The pet care industry is unregulated, and it is important to be an informed consumer. Here are some questions you can ask your daycare!
1. What is your staff to dog ratio?
Staff to dog ratios are important. One person can only multitask so much, and in order for dogs to be kept mentally and physically safe the staff to dog ratio should be (on average) no more than 1-10.
Some daycares may have a higher or lower ratio for different dogs and staff. (ie: puppies are a 1-2 ratio, experienced staff can handle a few more dogs than green handlers)
2. How many dogs are in each play group?
This can be a tricky question because the answer is “it depends”. There should be a conscientious answer.
A good daycare will curate their play groups to bring out the best in each dog and provide them with good, safe play. Puppies should only be paired with others of the same developmental group or dogs who are known to be safe with puppies.
Dogs should never be placed with dogs they are fearful of, and staff members should always be aware of the dangers of prey drive when selecting playmates.
Dogs with behavioural issues may do best with only one or two playmates at a time, as may dogs who are new to the daycare experience.
Your daycare should give you a well thought out answer that shows they prioritize your dog’s mental and physical safety.
3. What will happen if my dog does something wrong?
There is always the danger that someone may try to “train” your dog using outdated and harmful methods. If your dog jumps up on a staff member, guards a toy or pees inside, you need to know how these situations are handled. Good answers include the staff taking responsibility for the behaviour of the dogs, and training new skills with positive reinforcement training.
Be wary of anyone who uses language such as “dominance”, “calm assertive energy”, “pack theory” or who talk about “correcting” behaviour through the use of punishment, pain, intimidation or force.
4. What will happen if my dog does something right?
In order for behaviours we like to continue being repeated, they have to be rewarded. Your daycare should reward good behaviours with food, praise and play.
5. How do you teach dogs skills like how to sit at the gate?
Staff members should be familiar with science based training methods and utilize them throughout the day to teach all dogs the skills they need to be safe at daycare.
6. What will my dog do all day?
Lots of people think daycare is all play, all the time. But this kind of extended high impact and high excitement activity is exhausting for dogs, and not in a good way.
It can increase stress and can result in an increase in problem behaviours. It can also increase the risk for a fight or bite incident.
Knowledgeable dog daycares balance dog/dog play, human/dog play, mental stimulation like trick training, sniffy walks or puzzle games, and naps.
It is especially important that puppies and adolescents get enough sleep, and they are notoriously bad at taking naps themselves.
7. How do you prevent burn out in your daycare workers?
Burn out and fatigue are big issues in the pet care industry. Contrary to popular belief, working with dogs isn’t just petting puppies. Daycare workers are working a difficult job, usually for a low wage, and are at risk for compassion fatigue.
Businesses should be taking steps like allowing mental health days, not allowing too much overtime, providing adequate training and promoting self and community care.
8. What continuing education do you and your staff take part in?
There are lots of resources available to pet care industry workers. Staff can take courses such as Karen Pryor’s Training Foundations, Bravo Dog Knowledge and Fear Free Happy Homes. They can participate in training and behaviour seminars by science based trainers and behaviourists.
There should be a concerted effort on the part of the business and the individual staff members to seek out quality continuing education.
All staff should be certified in pet first aid.
Remember that your dog’s daycare is unregulated. Be diligent in asking questions and seeking the highest possible standard of care for your dog.