It sounds idyllic- take your pup to daycare, they’ll play all day with friends and come home happily exhausted. Unfortunately that isn’t what always happens.
The most important thing to remember is that daycare is not right for every dog, nor is every daycare right for every dog. Making sure your pup will be comfortable and enjoy daycare is the most important first step. Some dogs enjoy daycare and love going, some dogs would rather stay home and snooze on a couch.
We’ve experienced both in our family. Until arthritis caught up with him, Parker loved going to daycare-and probably would still love it if I would let him go, but he would be very sore after because he is a wild old man! Even blind, Jack enjoyed going occasionally. Oliver attends a few times a week and drags us into the building, then kisses every staff member square on the lips. He even has a harem of girlfriends! Rachel, however, hated the one day we sent her and made it explicitly clear she would rather not return. She’ll take a nap on the couch, thank you very much.
The first step is to sit back and think about your dog. Does he like being with other dogs? How is he with being handled by strangers? Spending time alone? Has he been in a group environment with other dogs? How did he do? When we decided to try Rachel at daycare it was only a few weeks after we adopted her. We didn’t know her well enough yet to know she’s more of a people oriented dog than a dog oriented dog. Oliver, however, would rather spend his time with dogs than humans outside of his family. Oliver thinks dog parks are fun, Rachel does not.
If you’ve taken the time to evaluate whether or not your dog would thrive in a daycare environment, you then need to go about finding the perfect facility. Not all dog daycares are created equal! Things to consider:
-Staffing. What is the staff to dog ratio? I prefer a low ratio- 10-15 dogs per person, maximum. What kind of training does the staff have? How much behavior knowledge? Do they know how to appropriately judge signs of stress, play vs. predatory behavior, how to manage groups of dogs? Staffing is a HUGE deal. Do they just hire any Joe Schmo off the street and stick him with dogs, or do they train them about behavior? Do you see the staff with squirt bottles/ shaker cans/ god forbid shock collar remotes? A daycare not far from us was just discovered to be using shock collars on dogs while the owners were gone! Run very, very far away if you see anything like that. Ask the staff if they use any correction methods, and if so when and why. I only believe in force-free training, so I will not take my dogs anywhere that does use those methods for more than the most dire of circumstances. Watch the staff interacting with the dogs for more than just a few minutes. If you’re uncomfortable with anything, take a pass.
-Facility. How many play areas are there? What is the flooring like? Is there anywhere for dogs to rest away from others? Nap? How many dogs are together? Are they of similar sizes and play styles? My Mom used to take Baci to a daycare that I did not like at all. It was two giant chain-linked fenced areas with hard flooring. Baci, at 40 pounds, would be in the same area with tiny Poms and Yorkies! Yes, Baci is used to tiny dogs, but the facility didn’t have enough groups for the amount of dogs it had because the space was only divided in two areas. Is the facility clean? Of course potty accidents happen, so don’t expect spic-and-span, but relatively clean? How do the dogs smell? Are they wearing collars or naked? Other than a paper name tag, dogs should be collar-free for safety.
-Dogs. How are dogs evaluated and sorted into playgroups? Sadly sorting hats for dogs don’t exist (Oliver is Hufflepuff, in case you were wondering), so instead well-trained, behavior savvy staff should evaluate each dog individually. They should rely on more than your self-evaluation of your dog to figure out where they fit best in the groups. Do they allow for some non-play time during the day? Do the dogs look relaxed and happy? Are there double doors between where dogs are off-leash and anywhere they should be on leash? If you see a dog who is uncomfortable, being ganged up on etc, is staff present and in charge of the situation? What is the written protocol in case of fights? What would they do in case of emergency- both health emergency or natural disaster or fire?
If you’re able, evaluate several different facilities before deciding on one. Take time to see what you like and what you don’t. Look at small businesses along with corporate-owned facilities. We used to use a small business with Parker and Jack, but currently use a corporate-owned facility with Oliver after some not-great experiences at a few smaller places. We had previously tried a different corporate-owned facility with Parker and were unhappy with the sizes of playgroups. Each facility is completely different with their own sets of pros and cons. Find a facility that matches your pup and you’re golden!