Written By: Guest Blogger, Aubrey McAdams, who is a longtime dog owner and just adopted her second puppy from her local humane shelter.
COVID-19 has been a tragedy across the globe, hitting us all where it hurts for more than a year with long-reaching repercussions we have yet to begin to understand.
Many of our dogs would disagree. For them, it’s been a year where their humans were working from home all of the time. They got more playtime, head pats, and walks with their favorite people than they ever had before.
With three vaccines available in the U.S. and states starting to fully reopen, there will come a time soon for humans to return to work — and dogs to doggy day care.
If your dog previously spent time at one and your doggy day care of choice is still open after a year of enforced closures and general economic upheaval, you’re set.
The rest of us have to choose a new place. Today, we want to talk about the most important questions you can ask while making that important decision. It will take a little time, but we all know your dog is worth it.
Not every dog works and plays well with others, and reputable dog care facilities have behavioral standards their customers must meet. Without them, dogs can be hurt and killed by aggressive or disobedient animals.
Most facilities conduct a temperament test and trial period to determine if any given dog is a good fit for their facility. Find out what it is, what it would mean for your dog, and how it guarantees a safe and comfortable environment overall.
The Wag! Way
Our top priority is ensuring that you feel safe entrusting your dogs’ care to the dog walkers and Pet Caregivers on the Wag! Platform.
When it comes to selecting a qualified, vetted dog walker that works with Wag!, you can have peace of mind! Our algorithm is designed to choose your pup’s “pawfect” match. However, we encourage you to chat with your dog walker so they have all the information they need to know about your pup, such as your pup’s preferences and unique needs.
Your pet can still be socialized and get their playtime in without worrying about how they’ll get along with other pups. Whether you’re worried about your dog’s welfare around others or your pup doesn’t always play well with others, it’s a winning solution.
If a doggy day care doesn’t require vaccinations for the animals, walk in the other direction. It’s a sign of poor management and safety. If they require vaccinations, compare them against this standard list of the most important shots for dogs who spend time with other dogs:
- DAPP/DHPP, which protects against distemper, adenovirus 1 and 2, parainfluenza, and parvovirus
- Bordetella, aka kennel cough
- Canine influenza (CIV)
The Wag! Way
Your dogs should be vaccinated for their health and safety, but you can’t do anything about how other people care for their canines. With Wag!, you get the play and supervision of day care without the close contact with other dogs that makes vaccinations so important.
Think of this question as a qualifying test. Every reputable doggy day care will let you tour the facility. They should have nothing to hide and should be happy to show off the cleanliness and quality of where your dog will spend the day.
If they say “no,” or even “not now,” walk away. Like we said, every reputable operation allows this. Avoid doing business with any who don’t.
The Wag! Way
Wag! doesn’t use facilities, so there are none to tour. Instead, your dog will be walked and played within your own home and neighborhood. If you use our boarding match service, you will, of course, have a chance to tour where the pup will be staying as thoroughly as you want.
Before each appointment, we encourage Pet Parents to meet and greet their caretakers. The meet-and-greet is one of the most important parts of the pet service process. It’s your first chance to get to know the Pet Caregiver, start building a relationship and make sure the Pet Caregiver is a “pawfect” fit for your pup.
Most states pass laws or regulations for human daycares requiring a minimum number of adults per child for a facility to keep its license. Only a handful of states have such rules for dog day cares, so it’s up to you to confirm they’re up to snuff.
The Pet Care Services Association provides national standards and certification for several aspects of pet care businesses, including this one. Their recommendation is no more than 15 dogs per staff member on duty, with further recommendations of 10 dogs per staffer for highly active dogs and 20 dogs per staffer for more sedentary and relaxed animals.
The Wag! Way
Our dog to staff policy is 1:1, the best in the business. Better yet, you get to choose from a variety of potential candidates to make sure that one staffer is an excellent match for your pet.
We all know dogs are as different as people, and some dogs’ notion of play could scare or injure smaller or less active animals. All worthwhile doggy day cares have some kind of separation policy in play. The most common are:
- Size, to keep the smaller dogs from getting bullied or accidentally hurt by larger breeds
- Temperament, so mellow dogs aren’t annoyed by more active pups, and to keep more aggressive or territorial dogs apart
- Activity level, so the dogs who want to relax in the sun aren’t constantly run over by dogs who like to dash and play
Ask this question, but don’t listen too closely to the answer itself unless your dog needs separation by one particular category. Instead, listen to how the person responds.
Do they talk like they understand and respect the differences between dogs’ needs and are knowledgeable and well-trained on the topic? Or do they act as though they don’t know or care much about this aspect of dog welfare and safety?
Job interviewers use this kind of question all the time. So should you.
The Wag! Way
With Wag!, your dog is separated with a 1:1 dog-to-staff ratio based on your choices. If you want them to be primarily solitary and interact only with their humans, that’s the rule. If you want plenty of socialization and play at the local dog park, that’s what happens.
Again, we encourage that Pet Caregivers that work with Wag! meet and greet their caretakers, so they can learn everything about your pup. Also, note your dog’s preferences and unique needs beforehand in the mobile app.
If you go to the auto shop, you’ll see a wall lined with certificates. Expect the same level of expertise for your dog. You want to know what type of training and education the people caring for your pet have received.
According to Abigail Witthauer, an Alabama-based large dog trainer, dog caregivers should be trained and experienced in:
- Dog behavior
- Body language
- Canine CPR
- Dog health
- Dog play
- Canine behavior management
The Wag! Way
Wag! vets walkers through a three-pronged approach that considers previous dog experience, knowledge and education, and professional or personal references. After they’re qualified, you also get to vet candidates. You are in control of how experienced and trained the people with your dogs are.
Your workplace and your children’s schools have set and practiced plans for fires, earthquakes, criminal activities, chemical spills, and medical emergencies. They’re in place so people know what to do and can take swift and intelligent action that can save lives. Your doggy day care should have the same plans, so ask what they are.
Like with the separation question, don’t just listen to the specifics of the emergency plan. Watch who you’re talking with and see how easily and automatically they remember the details. An old Marine saying is, “A plan you don’t rehearse isn’t a plan.” If the staff member can’t remember an emergency procedure in conversation with you, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to remember it under the stress of an actual emergency.
Some operations hand you a document or point you to a website when you ask this question, but don’t settle for that. Ask the person who does so to describe what they would do in a fire, and see how well they can answer.
The Wag! Way
Emergency procedures come in two flavors with Wag!. Dog walkers and dog sitters that work with Wag! all have basic training and emergency plans in place, which they can discuss with you and fine-tune for your dog’s needs and the specifics of your neighborhood.
Webcams are great for doggy day cares, people day cares, elementary schools, retirement homes, and anywhere else people are responsible for the welfare of other living beings. They provide benefits in three different, powerful ways:
- They let you check-in and see your pup in action whenever you have a moment, which helps you feel closer to your dog even at a distance.
- They provide accountability and training opportunities. Staff can review any issues to either reprimand or teach a staff member, depending on how badly they erred.
- They deter bad actions simply by being there. People who know they’re being watched or recorded tend to stay on their best behavior.
That said, setting up webcams and maintaining the internet, ethernet, or Wi-Fi structure to keep them working can be expensive and requires a degree of expertise unrelated to keeping your dogs safe. Having them set up can show strong investor funding, rather than indicating high-quality staff and service.
Think of this question as a tie-breaker or last straw. If you’re only lukewarm about an operation but it has webcams, that could be a reason to give them a (closely observed) chance to impress you. If you’re torn between two facilities and only one has webcams, go with the outfit that has the cameras.
The Wag! Way
Throughout your dog’s time with a Pet Caregiver (a dog walker, boarder, sitter, trainer) on the Wag! platform, you’ll receive videos and photos of your doggo’s experience. You also get access to a GPS carried by the dog walker if your pup is going on a dog walk, so you can trace the route they take.
This question seems simple, but the answers can be deceiving. Some operations offer grooming and training through partnerships with professionals: day care staff who are specialized professionals in what they do, and groomers and trainers who are experts in their fields. If you find an arrangement like this, the convenience can make your life and your dog’s that much better.
Others tack on convenient other services despite having limited training and knowledge in that area, or they’re professional trainers or groomers who’ve added dog day care as a sideline. These situations mean some part of your dog’s care is in the hands of a less experienced person. It’s best to avoid them.
The Wag! Way
The Wag! network can put you in touch with groomers, trainers, boarders, sitters, and other pet services you might want or need for your pup. Each of these professionals are trained and vetted for their expertise in an area.
Author Gavin DeBecker writes about safety for human beings. In “The Gift of Fear,” he says something important for our pets’ safety. He reminds us that intuition isn’t some magical sixth sense, but rather our minds picking up on dozens of tiny signs and signals just below our conscious awareness. Human beings aren’t very good at listening to their intuition, but dogs are great at noticing when their people become uncomfortable.
If you or your dog are uncomfortable in a doggy day care you’re considering, pay attention to that discomfort. They might have a beautiful shop and give all the correct answers, but there’s something that’s giving you pause. Respect yourself and your dog enough to explore what that is, and make your decision keeping it in mind.