7 Tips for Picking a Dog Daycare

The Brooks Canine Kids: (Right to left) Bridger, Truman, Inigo Montoya and Harlow (front)
  1. Size, because it matters — How many dogs are handled on the facility at any one point in time and more importantly what is the human handler to dog ratio. Some states have laws mandating no more than 1:15. In those states every facility will tell you that’s their ratio. Most of them are lying. The truth is that most facilities that handle 100 or more dogs in a given day are operating at least on a 1:25 or even 1:30 ratio. Demand to see their play groups and see the staffing set up. Sadly the organizations (usually Animal Care and Control) tasked with overseeing this ratio are woefully understaffed and horribly overextended handling strays and such to ever truly enforce these rules.
  2. See the paperwork — This is particularly if you are evaluating a service that is run out of a home or in a residential area. Make sure they have cleared their business legally with their municipality, and they have the business license to operate along with any requisite local permits that might be needed. A basic business license is important, but it doesn’t count. When I opened my business in Las Vegas I got my business license easy peasy … and then had to fill out an application, submit to an interview and site visit by Animal Care and Control in order to get the handler’s permit that is required to operate any sort of kennel, daycare or boarding facility in this town. A quick trip to your local municipality’s web site and a search on “animal permits” or “animal licenses” will not only give you the information you need to know about licensing your own dog, but also the requirements for folks who make their livelihood caring for dogs. If the person is found through Rover.com or DogVacay.com that does not absolve them from the need to have a legal license to operate as a “kennel” from their home or their need to carry a handlers permit (as most cities require).
  3. Handler training — Who are the people who are handling the dogs and what kind of training do they undergo before being allowed to manage the playgroups? Is there a formal training program? How long is it? Are handlers working with dogs on day one or is there a period of education prior to their diving in? How is the staff managed and who oversees them? What type of corrections are they taught (you’ll want to avoid places using water spray bottles, air horns or other such punitive deterrents for managing the pack, also a good idea to make sure you know whether the facility “treat trains”, especially if your dog has allergies).
  4. How is play managed — Is the facility an open format, open play scenario or does the facility break out the dogs by size? Do they use crates, kennels or cages? If so, do they use them to break the dogs out into groups and use them for nap/rest or are the restricted areas used as a punitive measure if a dog is “misbehaving”? What type of corrections are used and how are they applied? Who is making the decisions on the corrections and how is staff being monitored in their application? (See prior points about handler training and handler:dog ratio as those factors play into the type of management that is used.)
  5. Hours of monitoring — Here’s one where I sometimes get into hot water with my dog care professional peers. Many of them do not staff 24/7. Most of those that don’t with whom I’m connected either live on the property, have a manager living on property or are literally within eyeshot/earshot of the facility. I still don’t fully agree that the person isn’t right there with the dogs, but I can at least see the compromise here. Thing is, staffing 24/7 is costly. Very costly. It eats into margins big time. For open format (e.g. crate/kennel/cage free) having 24 hour staff is mandatory. If you only have a handful of dogs boarding, chances are that by staffing 24/7 you are losing money and potentially a lot of it depending on how much the staff is getting paid. You can’t have a bunch of dogs loose and not have someone physically present to mind them. My personal belief is if a facility has dogs staying overnight to not have a human being physically at or within immediate access is careless — whether the dogs are crated/kenneled or not. Think of it this way: If I live next door to you and are babysitting your 4 year old while you’re out of town. I don’t have the kid brush their teeth, wash up and go to bed and then head back to my house next door until morning. I stay at your house or have your kid stay at my house.
  6. Rules and regulations — No dog facility operates with a revolving door. Check what policies are around drop off and pick up times. Are they lax about it? Do they require specific windows for drop off and pick up? The latter means they are strictly managing the stability of their pack and their overall dog play energy. Places like this are likely more boutique/bespoke in nature and often are cage/crate and kennel free. Facilities that allow more flexible pickup and drop off times are likely ones that have kennels/crates and cages as they can isolate dogs, separating them out during the windows of time when dogs are in and out of the facility. No facility will allow you to just randomly show up to drop off or pick up your dog as your booking will indicate a rough time window when your dog is expected. You may find places that allow you to get your dog “at any time” but almost all will require that you at least call ahead before pickup so they can get your dog ready.
  7. See with your own eyes — When you go to the facility to check it out before your dog stays there for any period of time (which you should do), be wary of any facility that has areas where they won’t let you go. Granted there are probably areas they’d rather you not see because they’re not really designed to impress humans. They’re function, utilitarian and spartan storage and such, but that shouldn’t matter. Whether it’s where they put their trash, their bathrooms, grooming area, food prep, staff lounge, boarding area, daycare play, outdoor space — you should be allowed a full tour of all facilities, access to talk with staff and the opportunity to talk with other folks who use the services. Now, be courteous about it. Don’t just show up randomly demanding a tour. Even at Hydrant Club where we are fully transparent and show folks literally every inch of our facility, we only do tours by appointment. This is to insure that we are managing the safety and security of the dogs we’re minding as well as the stability of the space. So call ahead and request a tour. Some places will just say come by but just as you wouldn’t just randomly show up at a lawyer’s office or a school for a tour, keep in mind that while the facility certainly wants to show you their stuff, they also have to insure that they’re taking care of the canine kids already under their supervision.

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Raconteur and Silicon Valley expat who’s gone to the dogs … literally. Read more here https://www.linkedin.com/public-profile/in/cathybrooks

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