As a working pet parent, you may have considered enrolling your pup in doggy day care. Or maybe you just suspect your dog could use some more playtime and socialization. In either case, a puppy day care facility may work out well. We went to pet experts around the country to round up the key points a potential dog day care customer should consider. If you have children (aside from the furry kind), you may notice similarities between this advice and common tips for using a childcare center. It’s hardly surprising, though, because after all, pet parents want the best for their dogs too! Consider this your cheat sheet for making the right doggy day care decision.
Drop in. You should visit the facility you’re considering with your dog. Show up unannounced, but not during the busy pick-up and drop-off times. “Stay away from places that do not allow clients to see the entire facility,” cautions Andrew Horan, Certified Canine Training and Behavior Modification Specialist at Citizen K9 in Washington, DC.
Chat up the staff. You’ll learn a lot by watching the staff in action, and asking them about their experience or what their favorite part of their job is. “If they don’t seem all that interested, or in a hurry, this is probably exactly how they will treat your dog!” cautions Jaime Thomas, executive director of Rock Star Treatment dog day care in Redmond, Washington.
See whether big and little dogs are in the same area. They shouldn’t be, says Thomas. Some kind of separation, if not by size, then by activity level or play style, is necessary. “Many larger dogs, even gentle ones, have a prey drive and play in a way that could hurt a small dog. Meanwhile, the little guys often have Napoleon complexes and inadvertently provoke big dogs.”
Respect the evaluation. Once you’ve chosen a facility, your dog will be evaluated to make sure she’s a good candidate for day care. Not every dog is. If your dog does “fail” the evaluation, don’t take it personally. Rather, enlist a certified trainer to help overcome the issues that the evaluation revealed, says Horan. Then there are some dogs who are happy to be by themselves during the day. “Don’t be upset if your dog has this personality,” urges Karin Chan, FP-MT, CCFT at Whiskers N Tails boarding, day care and grooming salon in South Bay, California. “Understand that pushing your dog to socialize frequently could cause anxiety or bad behavior. Often, we want to see our dogs happy, but fail to see that they are perfectly happy just the way things are.”
Don’t drag out the drop-off. Especially during the first week, say goodbye before you walk in, and try to make check-in as quick and no-nonsense as possible, advises Horan. Remember, just because your dog isn’t leaping with joy when you arrive, that doesn’t mean he’ll have a bad day. Again, they can be a lot like little kids, acting quite differently when their parents aren’t watching. “Many dogs are calmer, less nervous and more relaxed when their owners are out of the picture. So try not to hang around the day care area too long,” agrees Chan. And in much the same way a preschooler is dropped off with her favorite snack, sending Daisy to day care with a treat can’t hurt. One to try might be VetriScience Composure Behavioral Health Bite-Size Dog Chews.
Review the emergency care procedure. Read over the emergency veterinary protocol that they have in place, advises Mike Ritland, a dog trainer based in Cooper, Texas, who’s worked with the U.S. military and celebrities for 18 years. “There should always be at least one qualified and designated employee on site should veterinary care need to be administered,” says Ritland. He also advises that you provide a quick reference guide, preferably laminated, with your contact info, as well as any information about medications, allergies or chronic conditions. And if the facility has an outdoor play area, don’t forget your pet will need protection from fleas and ticks, such as the Seresto 8 Month Flea & Tick Collar for Large Dogs & Puppies or K9 Advantix II Flea & Tick Treatment for Extra Large Dogs Over 55-lbs.
In case of an injury, stay calm and results-oriented. If your dog gets hurt, try to keep in mind that a dog can get injured while playing at even the top puppy day cares. Dogs playing in groups inherently come with some risk. Thomas notes that most good dog day cares will offer vet support if needed, or “better yet, will tell you how they will work to prevent such an incident from occurring again,” says Thomas. “Express your concerns politely, and hopefully they will meet you with the same results-based conversation in response. Keep in mind that complaining and criticizing is not the same thing as working to improve policy.” If you do need to pick up a sick or hurt dog, it can be helpful to bring a kennel carrier he’s used to in order to get him home comfortably. Consider trying the Petmate Sky Kennel as your pet’s go-to dog kennel.
Learn about dog kennel cough. Kennel cough is the most common illness; even the best, cleanest dog kennel will probably have it go around once a year or so. “Dogs will be dogs and are going to make each other sick,” explains Thomas. So chat with your vet to best understand preventatives and possible treatment options.
Resist being a helicopter pet parent. Some puppy day cares offer a webcam service. Take a peek from your desk, sure, but keep it to a minimum. Otherwise, like any loving mom or dad, you may find yourself worrying about whether your fur baby has enough friends, or whether his new bff is really a bully, or why he’s sleeping instead of playing. Dogs are individuals, and will choose what they do, when, and with whom, notes Horan. The staff can’t, and shouldn’t try to, force a dog to play. “Please do not call and ask ‘Why is my dog sleeping?’ I promise you will get one of two answers, ‘because he is tired,’ or ‘because she wants to,’” says Horan.
Keep these tips in mind to ensure doggy day care success and remember, if you have any questions or concerns spend a little time doing your research so you and your pup can feel comfortable.