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. (I’m kidding, I’m 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 I 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?”
My 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 I’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
What are the different kinds of daycares for dogs?
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.
I 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 my post: The best dog daycares
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.
Who should consider dog daycare?
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, I would say 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.
I 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.
My Lab mix Ace is the perfect example. I adopted him when I worked 10-hour shifts at a newspaper. (2018 update: Ace has passed away.)
I would walk or run with him for an hour every single day before work. We never missed a day. I had an hour off in the middle of my shift where I 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 for us.
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, my weimaraner Remy loves other dogs and he has unlimited physical energy.
I like the idea of sending him to a large daycare, but that kind of environment is too overwhelming for him for long periods.
Remy enjoys playing with other dogs, but after about a half-hour he starts to get mentally overwhelmed and tired. I see it happen at the dog park, and I’ve 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 I know 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 I don’t trust the daycare staff to recognize when my dog needs a break.
I’m an overly protective dog mom, and I hate the thought of Remy needing to lash out in order to defend himself.
The last thing I want is for him 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.
I’ve found a good solution for Remy.
The dog boarding and daycare facility we use offers shorter play options.
There’s the “all-day play” which is not ideal for my dog. And then there are shorter “1-hour play” sessions with a small group of compatible dogs.
I’ve 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 me to …
Questions to ask the dog daycare owner or staff
Here are some sample questions to ask the staff to help you decide if dog daycare is a good idea for your dog. I 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?
Pros and cons 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
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
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.