Doggy Daycare – A How-To Guide

Photo Courtesy Roverchase| www.roverchase.com

Photo Courtesy Roverchase| www.roverchase.com

Doggy Daycare is one of the fastest growing businesses in the pet care industry. As human culture changes, so do the needs of pet owning consumers.   Housing in much of America offers less opportunity for our dogs to have enriched lives within the confines of their own backyards than it has in the past.  Yards are smaller and often our communities have neighborhood covenants that do not allow humane fencing. Owners have more pressure and expectation put on their time and proper exercise, training, and enrichment of man’s best friend often falls by the wayside of an increasingly demanding lifestyle.

Doggy Daycare can be a valuable solution for many dog owners. Not all dogs, however, are appropriate for daycare. Some dogs, just like some people, are more introverted in personality. These dogs would prefer to have their needs met by a private dog walker rather than a boisterous doggy daycare environment. Just because your faithful companion does not enjoy daycare does not mean there is something “wrong” with him or that anything needs to be fixed. It is just as acceptable for a dog to prefer the companionship of one or two close friends as it is for a dog to love the doggy daycare lifestyle. For a fantastic article on this particular subject, please follow this Link

I have been professionally involved in the pet care industry for 15 years and I’m a big fan of doggy daycare, so much so that when I decided to embark on opening a large dog training facility, I chose to include a daycare option for our clients.   There are quite a few dog behavior experts who are not fans of doggy daycare and I completely respect that opinion. However, I contend that their issue is not with doggy daycare, their issue is with how some (maybe even most) doggy daycares are managed.

Since doggy daycare is a completely unregulated field, meaning anyone with any background can open a doggy daycare with little or no experience or certification, the consumer must be vigilant to thoroughly interview the facility to determine if it is worthy of caring for your beloved pet. It should be our expectation that these facilities offer excellent, scientifically based, programs for our dogs – not just a place to “burn off energy.”  How do we educate ourselves and other dog owners on selecting a doggy daycare? As I began to explore this question, I decided to do a google search of how to select a human daycare center and then do a google search how to select a dog daycare center.

A quick Google search of how to select a human childcare center brought many pages of advice.  Here are a few of the most common items listed to consider by child development experts:

1.     Adult to Child Ratio

2.     Group Size

3.     Caregiver Qualifications

4.     Accreditation

5.     View the facility from a child’s perspective

6.     Ask about undesirable behavior management policies (aka discipline)

7.     Everyday education and developmental stimulation

8.     Caregiver’s ability to communicate with, and act on, child’s communication

9.     Consistent schedule of daily activities and development

10. Keeping with your philosophy of child rearing and care

Let’s compare that to the quick Google search of how to select a dog daycare center:

1.     Cleanliness

2.     Small dogs and large dogs separate

3.     Temperament Evaluations

4.     Loving Staff

5.     Safety

That’s it.  With few exceptions, that’s the criteria in article after article.  I feel like this is such a disservice to our dogs.  They are our companions, our feeling, thinking, and dynamic dogs that do life with us.  I fully understand that children and dogs are not the same, but there are similarities in needs for a fulfilled and thriving life.  I would like to see our list of childcare and our list for dog daycare look much more similar.  I would like to see us, as a society, begin to think about the situations as meeting the same end goals.  Dog daycare can no longer just be about “getting out energy.”  It should be about so much more! 1497120_287806674678014_608778234_n

Let’s go though the list of how to select a childcare center and apply it to dog daycare centers:

1.     Adult to dog ratio:  According to many canine behavior experts the dog to adult ratio should be no more than 15:1.  As with child care, smaller ratios are even better!  (information is according to the ASPCA guidelines)

2.     Group Size:  There should never be more than 10-15 dogs to any individual group.  Additionally, each dog should have 75-100 sqft of playspace for each dog in a group.  That means that for a 15 dog play group, the facility should have no less than 1500sq ft just for that one group of dogs.  Did you know that many dog daycares have so many dogs that each dog only spends fraction of the day outside of a cage?  Make sure you ask how long your dog is actually in his play group each day and how long he is in a cage each day.  (information is according to the ASPCA guidelines)

3.     Caregiver Qualifications:  Staff members at a dog daycare should be well educated on dog behavior, body language, Canine CPR, health, play style, and behavior management.  They should have received training from a qualified, certified, professional in these areas.  Ideally the facility will have a certified animal behavior specialist overseeing the staff and management of the dogs.

4.     Accreditation:  Unfortunately there is no inspection/qualification driven accreditation organization for non-veterinary dog care facilities.  There are several “purchased” accreditations, but these do not require inspections in order to be approved, they simply require membership dues.  The best option at this time is to look for a daycare center that has owners, managers, or staff members with individual accreditations and certifications in animal behavior and training.

5.     View the facility from the dogs perspective:  Is it safe?  Is the fencing secure?  Do the other dogs seem to be having a good time?  Is the staff interactive?  Are there plenty of places to rest?  How long is the dog actually in their group each day?  How long are they in a crate/cage each day?

6.     Ask about undesirable behavior management policies:  Discipline at many dog daycare facilities is shocking!  Ask the facility what their policy is on discipline and then ask exactly how they enforce that policy.  The facility should be positive reinforcement and force-free.  The facility should NEVER use harsh corrections or the water hose to discipline dogs.

7.     Education and developmental stimulation:  Does the daycare offer a day-training program?  What about dogs not in the training program but just the daycare program?  What programs are in place to ensure your dog isn’t just spending the day being exercised physically but also mentally and emotionally?

8.     Caregivers ability to communicate and act on the dogs’ communication:  You should feel comfortable with the staff at your dog daycare.  Staff education in dog behavior and body language is so important!  Again, look for a facility with a certified dog behavior specialist overseeing staff education.   All staff should be trained in the latest scientific findings in dog behavior and body language and should be well versed in the science of positive reinforcement.

9.     Consistent schedule of activities and development:  Your dog daycare should be able to give you an exact schedule for the pets in their care.  There should be organized play, education, cleaning, feeding, etc.  These schedules and policies should be easily and openly communicated by staff members to pet owners.

10.  Keeping with your philosophy of dog rearing and care:  It is so important to ask good questions.  Dog daycare facilities should only employ positive reinforcement and force free tactics.  Anything else is antiquated and scientifically proven to be harmful to your dog both physically and emotionally.  It is so important to not just ask if it’s a positive reinforcement facility but to ask exactly what that means.  How do they praise?  For what?  How exactly do they discipline and for what behaviors?  Do they know why their reinforcement and disciplinary policies work?  Can they explain them to you based on the latest scientific studies of animal behavior and cognition?

11. Temperament Evaluations: Every reputable doggy daycare should have a behaviorally sound temperament evaluation system. This is one of the largest weaknesses in many facilities. Ideally, this evaluation will take place over several hours so the dog is not rushed in his interactions or meetings with the existing dogs. A reputable doggy daycare facility should be able to tell you exactly how this evaluation takes place, why the person doing the evaluation is qualified to make an assessment, and what is and is not appropriate behavior throughout the evaluation. It is not enough to simply test a dog for aggression; it should be openly communicated to the dog owner if the dog is simply not having fun, overwhelmed, stressed, or unhappy. A reputable doggy daycare will let an owner know if daycare is not best suited for your dog simply based on the fact that your dog is stressed and not having fun, not simply for aggression.

Dog Daycare is a wonderful thing.  I think it is an excellent solution for the cultural changes that are negatively affecting our family pets.  However, we must begin to ask good questions and have higher expectations for the humans we are entrusting to care for our dogs.  As you’re doing your research ask your local VSPDT for recommendations. If you are unsure whether you dog would enjoy daycare, contact your local VSPDT and ask them for an evaluation to help you decide if daycare would be a fun and enjoyable experience for your individual dog.

Additional Resources:

http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/daycare-dogs

 


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Positively Expert: Abigail Witthauer

Abigail resides in Birmingham, Alabama where she owns Roverchase, a large dog training and care facility. Abigail has been training dogs professionally for 15 years and resides with several animals, most famously, Mr. Big the Chihuahua (Instagram @MrBigChihuahua).


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