Dropping your dog off at camp for the first time can be daunting; some clients compare it to dropping a child off at their first day of preschool. Dog day cares are popping up all over the country and, as they become more numerous, choosing the right one for your dog may seem difficult. If you do your research, finding the right day care for your dog can be a process that is fun for both you and your pup.
Before taking your dog to any day care facility, be prepared to make phone calls and ask plenty of questions (be ready to answer a few questions, too). Always ask if you can take a tour of the facility. If they don't allow tours, don't do business with them. If they do allow tours, follow up and take one! Make sure you are comfortable with the facility, as well as their policies and procedures before leaving your pup in their care. Does the facility look clean? Smell clean? Do the other dogs look happy and healthy? If those basics have been met, move on to some basic questions.
Most dogs enjoy a nap or three so make sure your dog will be allowed to rest if he is tired and that he will always have access to water. Make sure their hours of operation are compatible with your schedule and ask about pick-up and drop-off times. A great day care will allow you to stop in any time during the day to drop off, pick up, or just have a surprise visit (this should give you some confidence that they have nothing to hide and they treat the dogs the same whether you are there or not). Lots of facilities are installing web cameras so you can check in on your dog at anytime during the day. Web cameras aren't just a cute gimmick, either - if you can check on your dog, you can also check on the employees that are caring for your dog. Ask what their staffing ratios are (how many dogs to each staff member - hint: they should be about the same as a child day care), how they discipline the dogs, what they do to prevent dog fights, end a fight if it starts, and what they do in case of an emergency. Ask how they train their employees and if they require any special knowledge of their employees. Whether they require extensive training on pet CPR, dog behavior, have a certification program for their employees, all of the above, or none of the above, make sure you are comfortable with the staff at the day care you choose and that they are comfortable with the dogs.
Be aware that anytime dogs are socializing, there are risks involved, and make sure that the day care you choose is also aware of these risks. Any day care that isn't prepared for a dog fight or tries to tell you that they don't (and won't ever) happen at their facility should be looked at as suspect. In the course of normal, non-aggressive play a dog can become injured - minor scratches, scrapes, and the occasional missing bit of hair is to be expected - make sure that the day care staff is prepared to deal with the minor injuries as well as the major ones and that they will inform you of any injury to your dog, no matter how minor, that may occur while he is in their care. If you have a dog with an illness such as diabetes or epilepsy, a reoccurring injury, or other special need, make sure you inform the staff of this need and that they are set up to deal with your dog's unique requirements.
Once you have assured yourself that the facility has policies and procedures in place that will keep your dog safe and happy, the next step is to familiarize yourself with their rules and regulations. Keep in mind that the day care should be looking out for the safety of your pup and every other dog in their care and they should have some rules and regulations set up to help with this. Most day cares that allow dogs to socialize will not accept mature dogs that have not been spayed or neutered. They should have a list of required vaccinations which will differ from region to region. Talk to your vet to see what vaccinations she feels are necessary in your area, ask specifically about what she recommends for dogs that are regularly socializing with other dogs. Make sure your dog has the vaccinations your vet recommends, and make sure the other dogs at day care will be required to have those vaccinations as well.
Many day cares will also have an interview process or required trial day of day care in order to screen out dogs with aggression issues, communicable disease or parasitic infections. A good day care will use this trial day to evaluate your dog and make sure that he will be not just safe in their environment, but happy as well.
After confirming that a facility will do everything you feel is necessary to keep your dog safe while he is in day care, and that you have done everything you can to meet their requirements as well, it's time to start asking the other most important question: just how much fun does your dog get to have, anyway? Some things to consider that may affect how much fun your dog has a day care:
Some day care facilities allow dogs out of their kennels for fifteen minutes of play with an employee (no interaction with dogs is allowed unless the dogs are from the same household - this type of day care often has a lower daily rate and charges for each play session, walk, or other service you request), others have a "play all day" atmosphere where your dog will be interacting with every other dog in the building at the time, and there are many that fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Most dogs, even if they seem to live only to play with other pups, will do best if they are separated by either size, temperament, activity level, or some combination of the three.
You will find day cares that have no outdoor space at all, some that have limited outdoor space and allow the dogs out once every three hours or so, some that have indoor/outdoor play areas where the dogs can come and go as they please. When it domes to time spent indoors or outdoors, you should be able to find a day care that has what you would like for your dog.
There are facilities that average 50 dogs per day in 1500 square feet of space, some that have 6-12 dogs in their home's spacious back yard, others that have 100 dogs on five acres of land, and everything in between.
There are many factors that combine to make a positive experience for you and for your dog. Whether the facilities you visit have a few hundred square feet or a few acres; have dogs inside, outside, or both; have one play area or many, make sure that what they do have is the best, safest environment possible for your dog.