In concept, doggy daycare is a great idea. Rather than leave your pet home alone when you head off to work or anywhere else each day, you choose to place it in the hands of a friendly caretaker who offers food, care, exercise, and playtime, both with humans and with other dogs.
When dog owners take their pets to daycare centers, they usually imagine them in the best possible way — a clean, warm and airy place for animals to run around in, caring and knowledgeable caregivers, plenty of nutritious food, and a happy time to be had for all in general. Since daycare centers charge around $25 – $40 or more for 8 hours of caretaking, these hopes aren’t unreasonable ones.
What is wrong with this picture?
As difficult as it may be to believe for many, under the veneer of housebreaking and training that domestic dogs wear, they really are wild creatures with their own genetically ingrained patterns of behavior. The habits that they learn with training are superficial at best. To those who have only seen their pets at home or with one or two other dogs in the park, it can be difficult to imagine what could possibly go wrong when they are placed together with many other animals. As many dog owners using the services of doggy daycare centers have found, the very worst can happen in the blink of an eye, and often does.
In any state in the country, the bar for entry to the doggy daycare business is quite low — a kennel permit and business insurance are the only things needed. While these are sensible legal requirements, the law says nothing about the most important parts of being in such a business: knowledge and experience of dog handling.
As it stands today, people placed in charge of a doggy daycare center do not need training in dog behavior or certification, or even a high school education. They aren’t required, for instance, to know anything about how dogs react to being placed in close proximity to one another in an enclosure.
The unavoidable dangers involved with doggy daycare
A great many people think of doggy daycare as a way to socialize their dog, or to get them to behave better. Whether their dog often bites, barks or is otherwise uncontrollable, doggy daycare is their panacea. Unfortunately, being placed in daycare does nothing to help with such behavior. All it does is to give behaviorally challenged dogs free play with their problematic tendencies when around other dogs.
Each year, thousands of dogs come home from doggy daycare with nipped-off ears, bloody bite injuries and eye injuries from the aggressive attacks of other dogs.
In one case in 2009 in Massachusetts, a shih-tsu, a cute toy dog, was mauled to death at a doggy daycare center when caregivers left it in the same enclosure as a number of larger dogs. The caregiver was untrained, and didn’t understand that large dogs tended to have hunting instincts, and tended to take them out on smaller dogs. No legal action was taken against the owner of the daycare, who continued in the animal care business.
In another case in a doggy daycare center in Hawaii in 2014, a 4-pound Chihuahua was ripped to pieces by a Labrador when it was allowed to play with it. The Labrador wasn’t even being aggressive. Having seen plenty of stuffed toys but no little dogs, it simply treated the smaller dog as if it were a toy.
Aggression isn’t the only problematic possibility
In one case in Arizona in 2014, a doggy daycare center run by the son of US Senator Jeff Flake managed to see 20 dogs placed in its care die in one day. The dogs were all held in a small, airless shed in the middle of summer when the air conditioner broke. When the people in charge of the center did nothing about it, the dogs began to die of heat exhaustion.
Heat-related trauma is very common in doggy daycare centers. So is illness through exposure to the elements — extreme cold weather, dry wind and so on.
Escaping dogs are a persistent problem at doggy daycare centers. In many cases, the enclosures in which dogs are placed aren’t built in a secure way. Dogs managed to jump out, run off into the street, and get run over.
At many daycare centers, dogs with health problems are not kept separate from healthy dogs. Pets often go in healthy, and return home with sores and parasites.
With untrained daycare employees, cruel methods aren’t out of the question. The frequent use of crating, the use of cold-water hosing to break up squabbles, and environments with excessive barking, howling and other animal noise, can all be very stressful to animals.
Should you never take a dog to doggy daycare?
Not every dog breed is well suited to the daycare environment. Just as with people, many dogs simply do not enjoy being sociable, and would rather be left alone. Mature dogs, especially, turn off on other dogs as they grow older.
Under-socialized dogs are often unhappy in places where they are forced to share space with many other dogs, too. Such dogs often look for ways to escape, or turn to belligerence to hide their discomfort.
It’s important to only bring your dog to a daycare center once he is properly socialized. If your dog is aggressive, it is likely his behavior will only get worse in daycare, not better. If you do want to find a way to socialize your dog, doggy daycare isn’t the way. Dog training is.
Remember, you would never choose an elderly nursing home without doing your homework.
People tend to imagine that it’s easy enough to find quality daycare for their dogs — they see advertisements by wholesome-looking businesses all the time, and can’t imagine how anything could go wrong. In truth, though, things can easily go very wrong, just as they tend to do in any business where the care of others is involved. Childcare centers, nursing homes for the elderly, hospitals and other places that take care of the helpless and the vulnerable are often staffed with employees who are overworked, underpaid and poorly educated. It takes a very vigilant management to ensure quality, compassionate care.
You should expect good doggy daycare centers to be extremely rare. It takes a great deal of work to find such a place and usually, price does matter (but not always!). The following tips should help.
Tips For Finding A High Quality, Safe, And Reputable Doggy Daycare
Determine how selective they are: When you go in to inspect a daycare, pay close attention to the kind of questions they ask. If they don’t assess your dog to make sure that it has the right kind of temperament to get along with other dogs, you can be sure that it’s a terrible place. A daycare center that doesn’t assess the dogs that it accepts either doesn’t know that mismatched dogs can fight, or doesn’t care.
Determine what kind of playgroups they have: If they do assess your dog, make sure that they have the right type of playgroup for your dog. A pushy Labrador shouldn’t be put in the same playgroup as a Border Collie. A Great Dane shouldn’t be anywhere near a Maltese. You want to ask questions about their playgroup policies.
Determine what kind of activities they have for dogs: Good doggy daycare centers do a lot of work keeping their dogs entertained. They have well-scheduled play time with all kinds of games in store for each dog breed — tag, hide and seek, fetch, and so on. You need to get detailed information about their activities.
Ask about the training that each staff member receives: When a dog indulges in inappropriate behavior, how are staff members trained to care of it? If a dog has ever sustained an injury in the past, how have their workers reacted? Anyone working around the dogs should also be highly familiar with at least basic CPR and first aid for dogs. You need to pay close attention to the care procedures described, to find out if the center seems properly sensitized to animals. You can learn more about how to assess a doggy daycare center here.
Inspect the place during a workday when there are plenty of dogs there. Many doggy daycare centers take on dozens of dogs when they don’t have the space or the manpower. In general, it’s best to go to a center that puts no more than seven dogs in charge of one person.
If you live in an area with considerable choice, you should check out the daycare center that you’re considering, at the website of the Better Business Bureau, or an authority such as the Pet Care Services Association. You need to look for complaints.
Now That We’ve Scared You To Death!
This article didn’t exactly paint a rosy picture of doggy daycare, so it may surprise you to learn that I take my dog to a doggy daycare facility at least once or twice per week. How could I do this with all the dangers listed above?
For starters, before ever taking my dog to a doggy daycare facility, I do my research. I show up unannounced and ask for a tour of the facility. I make sure the facility is clean, in proper working order, and well staffed. I also make sure all areas of the facility are safe and secure.
I also come in prepared with many questions such as how they handle emergencies, how they clean the facilities, how dogs are separated and what happens if a fight breaks out. In addition, without asking, I make sure they check for vaccinations and check for the health and behavior of dogs before letting them in.
When you find a great doggy daycare facility, it can be a much better option to leaving your dog at home alone all day or taking them to a dog park, which can be FAR more dangerous.
There are always going to be risks when you get a large number of dogs together. The goal here is to understand those risks and minimize them the best you can. There is no way to take your dog to a 100% safe doggy daycare, but you can’t keep your dog in a protective bubble either. The decision is ultimately yours.