Have you been thinking about taking your dog to a dog daycare? Does your dog already have a favorite spot? Although it’s not for all dogs, the dogs that enjoy being social and playing with other dogs have a BLAST! I owned a dog daycare in Madison for seven years – When I started it from scratch there were *maybe* two other daycare’s in the area… Now there are over 20!
We are lucky that Madison is a pretty dog-friendly town. Having said that, there are a lot of dog daycare’s that are run by well-meaning, dog-loving people… But not dog “savvy” people. Did you know that there have been multiple dog deaths in Madison area daycare over the past year? Scary but true… Here are some things to think about (and expect) when taking your dog to daycare:
What to expect from your dog
After a day at dog daycare your dog should come home dog-tired! When he first starts going to daycare, you can also expect his muscles and paw-pads to be a little sore. Dogs should not to go daycare every day of the week, but rather every other day, or 2-3 days per week. It is best to take your dogs to daycare on the same days each week, that way they will most likely be with the same staff, and they will be seeing the same group of dogs (yes, dogs build friendships too!). Your dog might come home a little dirty (some slobber more than others!), will probably be thirsty and will definitely be tired for a long time!
What to expect from a doggie daycare
A good dog daycare should know your dog by name when they see him. They should know his typical behaviors so well that they are able to notice when something is wrong. The staff should be skilled in dog language and behavior, as well as dog training. A good dog daycare should also separate dogs into groups, either by size, age, or play-types. You should be able to come and visit the daycare during their open hours without making an appointment. You should also be able to watch the dogs playing and how the staff interacts with them. I would recommend no more than 20-ish dogs per playgroup leader. Anything more than that and even the most alert human is going to miss subtle warning signs – Dogs are lightening fast in their communication!
Not all dogs are right for dog daycare. Daycare dogs should be extremely dog friendly and people friendly. They need to be non-aggressive and non-possessive. Daycare is not intended to teach your dog socialization skills. This is something they need to work on and have perfected before they enter a daycare situation. They need to be physically healthy enough to run around all day, and mentally social enough to tolerate all the different personalities and play-types of the different dogs!
Owners with puppies should beware also. Puppies need a lot of extra attention while at daycare. They are growing so a daycare should be giving them breaks every hour or so during the day. A crate break should be around 30 minutes. Puppies bones and joints are soft and they are still growing and you don’t want them to over-do it (they don’t know when to stop!). Puppies should *only* be in playgroups with other puppies. If they are allowed to play with adult dogs they will not learn correct bite inhibition. The adult dogs are tougher and will allow the puppies to bite harder when they play. If your puppy bites harder as a puppy, they will have a hard bite when they are an adult. This causes confusion with other dogs – kind of turns a puppy into a bully! It is also extremely important for puppies to be managed while playing so they are learning correct and appropriate manners while playing – not biting too hard, not “harassing” other puppies (barking at them, not allowing them to stop playing if they want to, etc.). Puppy groups should be small and well-managed….
Owners that take their dogs to a good daycare would not change it for the world! They love the enrichment their dog gets and appreciate the relaxing time they get to spend with their dogs at the end of a busy work day! Be careful though, some daycare’s allow dogs to run around all day in a “free for all”… Talk to the daycare staff to ensure that they are working with the dogs throughout the day to teach them appropriate manners – Waiting at the door, not barking at other dogs, zooming or playing too rough. Make sure they have protocol for aggressive dogs and dogs the come in with contagious illnesses (kennel cough, puppy warts, etc.). Any good daycare owner will take as much time with you as needed – and a *huge* factor for me is that you should be able to SEE your dog in the playgroup, interacting with the staff and other dogs. Good daycare’s should have nothing to hide… They should also work with you to make sure your dog is learning good manners while at daycare, not bad manners! Having owned a daycare for seven years, I have seen the good dogs and the bad. When I owned my daycare, we specialized in behavior work while the dogs were with us (like every daycare should!). We were constantly giving them breaks, asking them to wait at the door, making sure they had appropriate friends to play with, small play sizes, etc. If you are unsure about your daycare, stay for half an hour-or-so when you drop off your dog, so you can see how your dog interacts, how they play, how the staff talks to and treats the other dogs. See how small the playgroups are and how quickly the staff is to redirect inappropriate behaviors.
You can always talk to me more if you have any dog daycare questions, I love to talk dog!