If you think your dog is being “interviewed” for daycare, think again. While his behavior is assessed and his vaccination record is examined, your job is to be the real interviewer. When checking out daycare operations, get answers to the following questions.
How is the facility set up? Take a tour. Is it clean? Does it have multiple spaces for groups of dogs with different play styles? Do dogs have access to an outside area for bathroom breaks? Does the facility have a designated area for rest? If the daycare uses kennels, check them out and ask if and how stress is minimized during kenneling.
What kind of schedule does it provide? All-day play is not a selling point. Dog daycares that incorporate bathroom breaks (ideally, outdoors), play time and quiet time into their schedules are what you’re looking for. Rest is important, and it is handled differently by each daycare. Find out how a daycare provides a restful space for its canine visitors.
How big are the playgroups? The handler-to-dog ratio should be 1:10 (preferable), 1:15 tops. After all, 1:10 equals two human eyes and legs monitoring 10 noses, 20 eyes and 40 legs. On top of that, handlers often need to deal with other things in the environment — refereeing a play session that’s gotten a little over the top or cleaning up an accidental “deposit” — so having more than one person on duty is a plus.
What kind of training do the handlers have? Daycare owners or managers might have CPDT credentials or be animal-behavior-conference junkies, but top-level staff are not customarily involved in daily dog supervision. Make sure the hands-on staff members are trained in canine communication and dog handling. Ask handlers about their training experience (or lack thereof). Additionally, you want your dog to have positive experiences at daycare, so avoid places that routinely use physical punishment or manipulation.
How are new dogs introduced? Gradual introductions set dogs up for success. Avoid a daycare that proclaims, “We throw them all in together for fun playtime!”
Do they take all comers? Accepting all dogs is not necessarily a good thing; not all are cut out for daycare.
What about toys? Does the daycare provide toys? If so, which ones, and how does it prevent or monitor resource-guarding? While your dog might not exhibit this particular behavior, daycares should have procedures to address this potential issue and avoid needless confrontations between dogs.
Is medical help available? Ideally, the daycare has a relationship with a veterinarian and staff members who are trained in CPR and first aid. In even the best-monitored situations, accidents can happen, and quick response can be a literal life-saver.
Julie Hecht, MSc, is a PhD student in Animal Behavior and Comparative Psychology at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and a science writer. She would really like to meet your dog. Follow on Facebook and Twitter @DogSpies.