As much as some of us might like it, we can’t be with our dogs all the time. Whether you’re taking an extended vacation without your beloved pooch, or you simply need some quiet time to get things done around the house, a doggie daycare can be a lifesaver. But the question is: How do you choose the right one for your dog? As a long-time animal rescuer, dog parent, and lost pet specialist, I’ve compiled a list to help you pick your winner.
1. Ask for personal referrals from family, friends, and neighbors.
Turning to the people you trust most often yields great results. So start early and put the word out. And don’t forget about reaching out to your online circles through social media and neighborhood websites like Nextdoor.com.
2. Do your own online research.
As you get suggestions from people, Google the names of the facilities and owners. Look them up on Yelp, Angie’s List, and the Better Business Bureau website. And, obviously, you can plug in your own search terms to find places you might want to check out.
3. Visit facilities in person.
Once you’ve identified some potential daycares, go take a tour. Pay attention to:
Staff to dog ratio
Overall cleanliness, appearance, and smell
Doors/gate: Are there at least two of them between the lobby and street? Are they in good working order, including latches and locks?
Outdoor areas: They should have appropriate fencing (at least 6’ or 7’). Make sure the fence is not compromised in any way. Also notice if there’s plenty of water and shade available and that dogs are constantly monitored while outside.
General appearance and demeanor of staff: Are they friendly, knowledgeable, and communicative? Do they seem happy to be there and well-rested? Do they seem to be well-liked by both human and canine clients? Be wary of staff that are sullen, tired, uninformed, or confused, and those who don’t interact well with human or canine clients.
How the animals are treated and supervised: Look for staffers that give their full attention to the dogs. Watch how they manage the dogs. Do they seem to be able to read dog body language? Are they able to head off scuffles at the pass? Are they calling the dogs by name? Be concerned about any employees who are on their phones or otherwise distracted. Watch out for staffers who seem either overly aggressive or too passive with the dogs. Do the dogs display happy body language (tail wagging, heads up, playing with each other)? Scan the corners - are dogs cowering or displaying behaviors that indicate they don’t feel safe?
NOTE: Do not make an appointment for a tour; any good facility should be able and proud to show you their facility at all times.
4. Meet with managers/key staff and learn a little about the facility.
Ask lots of questions:
How long has the facility been operating?
What is the application/evaluation process?
What is the typical daily routine like?
Do they use cameras to monitor the dogs? Are they web-accessible to clients?
What are the qualifications of the staff members?
Ask to see licenses and facility permits
Ask what their protocol is for lost pet prevention and response
Ask how they handle emergencies like a dog fight, injury, or sickness
Ask questions about any online or word of mouth concerns you have about them
5. Ask previous and current clients what they think about the facility.
You can do this by striking up conversations in the parking lot or by directly messaging or emailing the authors of any interesting online reviews.
6. Observe the parking lot and lobby.
Watch the body language of dogs entering the facility. Do they seem excited, or do they put on the brakes? What do the dogs look like as they exit the facility?
Note how staffers handle dogs during drop off and pick up. Are they cognizant of avoiding fights and letting the dogs bolt out the door? Do they know and use dogs’ and humans’ names? Are they professional and efficient with any paperwork and payment procedures? Do they seem to have a lot of long-term clients or is the clientele mostly new?
7. Give them a trial run.
If you think you've found a winner, drop your dog off for just a few hours while you run local errands. Make it a day when you can drop everything and get over there if anything goes sideways. While your dog is there, call and check in on your dog. Staff should be able to give a status report in fairly short order. When you pick your dog up, ask for another report of what and how she did. The more specific the answers staff can give, the better.
8. Once you get home, notice your dog’s behavior.
She should be tired, but not totally exhausted. She might be a little stinky, but she shouldn’t reek of urine or feces. Be sure to give her body a full once-over to look for any marks. Little scratches are to be expected, but bites or other severe injuries should be a major concern. Sometimes, accidents happen at doggie daycare, but the facility should always call you immediately to report them. If they don’t, they are either trying to hide it or they don’t know about it - neither of which is good.
9. Stay alert.
Once you choose a facility, stay involved and communicative. Things can change over time, and accidents happen even in the best places, so don’t let yourself become too complacent. Always keep your radar up.
Leaving your dog with strangers can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. A little homework can go a long way, so do your due diligence, and you (and your dog) will reap the benefits.