Doggie day care is a growing part of the pet industry. Just like day care for children, these facilities offer supervised play, meals, and naptime while you are at work or off running errands. The concept is that you can drop off your dog for a half or full day and know that he’s supervised and having fun.
But is doggie day care right for YOUR dog? And, even if day care might be a good option for your dog, how do you go about finding a facility that you can feel good about? Just as if you were searching for a day care option for a young two-legged child, finding a doggie day care that’s a good fit for your dog is a process that involves determining your dog’s needs and finding a facility to meet those needs.
Why you might want to consider a day care stay
- Excess energy. Do you have a high energy dog–and your work schedule (or maybe winter weather) is keeping you from exercising your dog as much as he needs during the week?
- New dog. Afraid to leave your new dog at home unsupervised?
- Bored dog. Are you feeling that your dog is bored at home alone during your work day?
- Travel. Are you traveling with your dog–but would enjoy a few hours to take in a museum visit or other activity that’s not dog-friendly?
- Holidays. Do you plan on having a house full of company and think your dog might need a break from the holiday hustle and bustle?
- Illness. Whether you’re ill, recovering from surgery or recovering from a broken bone, dog day care can be an excellent option to give you some hours to recuperate and give your dog much-needed exercise so the two of you can then enjoy some quiet time together in the evening.
- Home renovations or repairs. Do you have work crews coming and going from your home?
- Moving. Are you packing –or unpacking — and don’t want to risk your dog making a break for the door?
Is your dog a fit for doggie day care?
Step one: decide if your dog is really a good candidate for doggie day care or if he’d be better served with a pet sitter or a dog walker coming by for a break during the day.
Just as some people love nothing better than a good party and meeting new people, some dogs love doggie day care and the opportunity to spend a day playing with fellow dogs.
And, just as some people would far rather spend the evening at home than in the company of strangers at a party, some dogs would do better to have a caring pet sitter visiting them at home or taking them for a walk rather than spending the day in day care.
A socially awkward dog–whether that’s shyness or a dog who greets other dogs inappropriately–may feel stressed in a day care situation.
If you’re concerned that your dog might not be a good fit, be sure to choose a day care that requires behavior evaluations and talk honestly to the facility about your dog’s behavior. If he is accepted at the day care, schedule no more than a half-day session and talk with the day care employees when you pick up your dog about his behavior.
Requirements for a doggie day care stay
To ensure the safety of the dog population at day care, you’ll find that a good doggy day care has certain requirements:
- Your dog must be spayed or neutered. Day care facilities need to avoid the tension that intact dogs can create.
- Your dog must be current on vaccinations with proof from your veterinarian. Along with your dog’s core vaccines, most facilities will also require a current Bordetella immunization.
- Your dog may still be in the puppy stage but must be fully vaccinated.
- Many facilities require behavior evaluations before accepting new dogs; this is a sign that they are being responsible about bringing in dogs who will enjoy being around other dogs and will act appropriately.
How to choose a doggie day care facility
For starters, a quick Google search of “doggie day cares near me” will turn up a list of day care facilities in your area. But that’s just step one of your search.
Next, check out review sites like Yelp and, if the facility is in your neighborhood, NextDoor to get feedback. While the occasional bad review isn’t unusual for any business, if you start to see a pattern, be wary.
Talk with fellow dog lovers in your area for recommendations as well. Your dog trainer is another excellent resource.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list, do a quick online search for possible complaints. Also search the Better Business Bureau to see if the facility is in good standing.
Cost of doggie day care
As with most dog-related expenses, the cost of day care varies from facility to facility–and also from city to city.
CostHelper gives an estimate of $12-38 for a full day of dog day care–although most seem to be on the higher end (and even higher than that $38 in some parts of the country).
Along with full-day stays, half-day stays are a possibility, and many facilities also offer package options with a pre-paid number of days. Some facilities also give a discount if you’ll be bringing two dogs to day care.
You’ll also find that some day care facilities charge about $35 for an evaluation fee for new stays.
Add-ons are another option; you may see these items offered by some facilities:
- Pick up and drop off service from your home
- Fees for late pickup
- Cancellation fees if you cancel in a shorter than allowed window
- One-on-one walks with a dog walker
- Training refresher courses
What to look for on a doggie day care visit
Now that you’ve narrowed your list, it’s time to do an inspection visit of your favorite facilities to ensure that you’re finding a day care facility where you know your dog will be happy and safe.
According to Andrea Cermak, owner of Sacramento’s Waggin’ Tails Doggie Day Care, “The facility should be readily available for you to see during business hours, and you should be allowed to see the entire facility. If a facility is difficult to see or your tour of it is limited, be cautious. There should be at least one qualified staff member per 15 dogs.”
Cermak also suggests making sure the day care requires that all dogs be spayed or neutered if older than six months and current on vaccinations (rabies, distemper/parvo, bordetella) as well as passing a behavior evaluation.
Just as your dog would if he were inspecting a facility, lead with your nose. On that initial visit, Arlene G. Sinanian, owner of Atlanta’s Pupcakes Playcare says, “observe how it smells when you walk in the door. You want it to smell clean, or have no odor at all.”
And, of course, after a dog’s sense of smell comes that sense of hearing. The Atlanta day care owner recommends that pet parents listen for barking on their tour. “Are the dogs barking in play and excitement, or is the barking constant stress barking?”
Here’s a rundown of the points you’ll keep an eye out for on your visit:
- A good staff to dog ratio. Look for at least one staff member for no more than 15 dogs. Lower ratios are even better.
- A list of requirements. Be sure the facility requires all dogs to be spayed or neutered and current on vaccinations.
- Behavior evaluations. Have all the dogs at the facility passed a behavior evaluation?
- A clean facility. Does the day care smell clean along with looking clean?
- Activity schedule. What is a typical day like for the dogs–both in terms of play and down time for rest? How are new dogs introduced? Are dog playgroups divided by size and activity level?
- A fun atmosphere. Do the dogs seem like they’re having a good time? Is the barking from fun—or are you hearing stress barking?
With those concerns out of the way, your dog will now be able to enjoy a day of play and a tail-wagging good time on his doggie day care visit!