How to find the best day-care for your dog

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So how do you go about finding the best day-care for your pet? Carolyn Menteith advises…

Family life has changed beyond all recognition over the past 30 years. If you look back to the early 80s, families were still largely ‘traditional’ (two parents and a couple of children), with the ‘man of the house’ heading out to work every day, while the woman stayed at home to look after the house, the children, and, of course, the dog.

Now, we have moved forward, and families are far more flexible, but economics dictate that, in most cases, all those who can work, have to — and people seem to be working longer hours than ever before. For those people living on their own, or as the only adult in the household, staying at home with their dog is rarely an option, and while some people are lucky enough to be able to take their dog to work, this isn’t the norm.

For dogs, this is not a good situation. Dogs are a social species and need company — that’s one of the reasons why we have such close relationships. While some dogs can spend eight-plus hours a day, every day, on their own, very few do it happily, and all would prefer we were there. Our dogs need us around, but we need to pay the bills.

Cases of noise nuisance have soared in recent years, as more and more dogs are being left home alone, and the penalties can be severe. If there is a complaint made against you, the council has a statutory duty to investigate, and can serve an abatement notice. If that is then breached, it can lead to a criminal prosecution and there is an unlimited fine available (yes, you read that right — unlimited!).

A perfect answer seems to be doggy day-care. In the same way as children can be dropped off at nursery or at school in the morning, and picked up in the afternoon, we can do the same for our dogs, and, as a result, doggy day-care centres seem to be popping up everywhere. While it is not a cheap option, it does mean that working individuals can have a dog even if they work full-time.

There are three basic types of day-care: the first is where dogs are kennelled all day, on their own, or with the other dog(s) they live with; the second is where they are looked after in someone else’s home, usually with the carer’s own dogs; and the third — the most common, and the one that seems to be growing the fastest — is where the dogs are all looked after together in an industrial unit, or other large, secure space. It sounds like the perfect solution — and it can be — but before you leave your dog in the hands of a total stranger, you need to take some precautions to ensure your dog is safe, and is going to have a good time at day-care.

First, think about your dog. Is he going to enjoy being with a lot of other, strange dogs? This isn’t a particularly natural situation for dogs. While we tend to think that most dogs love playing with others, in reality it is often only the extrovert exceptions who really enjoy the social overload of being in the middle of an ever-changing group of dogs all day. I mean, imagine being at a party with lots of people you don’t know that well, all day, every day! Some people might like that, but, for most, it would be somewhere between exhausting and their idea of hell!

For dogs who may be worried, nervous, or just not very sociable, a day of being bounced on by lots of other dogs, with no escape or intervention, can leave them even more worried, and quite likely to go on to develop fear, reactivity, or aggression towards other dogs. Many dogs will come home from a day at day-care and will immediately crash and fall asleep, not because they are tired, but because they have been under so much stress all day, and now they can finally relax. Even social butterflies need time to rest, and so a day-care centre that keeps them on the go and playing the whole time isn’t what any dog needs.

Most natural, social interactions between dogs are one-on-one, not in a large group. If you watch groups of dogs playing, generally you will see that there are two dogs playing and the others are on the outside, and so even the canine social butterflies can struggle to communicate in a setting which is the norm for most day-cares.

Doggy day-care certainly can work, and the good ones (and the ones you should be looking for) have behaviourally trained and qualified staff, who recognise these potential problems and manage them as well as possible. But, before considering day-care for your dog, think long and hard — and realistically — about whether he will actually enjoy it.

After deciding that your dog is the type to enjoy day-care, you need to find the one that will work for you both. Visit as many as you can; don’t just choose the nearest one. Take recommendations from your vet, local behaviourists, or trainers, and from people who use day-care in your area; then visit. Look at the number of dogs, the ratio of staff to dogs, and the facilities for chilling out and relaxing. Also, watch the dogs who are there, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are they constantly supervised?
  • Are they relaxed and happy?
  • Are they playing appropriately?
  • Do they have a variety of things to do to keep them occupied? If it’s all just dog to dog playing, walk away.
  • Do they have plenty of enrichment/toys?
  • Do they have separate spaces to cater for different dogs’ needs?
  • Can they get away and have time out?
  • Are the staff trained, qualified, experienced, and would you trust them with your dog, even in an emergency? Check whether the day-care is insured and licensed. Dog law solicitor Trevor Cooper advises that as from October 1, 2018, the law in England on the licensing of animal establishments is changing, and that, among other things, it specifies that providing day-care for dogs will be a licensable activity, so if anyone is operating without a licence from the local authority it will be a criminal offence.

Our thanks to Perfeqpets Canine Adventure Centre, in Soham, Cambridgeshire for their help with this feature.