Wow’s play groups usually exceed ten dogs, Barbara and the staff agreed that this particular daycare setting wouldn’t work for Buzz after all. You can read more about the place here.
Feedback from That Mutt readers: Is dog daycare a good idea?
Thank you for those who posted feedback earlier on That Mutt’s Facebook page when I asked for the pros and cons of dog daycare. (There’s no right answer.)
Some dog daycare feedback from That Mutt readers on Facebook:
“I take Sasha to doggy day care either when it’s been too gross to go outside for many days, or I have to work longer than normal. I like it because it wears her out and she gets to socialize with other dogs. I’ve not had a bad experience with our day care, all the dogs go through an eval before they are allowed to participate.” – Michelle K.
“I believe it is an introvert vs extrovert dog question. Some love it, some would not. Gotta be a good place, of course.” – Jana R. from the blog Dawg Business
Some people will think I’m bashing dog daycares, and I’m not. Like I said, I used to offer dog daycare in my home and I see the value in it for a lot of people and dogs.
It truly comes down to knowing your unique dog and finding the right dog daycare facility that meets your dog’s needs.
What do the rest of you think, is dog daycare a good idea?
Please share this post with anyone considering dog daycare.
-Lindsay & Barbara
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