Over the last couple of months, I have taught a number of massage workshops for dog owners. I ask each participant about their dog’s daily routines as part of the pre-workshop questionnaire. I was pleased to hear about the steps most had taken to provide their dog with daytime stimulation and care.
My customers tend to consider their dogs as family and they put their dog’s needs very high on their importance list. They also know their dogs very well – in terms of likes, dislikes and temperament and so they chose day care arrangements based on their dog first.
Here are our collective tips about choosing a doggy day care:
- Layout and facilities
Commercial operators should allow inspection at any time of the day.
Does the facility smell and look clean? What are the noise levels?
Does the facility have adequate outdoor exercise yards and indoor areas where dogs can rest in peace and quiet? Are there comfy beds that are regularly washed for dogs to rest on?
Does the facility use natural cleaning products? (ask to see the labels of what they use!)
- Who works there
Caregivers at a doggy day care are no different to caregivers at a child’s day care facility. You should be able to meet with them, have a chat, and understand their qualifications and experience. Get a commitment to staffing ratios.
By far the best successes of my customers are with facilities staffed by people their dog already knows – and that can include family members (more on this below).
- Are special needs catered for?
If your dog has a special diet, is the facility able to deal with it? How do they keep treats and foods separated for their different clients?
If dogs are elderly or recovering from an injury, will the day care be able to isolate the dog for rest periods?
- Temperament testing and ‘admittance criteria’
With the rise of commercial day care businesses has also come standards that some facilities adhere to. Quite often, this means that dogs are temperament tested and if they don’t pass, they are not allowed in.
Don’t despair, however, this may mean that the facility’s operations aren’t for your dog as much as the reverse. It’s not a criticism of your dog.
It’s possible for dogs to become overstimulated or over-tired in facilities that rely on group-play operations. These facilities tend to be the most profitable for their operators because they can have one handler supervise a larger number of animals throughout the day- and so the temperament tests are geared to assessing dogs that will cope in the group environment.
But is that right for your dog? – there are a range of operators out there and so biggest is always best.
So here’s where asking around, networking and being creative become important.
- Small, niche and family arrangements
Here’s what I found the most interesting amongst my customers. Their arrangements for day care relied more on retired family members (usually parents) and smaller operators offering in-home care for a few dogs. Day care operators with individual kennels for dogs and supervised play time were also favoured.
Well, in the case of family, they loved the dog and were prepared to offer day care for free or in exchange for help around the home.
Smaller operators offered in-home care arrangements similar to the family home and there was a high level of trust in terms of the care and attention given to the dog (although often these arrangements are more informal – so understand what contractual arrangement you are entering into and what recourse you have against the operator if something isn’t right).
In smaller care situations, there were reduced chances of dog fights or aggression since only a few dogs were involved.
And in the case of operators with kennel-type arrangements, the staff tended to smaller groups at play sessions and so a higher level of supervision and personality matching could be achieved than through ‘temperament testing.’ Dogs were also allowed to rest for periods of the day in private (as they would be if left at home).
Since I incorporate enrichment techniques in my own practice, I think day care has its place for some dogs. Most dogs don’t require full-time care throughout the week, particularly if they are exercised daily with enrichment and bonding time at home.
Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand