What is doggy daycare?
Doggy daycare centres are modeled on child daycare: each morning you drop your pup off at daycare. Your dog spends the day with other dogs, playing, going for walks and napping all under the watchful eye of trained dogsitters.
"Physically, doggy daycare can provide opportunities for healthy and safe physical activity," says Dr. Doug Roberts, president of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and a companion animal vet based out of Kentville, N.S. "Many dogs, especially in urban settings, are under-exercised and thus prone to obesity and its many health risks."
But the benefits aren't just physical: "Social interactions with other dogs and people in a safe and controlled environment can be mentally and psychologically beneficial," says Roberts. For dogs that suffer from separation anxiety, the interaction at daycare can be a relief.
Daycare versus hiring a dog walker
"I think daycare's preferable to hiring a dog walker because of the socialization aspect of daycare," says Holly McKeon, owner of My Dog's Daycare in Toronto. "At daycare, the dogs are in a prescreened group and play together all day. Dogs are pack animals, so they love hanging out together, playing and going on walks together. And in daycare they get to go on multiple walks per day, not just one," adds McKeon.
Additional benefits include:
• The "pack" setting of daycare trains dogs to play better with their peers (you'll appreciate this on weekend walks).
• Looking forward to daycare makes separation less daunting for dogs (and less guilt-inducing for human companions: "For our clients, their dogs are their babies," notes McKeon).
• A quiet evening: After a day frolicking with her buddies, Coco's more likely to call it a night after and won't need the long run she would if she’d been cooped up all day.
How much does doggy daycare cost?
Expect to pay about $28 to $35 for a full day of daycare. (Some centres offer half days, too.) If you don't need to send your pup to daycare five days a week (or can't afford to), don't fret.
"Even one day a week can be enjoyable and beneficial. This weekly event can become part of the dog's regular schedule," says Roberts.
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Is your dog eligible?
Reputable doggy daycare centres prescreen potential members to ensure the safety of the pack. Your dog may not be able to attend if any of the following apply.
• He or she exhibits signs of aggression.
• He or she isn't up to date on vaccinations and de-worming.
• She's in heat (your pet should be spayed or neutered, but if your female isn't, she'll have to stay home when she's in estrus).
How to choose a daycare centre
Not all daycare centres are the same so do your research before you sign up your best friend.
1. Ask the daycare operators about their policies
• They should require proof of vaccination from all pet owners.
• Ask if they accept unspayed or unneutered dogs. Remember that unneutered males can be more aggressive.
• Check what their dog-to-caregiver ratio is. Two or three staff supervising 15 dogs is ideal, says McKeon.
• See how many dogs they babysit per day: Some large centres can handle up to 50, other small centres may only take a dozen. What suits your dog’s personality best?
2. Tour the daycare centre with these things in mind.
• If staff won't let you enter the space for any reason, cross it off your list. What are they hiding?
• Does the centre smell clean and fresh?
• Is the play area clean? What about the toys and bedding? Is the flooring a paw-friendly material such as rubber or cork? Or if it’s a harder surface such as hardwood or textured concrete, are there area rugs or mats where pups can lie down on? (Ceramic, stone and linoleum are not great surfaces because dogs can slip on them.)
• Look at the dogs: are they hanging out happily, or do you see any aggressive dogs intimidating the others?
3. Meet the staff
• Do you like them? Do they love dogs and appear committed to taking care of them? Go with your gut instinct, says McKeon: if for any reason you’re not comfortable, keep looking.
Get a good fit
"Dog owners need to ensure that their dog is being left in a safe environment with trustworthy handlers," says Roberts.
When you've found what you think is the right fit, sign up for a couple sample sessions and see how it goes before making a longer commitment.
At the end of a couple sessions, you’ll know if you've found the right place. Chances are, Fido will too.
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