Not all doggy daycares are created equal. Find out what to consider when choosing a play place for your pup.

By Kristi Valentini
May 20, 2021
Advertisement

Considering doggy daycare? It's a great option for many pups, but there are a few things you should know before you choose a facility. Read on to learn the ins and outs of picking the perfect place for your dog and your budget as well as what a typical day at daycare looks like.

Is Doggy Daycare Good for Dogs?

There are several benefits of sending your pooch to doggy daycare. First, it helps relieve the stress of being home alone for long periods of time. Also, spending time at doggy daycare burns off energy and lets your dog make new friends. Your pup will likely be tuckered out and ready for mellow cuddling after a day at doggy daycare.

But there are some exceptions to consider before sending your dog to daycare. Not every pup will enjoy the experience. Some dogs get nervous or anxious being around other pups. If that's the case for your pet, an alternative might be to hire a pet sitter to give your dog company and stimulation in their home environment.

But for many dogs, daycare is one option for some socialization opportunities and an easy way for pet parents to ensure their dogs get physical and mental activity throughout the day. Carmen Rustenbeck, CEO of International Boarding and Pet Services Association (IBPSA) explains, "Most doggy daycares don't just put the dogs in a group and say, okay, y'all have fun. The pet care provider actually has continuous interactions with the dogs. They might be teaching a new behavior cue to the dogs, playing ball, or having them search for a toy. So there are lots of healthy interactions between pets and people."

How to Find a Doggy Daycare for Your Dog

The best place to start your search for doggy daycare is with recommendations from friends, family, and pet professionals like your dog's veterinarian or a certified professional dog trainer. You can also go to the IBPSA member directory to find facilities that agree to a high standard of care and ethics. 

The next step is to ask to do a walk-through of the facility without your pet during a time when other pets will be there, Rustenbeck says, so you can see how they're cared for. "Doggy daycares aren't regulated," she explains. "So that means you have to be extra diligent in investigating facilities to make sure they're reputable." 

dogs socializing outside at a doggy daycare
Credit: Amie Barron / Shutterstock

6 Tips to Help You Choose the Right Dog Daycare

Things to keep in mind when evaluating a doggy daycare include the following considerations:

1. The outside of the building is well-kept. 

If the staff takes good care of the outside of the building, they probably keep everything up on the inside as well. That makes it less likely your pet will get injured.

2. The center looks and smells clean. 

Messes are a normal part of doggy daycare, but staff should immediately clean up pee and poop and torn up toys or play items. Water bowls should be clean with fresh water and dog runs and kennels should be kept tidy and clutter free.

3. There's a warm, cozy feeling when you walk in the front door. 

This is your dog's home-away-from-home and you should feel good about dropping your pup off. The environment should look well-suited to the needs of a dog and be temperature controlled, well-ventilated, have dog-friendly flooring, and large, fenced-in grass spaces.

4. Staff are friendly and accommodating. 

If a facility refuses to do a walk-through or answer your questions, check them off the list and move on, Rustenbeck says. Staff should be willing to provide answers about their rules and policies including how they keep and maintain veterinary records and if they maintain care reports or behavior journals of the dogs they have in their care. Also be sure to ask about their staff-to-dog ratio which are set by many states.

5. The staff has training and licensing.

Ask what training the staff has and if they are up to code according to state regulations and licensing. Review certificates and licenses that should be on display. If they offer dog training services they should ideally be certified through the CCPDT or Karen Pryor Academy, or can show proof of education in the areas of canine behavior and learning. At the very minimum, they should have basic training in pet first aid, safety, dog body language and communication, caring for dogs, and use positive reinforcement training methods rather than punishment of any kind.

6. Emergency protocols are in place. 

Find out what happens if your dog gets injured or has a medical emergency while at doggy daycare. What steps does the staff take and what do they do if they can't reach you? Also, if you live in a state that commonly has bad weather events such as tornadoes, ask what happens if there's a weather emergency while your pet is there.

What to Expect at a Dog Daycare

Once you've found a doggy daycare that you like, Rustenbeck recommends you schedule an introduction with your pet. "Your dog will give you clues if they're uncomfortable," she says. "I used to have a chocolate Lab and when he was fearful of another dog, he would go stand behind me. You have to determine: Is my dog uncomfortable because it's a new environment or is my dog uncomfortable because he really doesn't like it?"

The doggy daycare will also perform a temperament test with your dog. This could take a few hours and helps the facility get to know your dog's energy level and confidence around other dogs and people. The test helps the staff decide whether your pet will get along well with others.

Typically, a puppy needs to be old enough to have completed their vaccinations before they can join doggy daycare so they won't catch or spread any diseases. Daycares usually split dogs up into groups based on temperament, age, and size, explains Rustenbeck. That way dogs get the opportunity to socialize with furry pals of a similar disposition. And, it's always under the watchful supervision of a pet care provider.

Playtime at doggy daycare is the main event, but most facilities break up the day with an afternoon nap too, Rustenbeck says. They may dim the lights and put on classical music to cue the dogs to lay down and rest so they don't get overstimulated.

You may also have the option to add on grooming, a special treat, or other services to complement your dog's day out.

How Much Does Doggy Daycare Cost?

Doggy daycare prices vary depending on your location and services provided. Some daycares offer more enrichment activities or training, in addition to the usual supervised playtime and naps. The average cost is between $18 to $35 a day, but you can often get a discount if you buy a package of days.

The bottom line: Finding a good daycare for your dog is similar to looking for childcare. You want to be sure your pup is safe, well-cared for, and having fun.