I’ve been surprised by how often I’ve heard dog owners say with relief in their voices, “my dog passed the temperament test and has been accepted into dog daycare”, but when I ask the owner questions about the daycare, I discover that the owners did very little investigation. As with any facility or service, it’s important to be an informed consumer. At Companion Animal Solutions, we know what we consider to be important factors in how a daycare facility is run, but I also wanted to get feedback from top end doggy daycare providers to learn more about their industry. Based on our knowledge of canine behavior and feedback from daycare owners with whom I corresponded, I put together a list of questions you can use to evaluate whether a particular dog daycare is right for you. Since we specialize in behavior at Companion Animal Solutions, I’ve focused on the issues we feel are most important for the behavioral health of your dog, but I also included some questions about general safety at the end of this article.
What training in canine behavior or dog training is the staff required to complete and what material does it include?
We often assume that just because someone presents themselves as a canine professional, that this is the case. However, there are no city, state, or federal regulations about education or experience required to work with companion animals. Some dog daycares have developed their own in house staff training programs while others send their staff to outside training classes. There is also a distinction between what education/training the owner of the daycare has completed as opposed to their staff. This is an important distinction since the owner might not be the person responsible for monitoring the dogs throughout the day.
How do they conduct a behavior/temperament evaluation for new dogs being admitted to their facility?
Again, standards for behavior evaluations vary widely. Each shelter, rescue, and dog daycare has their own process for completing this important evaluation. In general though, we recommend that the staff introduce your dog to ONE other dog and then keep adding dogs one at a time. Don’t be alarmed if the daycare may not want you present for this evaluation. There is a very good reason for this. Your dog will behave differently with you in the room (see Greta Kaplan’s excellent blog entry Why Is My Dog Worse With Me?). In an ideal world, this evaluation would happen in a room that has a two-way window so that you can observe without affecting the evaluation. If this isn’t the case though, you can still ask them to describe the process that they’re going to use to evaluate your dog.
How do they organize dogs; by size or by play style?
Size is usually the first consideration in grouping dogs for play in dog daycares. Having a general match in sizes is important to prevent predatory drift from occurring in a pack of dogs. Predatory drift can happen when play “tips” and the playmate is suddenly treated as a prey animal. For example, we don’t want 50 plus pound dogs playing in groups with toy breeds, but size is only one issue to consider. Professionals should also take into consideration the play style and temperament of the dog. I once visited a dog daycare and when I went into the small/shy dog area, there was a 10-year-old, 60 pound dog in the room. He was an older, tired, laid back guy who fit in better with the small, shy dogs than he did the rambunctious area where many of the other dogs his size spent their day.
How do they “structure” the dogs’ day?
We recommend that dog daycares provide a structured day for their charges. You provide structure for you dog at home and it’s important that your daycare also provide your dog with structure. This is one of the best ways to ensure that your dogs’ time at daycare does not result in behavior problems your dog wasn’t exhibiting before they started attending. There should be playtime, potty time (in a separate area), rest time, snack time, etc.
How do they handle behavior problems like barking, jumping up, and dog fights?
We have reams of scientific evidence that dogs learn most effectively using treats, toys, and play. Using spray bottles, electronic collars, scruff shaking, and rolling the dog on their back causes stress not only for the dog being punished, but for the dogs in the same space as the dog being punished. Stress produces cortisol (in dogs and in people) and cortisol negatively impacts learning and behavior . Some dogs handle these types of methods better than others, but why take a chance on behavioral fall out such as higher generalized anxiety and fear? Behavior problems that can arise at a dog daycare can be handled simply and effectively without using force, fear, or pain. Ask your prospective dog daycare provider how they handle simple problems such barking (no spray bottles please), jumping up (no kneeing the dog in the chest), and dog fights (using a loud noise or strong citronella spray is the preferred way).
Here are some questions you can ask about health, safety, and disaster planning:
Do they require proof of vaccination and negative fecal float?
All reputable dog daycares require proof of vaccination and a negative fecal float.
What safety training is the staff required to complete?
Is the staff certified in first aid or CPR?
Is the staff trained to handle emergencies?
They should have a disaster/evacuation plan in place and available for your inspection.
Does the facility use a “safe” word?
No one should be able to pick up your dog without providing a staff member with your dog’s safe word.
Do you have other questions that you think are important for an owner to ask of a dog daycare provider? Do you have ideas for making dog daycare as fun and behaviorally rewarding as possible? Do you have thoughts on owners’ responsibility for making doggy daycare a positive experience for everyone? Let us know. We love hearing from our readers!