Doggy Daycare is one of the fastest growing businesses in the pet care industry. As human culture changes, so do the needs of pet owning consumers.
Owners have more pressure and expectations put on their time, therefore proper exercise, training, and enrichment of Wo(man’s) best friend often falls by the wayside of an increasingly demanding lifestyle.
I have been professionally involved in the pet care industry for over 20 years and I advocate doggy daycare, so much so that when I decided to embark on opening my Behaviour/Training, care business, I chose to include a daycare option for my clients.
There are quite a few dog behaviour experts who are not fans of doggy daycare and I completely respect that opinion. However, I affirm that their issue is not with doggy daycare, but with how some (maybe even most) doggy daycares are managed.
Given doggy daycare is a completely unregulated field, meaning anyone from any background can open a doggy daycare with little, no experience or certification, the client must be vigilant and thoroughly check the facility to determine if it is worthy of caring for their beloved pet. You should think of doggy day care as a children’s nursery. After all you wouldn’t consider sending a child somewhere that you hadn’t inspected first.
It should be an expectation of every client that these facilities offer excellent, scientifically based, programs for peoples dogs, not just a place to “burn off energy.”
Key important things to consider when choosing doggy day care
By R.V.C.C day care qualified Behaviourist and Trainer, Somerset, UK
You’ve make a decision to send your dog to day care, you have spoken to friends and family, you’ve looked around, and now you have to make a decision.
Below is an aide-memoire when choosing doggy day care.
Check it out
I recommend, that you organise a visit, and not just to reception. You need to see exactly where your dog will spend their day, who they will be spending time with, and what they will be doing.
Never be afraid to turn up unannounced, because again you’re seeing the real action. If you ask to see the dogs and there’s a delay, be cautious.
Here’s a checklist:
- Are the dogs friendly, social and happy together?
- Is the atmosphere calm and quiet or noisy and chaotic?
- Would you be happy with your dog mixing with every type of breed there?
- Do the staff look like they enjoy being with the dogs, their jobs; also are they actively engaging with the dogs?
- What is the indoor and rest area like?
- Is there enough open space for the dogs to spread out or are they cramped? It is important to remember that too many dogs in close proximity can lead to boisterous dogs, fighting and can overwhelm quieter or older dogs and puppies.
- How many dogs do they have together in one space?
Group Size: There should never be more than 10-15 dogs to any individual group. Additionally, each dog should have 75-100 square feet of play space in a group. That means that for a 15 dog play group, the facility should have no less than 1500 square feet just for that one group of dogs.
Note: Ask them if your dog will spend any time in a cage? If yes make sure you ask how long your dog is actually in his or her play group each day and how long he or she is in a cage each day.
While you may be met by a more senior member of staff, it’s important to also chat and ask questions of the dog carers themselves as they will have direct day-to-day contact with the dogs.
Don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions:
What is the staff-to-dog ratio? As a guide, Rock Villa Canine Care operates on a ratio of one dog carer to three dogs (at an absolute maximum).
How often do dogs get injured and what happens? If you find puncture wounds on any part of your dogs body, alarm bells should sound, ( worse still is if this goes unnoticed by staff at a centre).
Have they expelled dogs and how often does this happen?
Are there certain breeds they don’t accept?
Do they throw balls/have toys/etc? While this sounds fun, in a group dynamic many normally placid dogs become competitive and may nip.
Are the dogs transported and if so for how long versus time spent in the fields/indoor pens for example?
Do they take (entire) males, hence (not neutered), that are over 12 months old? The answer should be no. This is generally the case for experienced day care centres, but not so for inexperienced or new operators who need to fill spaces. In a group dynamic, testosterone is not a good thing.
Will my small dog/puppy be bullied by bigger dogs? If there is enough space and only friendly social dogs are accepted this is not an issue.
A few day care centres divide dogs by size, but this seems rather unfair as small dogs can form natural bonds with larger dogs. For example, here at Rock Villa Canine Care I only keep a dog separate if either the owner has requested it or a puppy or dog is anxious. Here I have Alaskan Malamutes with Stafford’s and Pomeranians who are all best friends but constantly supervised.
Note: Always view the facility from a dogs perspective.
Is it safe?
Is the fencing secure?
Do the other dogs seem to be having a good time?
Is the staff interactive?
Are there plenty of places to rest?
How long is the dog actually in their group each day?
How long are they in a crate/cage each day?
Ask about undesirable behaviour management policies
Discipline at a number of dog daycare facilities is shocking! Ask the facility what their policy is on discipline and then ask exactly how they enforce that policy. The facility should be positive reinforcement and force-free. The facility should NEVER use harsh corrections or the water hose to discipline dogs.
Consistent schedule of activities and development
Your doggy daycare should be able to give you an exact schedule for the pets in their care. There should be organised play, education, cleaning, feeding, for example. These schedules and policies should be easily and openly communicated by staff members to pet owners.
Keeping with your philosophy of dog rearing and care
It is so important to ask good questions. Dog daycare facilities should only employ positive reinforcement and force free tactics. Anything else is antiquated and scientifically proven to be harmful to your dog both physically and emotionally.
It is so important to not just ask if it’s a positive reinforcement facility but to ask exactly what that means.
How do they praise?
How exactly do they discipline and for what behaviours?
Do they know why their reinforcement and disciplinary policies work?
Can they explain them to you based on the latest scientific studies of animal behaviour and cognition?
Every reputable doggy daycare should have a behaviourally sound temperament evaluation system. This is one of the largest weaknesses in many facilities. Ideally, this evaluation will take place over several hours so the dog is not rushed in his/her interactions or meetings with the existing dogs.
A reputable doggy daycare facility should be able to tell you exactly how this evaluation takes place, why the person doing the evaluation is qualified to make an assessment, and what is and is not appropriate behaviour throughout the evaluation.
It is not enough to simply test a dog for aggression; it should be openly communicated to the dog owner if the dog is simply not having fun, overwhelmed, stressed, or unhappy.
A reputable doggy daycare will let an owner know if daycare is not best suited for their dog simply based on the fact that their dog is stressed and not having fun, not just for aggression.
Caregivers ability to communicate and act on the dogs’ communication
You should feel comfortable with the staff at your dog daycare. Staff education in dog behaviour and body language is very important. Again, look for a facility with a certified dog behaviour specialist overseeing staff education.
Staff members at a dog daycare should be well educated in dog behaviour, body language and management, well versed in the science of positive reinforcement and hold a current First Aid Certificate with a sound understanding of CPR.
They should receive training from a qualified, certified, professional in these areas. Ideally the facility will have a certified animal behaviour specialist overseeing the staff and management of the dogs.
Be prepared to commit
Similar to children’s nurseries and schools, you should be prepared to commit for the sake of the child. Many doggy day care centres offer a completely ad hoc booking system labelled as offering total flexibility for the client. However, be warned.
Flexible booking and fees are open to constant change which equals clients and dogs that dip in and out of day care. This is not good for the dogs because their group dynamic thrives on familiar friends.
Here at Rock Villa Canine Care, I recommend my clients send their dog to me for at least one day per week. Consequently regular clients bring their dogs regularly which results in a happy and established dog group dynamic. When people see my dynamic and how well the dogs interact, they realise that committing to at least one session per week makes perfect sense.
Understand the effect of collect and drop off times.
Numerous doggy day care centres collect and drop off your dog; with most charging an additional fee. Its all part of the service. That said, how long does your dog spend travelling? Be mindful that longer opening hours don’t necessarily mean more playtime.
If your dog is collected and returned during peak times, for example, 9am and 5pm; most likely it will be in heavy traffic for much longer than say at off-peak times. Hence, look out for earlier starts. Such as we collect between 7-8.30am and return between 3-4pm. Therefore a 10 minute journey takes 10 minutes not 20, 30, or more. In addition, make sure they use dog-friendly air-conditioned vehicles with vet-approved crates.
You may not like the idea of your dog being in a crate, but safety in confined a space and in numbers is paramount. The crates also mean the driver can open each crate one at a time when the relevant dog is safely home, rather than opening one door with the risk of all the dogs escaping.
Note: Dogs should not be in one space altogether, for example a Golden Retriever in the same space as a Pomeranian isn’t a great idea for obvious reasons.
Overall, choosing your preferred doggy day care provider should be fun and rewarding, for both you and your dog and he or she will thank you for it. Furthermore, doggy daycare can be a valuable solution for many dog owners. I think it is an excellent solution for the cultural changes that are negatively affecting our family pets. However, we must begin to ask good questions and have higher expectations for the humans we are entrusting to care for our dogs.
That said, its important to be mindful that not all dogs are suitable for daycare. Some dogs, just like some people, are more introverted in personality.
Naomi Ackerman for the Evening Standard, Wednesday 18 January 2017, 08:07 reported on a couple from Kensington and the horror of December 6. Their beloved Dachshund puppy was bitten to death by a French Bulldog cross at a local dog day care centre.
Why choose R.V.C.C?
Rock Villa Canine Care was set up from a dogs perspective in a way to allow the dogs time away from each other, so preventing arguments. I use a combination of intuition and body language to communicate with animals.
It is important to always remember that when you have a large number of dogs in close proximity, arguments erupt fast, crazy and its almost impossible to break them up before one of the dogs gets a nip or cut on their ears for example.
Furthermore, because there are so many unstable dogs in the world due to either:
Owners not quite sure how to train their dogs and exercise them;
Owners treating their dogs like babies.
Pre and ongoing assessment are the key to successful doggy day care. This helps to identify the dogs who are out of control and don’t know how to play nice with other dogs. Also, these dogs in larger settings; often run around, knock the others over, don’t read the other dogs’ body language, and in the end have to be taken out and crated.
Some of the aggressive dogs in these Dog Day Care Centres, occasionally have to be banned because they not only frequently started fights, but bite their handlers because of their insecure or uneasy behaviour. That said, these dogs would probably do better in a separate run or pen where they could just nap, walk around, and not have to deal with an overwhelming group of other dogs.
Very shy dogs who are more people oriented than dog can find noisy, boisterous environments intimidating. Hence, sometimes these dogs will jump the pens to follow staff around.
At R.V.C.C these dogs have quite areas away from play time. All dogs are walked and receive daily one-to-one time with me; (one does not fit all here). I understand the importance of tailoring the care and exercise to the age, fitness and needs of the breed just like nutrition.
I feel empathy for these dogs because I have witnessed what it means for these dogs to have had enough playtime and just want to snuggle up to staff or go for a walk with one of the staff.
One dog that sticks out in my mind is a Stafford who used to shadow staff at the centre where I did an article for the Manager/Owner. This dog was placid and so well-behaved. That said, she would constantly jump out of the pen and just want to follow staff around. She didn’t jump on me, play rough, or do anything bad. If I bent down to pet her she gave kisses and would sit. If I ignored her, she just walked behind me and would eventually find a corner to nap.
In my opinion daycare centres need different areas to make sure that dogs are in proper groups and can also be moved around if energy levels change throughout the day. Also a separate room with no dogs and just beds for those dogs that need some time out or just to rest are essential.