As we start to return to work, many of us are in search of part-time or full-time daycare for our pups that have been so used to having people around 24/7. However, not all daycares are created equal and choosing the right one for your pooch can be overwhelming. With the many options available, the search is analogous to finding the best preschool for a child.

Key points:

Start Your Search Early
If you know you will need it, don’t wait until the last minute. I remember having to start my search for a preschool over a year ahead of time.  The good ones fill up fast and may even have a wait list.

Know Your Dog
Evaluate your dogs individual temperament to determine what type of environment is the best fit for them. The younger the dog, usually the higher the energy and the more likely they are to play.  However, dogs that are considered “pandemic pups” are truly a different breed.  The majority of them have not been around high numbers of other dogs and are easily overwhelmed when in groups.  It’s similar to deciding if a child is better suited to be in a small, private preschool with increased individual attention, or a larger, more mainstream preschool.  Also know if your dog has any particular issues that preclude them from being with large groups of dogs or a particular type of dog.  The age of the dog(s) matters!  Not all young dogs should play with older dogs and visa versa.

Go Do a Visit 
Every facility should give you a tour and let you watch the dogs at a play – simply put, do the dogs look happy? Are the people interacting with them?  Do they provide mental stimulation for the dogs (toys, water structures, climbing structures, agility equipment) or is the space sterile looking? Consider a preschool that has no play structures for young, growing bodies that need to move.  Due to their locations, some daycares may only provide indoor space.  For young dogs, this can lead to increased house training challenges and can be a determining factor for success of placement.

Ask Questions!

  • The number one concern when choosing a preschool is the teacher to student ratio.  The same should be for a doggy day care. The preferred ratio is at least 1 staff person to every 10 dogs, depending on the experience of the staff and the size of the dogs. The smaller the number of dogs, the more attention they will receive.
  • What is the physical space of the facility and how many dogs do they take? The recommended space should be about 100 square feet per dog. That’s a 10’ x 10’ room for each dog at the daycare!  However, smaller dogs will require less space.
  • What is the experience of the staff? Just as in preschools, the better facilities have more experienced and better trained staff. The pet care industry is not highly regulated.  How is the current staff trained in dog behavior?
  • Is there a daily schedule or is it a free for all? Just as with kids, it’s important that all dogs get down time to regroup. Non-stop playing all day long is actually NOT in the best interest of the dog. Many dogs lack the ability to self-regulate their play and it can lead to an overly tired and grumpy dog at home.
  • What are their practices for curbing undesirable behaviors? Every preschool is going to have a discipline plan. Does the facility regularly use bull horns, spray bottles, shake cans or throw chains that can intimidate or cause fear in many dogs?
  • Do they separate the dogs based on size, play style, temperament and age?  Imagine a preschool where all the kids played in one big area and never broke into smaller groups based on age….
  • What is their safety plan in case of an emergency or an illness? No preschool would be without a disaster plan or a policy on sick children. Is there a policy on minimum age of the dogs and spay/neutering? What vaccinations are required prior to attending? How does the doggy daycare handle a dog fight, or a sick or injured dog?
  • Does the facility offer enrichment? Many preschools offer set activities for the kids as well as additional “after school” programs. Does the daycare permit the use of toys or treats?  Do the dogs ever leave the premises? Are their options for specific training issues?

Have a Budget in Mind
The cost of daycare can add up quickly.  Many facilities offer packages and have different pricing options for half-days and full days, but keep in mind that you get what you pay for.

The bottom line is to look for the places that have transparency about their business and their policies.  Research early, take your time, and trust your gut.  For many families, dogs  are their only children and deserve the best options available for each individual dog.  If you are having difficulties choosing the best daycare for your dog, reach out to a Certified Professional Dog Trainer in San Diego for suggestions.