Picking The Right Doggie Daycare For Your Dog

Picking the right Doggie Daycare can be challenging, but if done right will provide you with an excellent place to take your dog while you are out for the day and when you come to pick them up, they’ll be happily tired and ready to spend a relaxing evening with you. Everybody wins!

When trying to find the right daycare for your dog, there are many things to consider:

  • The size of the daycare
  • Knowledgeable staff
  • Policies for dog safety/required vaccinations
  • Areas for large and small dogs
  • Ample drinking water areas
  •  Indoor/outdoor space

Avy’s Dog Daycare Experience

Take it from someone who did it wrong the first time – picking the right daycare takes more than just finding a place that looks good and dropping off your pooch. The first time I tried daycare, it was on a Saturday when I was heading out to the states for the day. I went to a daycare that my friend recommended – it was clean, nice looking and the staff were friendly. It wasn’t until I was in the car on my way again that I realized they hadn’t asked me much about Avy – nothing about her habits or temperament with other dogs, not even where I was going to be for the day or how they could best contact me! So feeling a little unsettled, I called in to leave my number and was reassured Avy was doing fine.

The next time I needed daycare, I went to the same location. As soon as we got out of the car in the parking lot, Avy put the brakes on. She dug in her heels and didn’t want to walk in the door. Once inside she kept backing away from the daycare staff, trying to leave. Feeling very unsettled I vowed never to take Avy to daycare again – she was just too anxious.

The Dog Daycare Philosophy

Every doggie daycare will have their own philosophy of how they handle the dogs in their care.  It’s essential that you find one that matches your personal philosophy.  Because of Avy’s bad daycare experience, it was important to me to locate a daycare that would take the time to make sure that she was comfortable and felt safe.  At the first daycare we tried I was not allowed to tour the doggie care area – in hindsight, this was a huge red flag.  Every daycare should be willing to let you see where your dog will be spending their time.  For us this meant considering:

  •  The dog introduction policy
  • Who works with the dogs?  I wanted to meet the staff
  • Is there a separate area for the smaller dogs?
  • What does the doggie area look like?
  • Is there water available?
  • Enough room to play?

I told my neighbour my story, and she suggested I try out the daycare she used. Right from the start, the experience was vastly different. My first trip to the daycare was without Avy. I went in and met with the owner who chatted with me about his experience with dogs and the philosophy at the daycare (which is all about making sure the dogs enjoy themselves in a safe environment where dominant dogs aren’t allowed to dominate).


The next step was to bring Avy in for an introduction visit – 30 minutes only. We arrived at the daycare and Avy instantly put the brakes on again, refusing to go inside.  The owner came out and then one by one the employees who worked there came out to meet Avy in the parking lot – sitting right down next to her and making her feel comfortable. Then they went in to get Jack – my neighbour’s dog and Avy’s first love. As soon as Avy saw Jack she was convinced. In she went.

While Avy had her 30-minute intro, I was given a 2-page form to fill out while I went and grabbed a coffee. Questions like commands that Avy knows, how she deals with being left alone and her level of socialization were all covered, as well as the relevant medical and vet info.

When I picked Avy up, I was told she had been slowly introduced to all the dogs in an area where she could interact with them one on one.  She had done well and was welcome to come back the next day.

The next morning I pulled into the lot, slightly apprehensive about how it was going to go. Much to my surprise, Avy couldn’t get out of the car fast enough. She ran into the daycare and off she went to play with the dogs without giving me a backward glance. I was assured that I was welcome to call during the day to see how she was doing. I phoned at noon and was told she was happily playing with the other dogs.

When I picked Avy up after work she was thrilled to see me and very, very tired (a good thing for any dog owner!)  Now Avy can’t WAIT for her daycare days (we go twice a week). On daycare morning she goes right to the door anxious to get moving, she couldn’t be happier and neither could I.  It gives me great peace of mind to know that Avy is enjoying herself and well cared for when I am at work.


Questions to Ask Your Dog Daycare

When assessing the space where you are going to leave your dog, it is important to ask lots of questions to make sure that you are comfortable with your choice.  Here are some questions you should definitely ask:

  • How do you handle difficult or aggressive dogs?

This is an important question and one that the owner of our daycare addressed right away when I explained that Avy had some daycare anxiety.  When you have a large number of dogs in one space together, there is bound to be some disputes – knowing that the daycare is prepared for that and has trained staff that will stop a situation before it develops is essential.  At our daycare, there are 3 different “time out” areas where if necessary dogs can go to calm down on their own before they rejoin the group.

  • Do the dogs get any outdoor time?

Some daycares have outdoor spaces which are fabulous – dogs love to be outside.  In a city, however, outdoor space may not be an option.  In this situation, it is important that the dogs are taken out for walks during the day for toilet breaks and for some fresh air.  Ask your daycare how often your dog will be taken out.

  • Are there any areas for your dog to have some downtime?

Daycares are great for socialization and dogs absolutely love to play.  Like humans though, dogs also need their downtime.  It is crucial that the daycare create a space where your dog can lie down and have a rest when they need some time away from social activity.

  • What vaccines do you require?

If you are sending your dog to spend time with many other dogs its vital to know that their health will be protected.  Your dog daycare should require proof of vaccines from your veterinarian before they will allow your dog to come in.

  • Do the staff have dog specific training?

While being a dog lover is a first step to working in a dog daycare, more training is definitely required.  Make sure that the staff at your daycare have been trained in dog behaviour and what to watch for when taking care of your pet.

  • Are there separate areas for large and small dogs?

Some small dogs do very well playing with larger dogs, and vice versa.  Avy grew up with a Pomeranian as a neighbour and loves a good play with a small dog, but this isn’t true of all dogs.  For everyone’s comfort and safety it is important that there be separate areas where smaller dogs can play together free from intimidation from the larger dogs.

  • Is drinking water provided?

It goes without saying – dogs need access to water.  Make sure that your daycare has a drinking water supply for the dogs.

  • Can I have a tour?

As I mentioned above, a daycare that will not allow you to see the space where your dog will spend their day is a huge red flag.  At our daycare, I was invited for a tour (without Avy) before our first visit.  It gave me a chance to see the space Avy would spend her day in, how the dogs were interacting with each other and how clean and sanitary the area was.


Red Flags to Watch For

When doing your review of daycares there are a few things that should have you second guessing the location.

  • They won’t let you tour the daycare:

There is no excuse for a daycare not to let you tour the space where you dog will be spending their time.  If your chosen location refuses you a tour prior to signing up it’s time to consider other options.

  • The dogs don’t look happy:

Doggie daycares should be happy places.  Some of the dogs will be playing, others may be relaxing but the overall vibe should be happy.  If when you tour the daycare the dogs seem listless or bored it may be a sign of larger problems at the location.

  • There aren’t enough staff:

If you visit the daycare and find that there is only one employee working with 20+ dogs you should be concerned.   Much like children, it is virtually impossible for one person to keep an eye on 20 moving animals at the same time.  Make sure your daycare has enough staff.


Even a Perfect Looking Daycare May Not Be Perfect

Another caution:  sometimes even the most perfect looking daycare, with all the right bells and whistles may not be the right fit for your pet.  Avy and I experienced this at a beautiful daycare/boarding facility where she spent some time while I was on a business trip.  The building looked like a high-end hotel complete with a reception area with comfortable seating and treats for the dogs and a receptionist.  The dog area was beautiful and well appointed – there was a large indoor space with agility equipment to keep the dogs busy and an equally large outdoor space for dogs to play.  Large garage doors separated the spaces and were kept open for dogs to come and go.  There was a separate small dog area and plenty of beds placed throughout the space for dogs to have a rest.

In this case, the problem wasn’t with the facility itself – it was as close to perfect as I have ever seen – it was with the training of the staff.  While the team did ask all the right questions (they loved dogs, checked Avy’s vaccines and made sure they knew all of her habits) their actual recognition of dog behaviour was less than satisfactory.  Despite having separate large and small dog areas, they frequently mixed the two – sometimes with negative results.  Large dos play differently than small dogs and what is just fun wrestling between two large dogs can be seen as intimidating and over the top to a small dog who is not used to it.

In Avy’s case, she likes to initiate play by pawing at another dog to begin a wrestle or a chase.  The staff at the daycare found this threatening to smaller dogs that she was playing with.  They failed to recognize what play looks like and if two dogs should not be in the same space.  This made me very uncomfortable.  On reading reviews of the daycare, I found that multiple other owners had similar experiences and felt equally uncomfortable.  That was enough for me to decide never to use this daycare again.

So lesson learned: listen to your pet and watch their reactions, they’ll tell you when something isn’t right or when they aren’t comfortable. And when picking a daycare for your pet pick one that takes the time to meet and listen to you, and to introduce your dog correctly, making sure the experience is a positive one right from the start.


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