Have your pup’s medical history ready to go
Any good daycare will require proof of vaccinations ahead of time. They’ll also want to know if your pet has been neutered or spayed by the time they’re one year old, says Ryan Getwright, owner of Philly Dog School in Philadelphia, Pa. While daycares are unable to check if you are using flea and tick preventative care, they expect that you are, he says. If you don’t have your dog on a flea and tick regimen now, start before you bring him to daycare.
Ask about safety certifications
While the daycare is not a vet, the attendants should know how to respond to health emergencies and how to provide basic first aid to your four-legged buddy. The Red Cross offers these certifications, says Getwright, and your daycare should always have one person on duty who is first aid and CPR certified.
Look into cleaning protocols
Your dog is at a higher risk of illness with so many pets in close proximity, says Jakob Hunt, vice president of operations and human resources for Dogtopia, a daycare chain with 30 locations in the United States. Because of this, you want to make sure the daycare has strict daily cleaning procedures in place.
At Dogtopia, the playrooms are spot cleaned throughout the day, and then thoroughly cleaned during your dog’s nap time, says Hunt. If something like kennel cough—which is equivalent to the human cold—is identified, the attendants will take even bigger precautions. “The sick dog will be placed in lockdown so the other dogs won’t get sick,” explains Hunt. “Then all the rooms are cleaned. We try to contain the illness as best we can by limiting the amount of times attendants can go from room to room and dipping their shoes in a bleach mixture before they can leave a room.”
Another tip: Check to see if the daycare has floor-to-ceiling walls. Since the majority of illnesses are airborne, half walls and chain-link fences won’t stop them from spreading, explains Hunt.
Prepare for an evaluation
Before you sign on the dotted line, daycare attendants should give your dog an in-depth assessment without you present. “Just like at children’s daycare, you won’t be there during the day,” says Hunt. “We need to see how your dog will react without you there. It’s our chance to learn as much about your pet as possible so we can give him the best care while you’re at work or away.”
While every dog daycare will have a different assessment format, a good one will look for some of the following things: how your pup responds to a dog crate, what parts of his body he doesn’t like to have touched, and how your pet gets along with other dogs of different energy levels, temperaments, genders, and sizes. Attendants should take detailed notes to share with you afterward and to keep in your dog’s file.
But remember: Daycares aren’t training facilities. “Your dog may be a wonderful pet, but he may not be a good fit for open play,” explains Hunt. “If that’s the case, we’ll recommend you socialize your dog and enroll him in training, and then come back in six months to get reevaluated.”
Practice, practice, practice
Daycare is basically an indoor dog park, so Getwright suggests bringing your dog to the outdoor version before you consider daycare. “If your dog doesn’t like it, he won’t enjoy it here,” he says.
It’s also a good way to see how your dog interacts with other animals. “Many dogs who have never been in open play don’t know dog language,” says Hunt. “But when they hang around other dogs for a few days, they begin to learn it.” Then, when dogs approach your pooch in the daycare, he’ll know the proper way to react.
Ask about what’s included
Some dog daycares operate on an a la carte basis, says Hunt. Want Rufus to go on a walk? That’ll cost you an extra $10 a day. Want Baxter to be petted throughout the day? That’ll cost you $7. Those small additions add up to a big price tag. Ask the daycare manager what is included in the daily fee. Many places will accommodate your wishes for no extra charge.
Ask what a typical day is like
Schedules vary dramatically from daycare to daycare. Some are very structured, while others are looser. Choose a facility with a daily timeline that best suits your dog. However, make sure there’s plenty of time for both play and relaxation included. “If you don’t allow for rest, dogs get clumsy or grumpy because they’re tired,” says Hunt.
And they will get tired. Daycares should encourage dogs to play with one another under supervision for the majority of the day. Some facilities will offer indoor miniature jungle gym equipment for your dog to climb up and slide down. Some smaller daycares will take dogs for walks in small groups. “Your dog will be active and busy. He’ll burn calories, he’ll run around,” says Getwright. “He’ll be wiped out when he gets home.”
Inquire about meals
Since both food allergies and food aggression in dogs are common, daycares should take precautions at chow time. Some facilities, like Philly Dog School, don’t allow dog food at all. Dogs are given plenty of water throughout the day.
Others, like Dogtopia, feed pets two to three times a day. However, the dogs have to eat in individual crates. Afterward, the attendants clean the room and make sure there are no leftover pieces of kibble lying around before the dogs are let out for playtime again.
Learn what amenities are provided
Many daycares allow owners to remotely check in on their pooches. Dogtopia has cameras in every room so you can watch Fido playing, eating, or napping on your phone or your computer, while Philly Dog School has an Instagram account you can follow so you can get a peek of his daily activities. Other chains boast movie theaters, spas, and theme days for events like March Madness. Figure out what additions are most important to you and your dog before making your final decision.