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What Every Owner Should Know About Dog Daycare

May 12, 2013

What Every Owner Should Know About Dog Daycare

Every trainer has their, “how I got into the business” story.  Mine started in a dog daycare.  I knew I wanted to work with dogs in some capacity, and with very little experience, but a burning (yes, burning) desire to work in the industry in any way possible, I sent in my resume to the first “dog job” I found as a daycare attendant.  Unfortunately, what I experienced in those early years didn’t help my ever-increasing wariness of what has become a booming avenue of the dog-care industry.

For many people dog daycare seems like the perfect solution to their dog’s problems; lots of play time, supervision, and never having to be left alone.  On the surface of it, they’re absolutely right.  What could be a better way of keeping your dog occupied and happy while you’re away at work?

Unfortunately, in many cases, daycare does nothing but exacerbate the problem.  The dogs come home “tweaked” because they’re so grossly overstimulated.  They often lose the ability to cope with even short stints of time alone.  Their play skills deteriorate because of hours and hours spent practicing nasty habits in VERY loosely supervised groups.  Many owners are left wondering just what the heck went wrong…it seemed like such a slam dunk!

One of my colleagues recently put the question to a large group of trainers: “In a perfect world, what would your ideal daycare look like?”  The answers were fabulous. They also got me thinking that it’s about time we raise our standards and start asking more from the people with whom we leave our beloved companions.  We spend every penny and every second focused on their well-being, but then we send them away for eight hours a day and ask almost nothing of the people caring for our dogs.  Well here’s my chance to describe what a well-run and cutting edge doggy daycare would look like in my world.

1)  Well-Educated Staff

You might be shocked to realize that most daycare attendants have little to no education about group play, dog body language, or handling skills.  I can speak to this one from experience.  When I started, I was thrown into a tiny room with up to twenty-five dogs at one time.  I’d never worked with dogs before in my life.  Ever.  The owner casually mentioned that I read a book on calming signals-which I thankfully did, on my own time.  This is not unusual.  Looking back, I was in much more danger than I realized-and so were those people’s dogs.

2) High Dog to People Ratio

The next time you inquire with a dog daycare, ask how many attendants they have working and what their usual number of dogs is.  I’d be willing to bet the numbers would shock you.  I’ve seen up to thirty rowdy, highly aroused dogs being managed by just one attendant.  What I’d love to see is one worker for every five to seven dogs.  Even the most talented handler would be hard-pressed to safely manage a group bigger than that.

3) Crates or Quiet Areas for Nap Time

Here’s a newsflash people: The reason your dogs come home from daycare acting like a*@holes is because they’re over-tired!  Imagine going to a party with your friends for eight hours every day? Your brain would be on constant over-drive and you’d find it much harder to wind down at the end of the day.  Your dogs need at least two hours in the morning AND the afternoon to decompress, relax and have some time to themselves.

4) Separate Play Areas for Small and Large Dogs

I have two Maltese.  They’ve been beautifully socialized and I treat them as much like “big dogs” as I can safely do.  But guess what? They still hate big dogs.  Especially boisterous adolescents.  For them, even in play, the danger of being trampled, rolled or thumped is very real. So naturally, they’ve developed a healthy need for space from dogs ten times their size.  My walking group consists mostly of dogs under twenty pounds for that reason.  I’ve had very responsible walkers refer pint-sized pups to me because they know they wouldn’t be safe in a group of big dogs-even lovely, playful ones.  If I encountered a daycare that separated dogs according to size I’d be impressed. Very impressed.

5) Daily Walks and Mental Stimulation

Although your dogs might be surrounded by other dogs all day that doesn’t, by any stretch, mean that your dog is being well-exercised.  It’s important that every dog is taken out for some serious walk time (at least an hour) every single day at the daycare. Furthermore, the daycare should provide a means of stimulating the dogs mentally, whether it be through interactive toys or training/games with the attendants.

6) Cleanliness, Cleanliness, Cleanliness!!!!

This one may be last, but it is definitely not least.  When you walk into your dog’s daycare it shouldn’t smell like a mixture of hockey bag and old leftovers.  It should smell “doggy”, but with a hint of all-natural, enzymatic cleaner.  The number of parasites and illnesses your dog is likely to be exposed to in a daycare situation is bad enough, without the added risk of inadequate sanitation.

The next time you drop your dog off for the day, stop and ask a few of these questions.  If your daycare provider is unwilling, or unable to answer most of these then you seriously need to re-evaluate.  Until dog owners start taking a vested interested in where their dogs spend the majority of their day, the situation will never improve.  Don’t our dogs deserve the very best?

Written By

Danielle Hodges, CPDT-KA

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