Pug at day care

Doggy day care is like a social club for pooches — and it can be a lifesaver for pet owners. For working pet parents, a day care provides an excellent alternative to leaving a pooch home alone all day, but that’s not the only reason to think about leaving your pooch at day care. Doggy day care can provide a much-needed physical outlet for high-energy dogs or for dogs whose owners are unable to keep up with their canine’s exercise needs, such as the elderly and those with physical limitations. Ongoing socialization is also important for any dog, and a well-run day care provides dog-friendly canines with safe and enjoyable play interactions.

If you’re considering sending your pooch to a doggy day care, it’s important to choose the right one. Here’s what I look for in a dog day care.

Your Dog’s Home Away From Home

Any good doggy day care should have protocols in place to protect your dog’s health. All dogs should be required to have proof of vaccination before being allowed on the premises. In addition, look for a day care able to provide your dog with immediate veterinary care should an emergency arise; ideally, this would mean taking him to your regular veterinarian, if possible.

When multiple dogs play together, they need to be properly supervised. A good doggy day care should always have at least one or two staff members on duty in each play area to intervene if necessary. Fights can occur even among well-socialized dogs, and trained staff should be on duty to break up disputes or attend to medical needs in an emergency.

Opt for a day care facility that fosters open communication with pet parents. If your dog is involved in a fight, it’s important that the staff let you know, even if no one was injured. In addition, nothing makes a pet parent smile like getting a complete description of a dog’s day. 

A good day care will go out of its way to make sure every dog is going to get along with the other canines. The day care may “interview” your dog, through both written history and physical evaluation with other dogs, to determine if he is a good fit for the program. These evaluations are designed to keep everyone safe from potentially aggressive encounters. In addition to evaluating your pet, some day cares, such as the Coeur d’Alene Pet Resort where my Pugs play, offer trial periods to allow you and your pet to test out the facilities before you make a commitment.

Safe, Clean Facilities Are a Must

Any day care you choose for your dog should be safe, secure and comfortable. Fences must be tall enough that even the most determined dog cannot climb or jump over. Double gates should be in place to prevent escape to the outside. Small and large dogs should have separate play areas and should not be kept together.

Indoor facilities should provide outdoor opportunities for pets to relieve themselves. Water in clean bowls should be available at all times. Outside spaces need covered areas with shade to keep dogs cool on hot days, while indoor spaces should have fans or air conditioning running during warm weather and should be adequately heated in cold weather.

In addition to being secure, the facility should be clean and have minimal odor. Although dog hair and slobber are excusable in any place with frequent four-legged visitors, pet accidents should promptly be taken care of and there should be a general “cleanliness” in the place. Odor is a common complaint in doggy day cares; look for a business that is aware of this issue and that does frequent deep cleanings to keep the space smelling as fresh as possible.

Choose a Day Care That Will Dote on Your Dog

You want your dog to feel loved when he’s at day care — by the people as well as the other pets. Observe how staff members treat dogs at the facility; look for a day care that relies on positive reinforcement to gently provide boundaries for pets. Never use a day care where staff members push, jerk and use strong physical or verbal reprimands on the dogs.

Pay attention as well to the words they use to refer to the dogs, particularly when they talk about dog play behavior and body language. Objective descriptions of dog behavior and their indication of what the dog might mean in a specific context are much better than generic labels like  “alpha” or “dominant.”

Finally, find a program that caters to your dog’s needs. Does your pet need medication throughout the day? Are there behaviors you would like him to work on during his day out? Look for a day care that is able and willing to provide medications as needed and that will aid with specific training issues — or with whatever else your individual dog requires.