Dog Daycare Things to Look for:
There are simply too many situations or reasons to mention why a great dog daycare would be healthy for your dog and why a poor dog daycare would be unhelpful or downright harmful for your dog. We think the cons for most dog daycares substantially outweigh the pros in most situations. Some of the modus operandi and many shortfalls and questions to ask of dog daycare facility are the following:
Education of the staff – Education is vital to your dog’s safety, comfort and wellbeing. If the employees supervising the dogs are not certified by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) as a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) and/or Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CPDT) or experts with academic credentials in the field of animal behavior such as Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs), I would not leave my dog at that daycare facility. Dog training and behavior licensing is not required in any state. The IAABC and the CCPDT are the only independent dog behavior and dog training certification councils. Other organizations that offer certifications simply provide those certifications to graduates of their own program or only certify their own members. The various certifications offered by the IAABC and CCPDT are the closest thing to licensing offered in the world of non-degree-based dog training. Basic canine communication, including body postures and signals, are imperative for the supervising staff to understand in order to ensure your dog has a safe and enjoyable experience. Continuing education in ethology, psychology, cognitive ethology, dog training, evolution, physiology, neurobiology, sociology, learning theory, and animal husbandry saves lives. As a CDBC and CPDT, it is mandated that we take continuing educations units (CEUs) every year based on the most current scientific knowledge in ethology and dog training.
Some additional questions are: what educational requirements do you have for new hires? What continuing education and training does the daycare staff receive? Unfortunately, there is little perspicacity of the business owners, and the new hires often lack the proper skills, education, experience, and background to be effective at keeping your dog healthy and safe.
Health policies and sanitation – How organized and clean is the facility and how is it cleaned? Do they use harsh chemicals that can offend a canine’s sensitive olfactory glands? The facility should also be flea and tick free and cleaned multiple times a day, so there is no pungent smell or odors in the air. The facility must be very well ventilated. The HVAC is critical when considering a daycare or dog boarding facility as epidemiology has shown many airborne pathogens and diseases spread from inadequate fresh clean air circulation.
First Aid and CPR – Ask if employees are trained in Pet First Aid and CPR. Ask what the daycare’s protocol is in the event of an emergency injury or illness? Will your dog be taken to a veterinarian or emergency hospital if necessary? South Florida is prone to hurricanes and evacuation. In your neck of the woods, earthquakes, fires or tornados may loom, so make sure there is a standard operating policy and procedure for handling these events.
Vaccination requirements – The dog daycare facility should require mandatory checks for health risks such as Bordetella, vaccination for tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) at least one week prior to daycare, including checks for pathogens, fleas, ticks, and parasites. There should be requirements for vaccinations or titers, and sick dogs should not be allowed to enter the daycare or boarding facility. In addition, there should be policies and a standard operating procedure (SOP) in place for medical treatment in case of injury.
Spay or neuter – The daycare policy should prohibit unaltered male or female dogs. Nothing throws off the chemical balance and harmony of a group of dogs quicker than a female in heat or an intact male. Not to mention neutering and spaying your dog will add years to their life!1
Temperament Testing and Initial Evaluation – Your dog should be “interviewed” to learn about them, their temperament and see how they do in small groups in a relaxed atmosphere. It is impossible to get a feel for a dog’s temperament in one meeting. Behavior is contextual and requires observation over a period of time in different groups, circumstances, and environments. A daycare facility should be more like socializing at Starbucks than a crazy romp on a playground.
Pet Parents Interview – A comprehensive interview with the pet parents is equally important, if not more so than your dog’s temperament test. Questions should include the complete ontogeny of your pet, behavior problems, complete bite history, behavioral quirks, likes, dislikes, what makes them nervous, have they ever bitten another dog or person, play style, energy level and any fear, timidness or aggression displayed in the past. Your interview will yield more valuable information than a onetime temperament test and will alert the facility what socializing group to put your pup in, and a conscientious daycare should let you know if daycare is even right for your dog. In many cases, it is not.
Potty Training Trouble – Whether or not your dog is potty trained, it is confusing for them to go to the bathroom in new places, surfaces, and environments. If your dog is used to, or you want your dog to go to the bathroom in the same spot, at the same time or on the same surface (grass rather than cement, carpet, tile, rubber, etc.,) every time, a daycare will likely be detrimental and regressive to your dog’s training and potty training progress. A well-trained dog that only wants to eliminate where they are trained to may “hold it” for so long that it could cause a urinary tract infection.
Dog Apparatus – There should be no dog collars or harnesses on any dog. If they must wear something, it should be a break-away collar. They should be as they came into this world, naked. There are too many incidences where a dog dies from getting choked or another dog’s tooth getting caught in a collar or a dog getting injured because some type of hardware was left on. It’s just unnecessary and a poor decision.
Floors and Fencing – What type of floor is your dog laying and playing on? The surface should be non-slip, cushioned and easy to clean. Typically, washable rubber mats on the floor and walls make a good choice. Although I am not a fan of dog parks, a good dog park will have double door entry and exit ways, preferably multiple ones per play area, with rounded enclosures, so dogs don’t get backed into a corner, bullied or feel trapped. These safe gates introduce new dogs to the group the safest way. They prevent the mobbing effect of a new dog and prevent dogs from escaping. In addition, any fencing should be high enough to prevent dogs from jumping over and should be opaque to block visual stimulation.
Behavior Control – How does the daycare facility control the dog’s behavior? Ideally, they do not need to manage a very well trained and behaved dog’s behavior that much. Do they have proper supervision and staff on the floor at all times, and are the conspecifics ever left unattended? It’s not good enough that someone is observing dogs from a bank of cameras. Dog behavior and communication are complex in itself and then when you add the dynamics of a group in the mix it makes behavior even more complicated. Do they use or allow punishment (alpha roles, reprimands, scruff shakes, squirt bottles, citronella anti-bark collars, practice debunked dominance theory or use shock collars)? If so, I would never leave my dog there. Don’t forget to ask to see the written policies on how scuffles are handled. If you hear answers such as “we don’t use food treats” or “food treats cause fights,” that may be an indication of their lack of dog training knowledge and skill or perhaps lax intake policies.
Floor Plan Layout – How many rooms or play areas are there for dogs? Are there fresh clean water stations in each play area? Dogs are individuals and come in many different shapes, sizes, and ages and have varying temperaments, play styles, energy, sociability and fear levels…etc. Every individual is different and lumping them all into one or two rooms is detrimental to their health and refractory. Do you think your 10-year-old senior dog wants to be bothered with a mouthy, boisterous 1-year-old adolescent (even if they are the same size)? Or the playstyle variances between a Border Collie, a German Shepherd, and an American Bull Dog? They all express themselves very differently and would not make ideal play partners.
Ratio of Certified Dog Behavior Consultants (CDBC) and Certified Professional Dog Trainers (CPDT) to Dogs – There should be a minimum of one qualified CDBC certified by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), and CPDT, or CAABs for roughly 5-10 dogs. Those numbers can fluctuate depending on the temperaments of the dogs and the skill and experience of the dog handler and how well each dog and handler know one another but generally speaking, the higher the ratio of qualified CPDT trainers, CDBC or CAAB’s specialists to dogs the better.
A separate playroom for small dogs, young pups and elderly is safest. Small dogs, even amenable confident ones, are at much greater risk of injury in a room full of large energetic dogs. Furthermore, some adolescent dogs get overwhelmed by all the debauchery, energy and activity that they become reactive, impulsive and stressed out. Stress is a common dog daycare problem that is often mistaken for happiness by the pet parents.
Other Daycare Precautions – Caveat emptor, avoid any daycare that only provides limited access and that prohibits pet parents from visiting their dog at any time, with or without advance notice. I would also stay clear of daycares that don’t allow you to observe playgroups and to tour the entire facility before committing. Sure, it is not appropriate for parents to come and go all the time, especially if their dog is reactive or becomes antisocial, obsessed, or attached to the parent, however a visit now and again that does not disrupt the playgroup would be OK.
Overcrowding is common, unhealthy and very stressful for any dog (or human). It has been well documented in scientific research that overcrowding raises cortisol (stress) levels and is a precursor to aggression and many behavioral problems.2-4
A rule of thumb for a dog daycare facility is at least 100 square feet per large dog and 50-60 square feet per medium and small dog.
1. Jessica M. Hoffman, Kate E. Creevy, Daniel E. L. Promislow. Reproductive Capability Is Associated with Lifespan and Cause of Death in Companion Dogs. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (4): e61082 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0061082