You’ve decided to send your dog to day care, you’ve spoken to friends and family, you’ve shopped around, and now it’s time to make a decision. What next?
Here’s our definitive guide to the top four things to consider when choosing doggy day care.
1) Check it out
Think of doggy day care as a children’s nursery. You wouldn’t dream of sending a child along without visiting first.
So plan a visit, and not just to reception, to see exactly where your dog will spend their day, who they’ll be with, and what they’ll be doing.
Timing is key. Make sure you go along when it’s at its busiest and most productive so you’re seeing it at full throttle. The middle of the day – 11am to 3pm – is the often best. Don’t be afraid to turn up unannounced, so again you’re seeing the real action. If you ask to see the dogs and there’s a delay, be wary!
Here’s a checklist:
Are the dogs friendly and social and happy together?
Is it calm and quiet or noisy and chaotic?
Would you be happy with your dog mixing with every type of breed there?
Do the staff look like they love the dogs and their jobs and are they actively engaging with the dogs?
What is the indoor and rest space like?
Is there enough open space for the dogs to spread out or are they cramped? Too many dogs in close confines leads to scuffles and boisterous dogs, which can overwhelm quieter or older dogs and puppies.
How many dogs do they have together in one space?
2) Ask questions
While you may be met by a more senior member of staff, it’s important to also chat and ask questions of the dog carers themselves as they will have direct day-to-day contact with the dogs.
And don’t be afraid to pose difficult questions:
What is the staff-to-dog ratio? As a guide, Stablecroft operates on a one dog carer to eight dogs (at an absolute maximum). This is part of the criteria to achieve a 5 star licence from the government which we currently hold.
How often do dogs get injured and what happens?
Have they expelled dogs and how often does this happen?
Are there certain breeds they don’t accept?
Do they throw balls/have toys/etc? While this sounds fun, in a group dynamic many normally placid dogs become competitive and may nip.
Are the dogs transported and if so for how long versus time spent in the fields?
Do they take un-neutered (entire) males that are over 12 months old? The answer should be no. This is generally the case for experienced day care centres, but not so for inexperienced or new operators who need to fill spaces. In a group dynamic, testosterone is not a good thing!
Will my small dog/puppy be bullied by bigger dogs? If there is enough space and only friendly social dogs are accepted this is not an issue. Some day care centres divide dogs by size, but this seems rather unfair as small dogs can form natural bonds with larger dogs. For example, here at Stablecroft we have a Maltese Terrier whose best friends with a Labrador!
3) Be prepared to commit
Just like children’s nurseries and schools, you must be prepared to commit for the sake of the child.
Many doggy day care centres offer an completely ad hoc booking system labelled as offering total flexibility for the client. But be warned. Flexible booking and fees open to constant change equals clients and dogs that dip in and out of day care. This is not good for the dogs as their group dynamic thrives on familiar friends.
Here at Stablecroft, we ask that each client sends their dog to us for at least one day per week. This means regular customers bring regular dogs leading to a happy and established dog group dynamic. When people see our dynamic and how well the dogs interact, they realise that committing to at least one session per week makes absolute sense.
4) Understand the effect of pick up and drop off times
Most doggy day care centres collect and drop off your dog; it’s all part of the service. But how long does your dog spend travelling? Longer opening hours doesn’t necessarily mean more playtime.
If your dog is collected and returned during peak times – say 9am and 5pm – it will likely be in heavy traffic for a lot longer than at off-peak times.
Therefore, look out for earlier starts. We collect at 9:30 – 10:30am and return between 3:30 - 4:30pm. So a 10 minute journey takes 10 minutes not 20 or 30 or more...
And make sure they use dog-friendly air-conditioned vehicles with vet-approved crates. You may not like the idea of your dog being in a crate, but safety in confined numbers is paramount. The dogs should not be altogether in one space - for example a Golden Retriever in the same space as a Chiuaua isn’t a great idea of obvious reasons! The crates also mean the driver can open each crate one at a time when the relevant dog is safely home, rather than opening one door with the risk of all the dogs escaping.
Overall, choosing your preferred doggy day care provider should be fun and rewarding, for both you and your dog. They’ll certainly thank you for it!