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Look Behind the Doggy Daycare Door (Part II): What to Look for in a Quality Doggy Daycare with Ally

Updated: Feb 22, 2020

Happy Dogs at Soulmutts Dog Daycare. Photo Credit: Soulmutts

In Part I of our series A Look Behind the Doggy Daycare Door, we asked Ally, the owner of Soulmutts, to give us a glimpse of what it takes to create a top humane off leash dog daycare and answer a couple of reader questions.

In Part II, we ask Ally what humans should look for in a quality doggy daycare and what should they ask.

Henry (Left) and Ally (Right) Hanging Out. Photo Credit: Soulmutts

Henry Toller Tails (HTT): Thanks Ally for sitting down with me again and for discussing what humans should look for in a doggy daycare.

For humans looking at doggy daycares in their cities, what best practices should they look for?

Ally of Soulmutts (ASM): The big questions dog owners should ask are things like:

Can we see where the dogs will be playing? Sometimes there is no on-site outdoor space and they will need to take the dogs off site to other places to play (i.e. public parks). As the dog owner, you should know where a dog daycare staff are going and check out those places yourself if you want to know what the environment will be like for your dog.

How do dogs play during the day and sleep at night? In cages, in rooms, in groups? If there is not enough space in the dog daycare, or not enough separated spaces for the dogs, then there is no other choice but to have all the dogs sleep in cages. This is something a dog owner should ask about.

Do you have commercial pet sitting insurance? A dog daycare should meet their required business standards. In Ontario, Professional/Commercial insurance standard is $2 Million Dollar liability. This is not the same as having personal pet insurance for your dog. This is something a commercial dog daycare should have, and it is the sign of a legitimate licenced business.

Do you meet and assess every dog before you accept them as a client? This is a required best practice for anyone running a professional dog daycare business. Simply going to a client’s house and meeting their dog in their living room without actually introducing the potential new dog to other dogs is not sufficient to determine how a dog will behave in a group. The dog daycare should request you come with your dog for a tour or meet and greet.

Are your dog handlers and employees (insured by the company) or sub contractors (don’t have to be insured)? As the dog owner, you need to be sure that everyone who is handling your dog is insured under the dog daycare’s company policy. Sub contractors don’t have to be insured by the company. It is way cheaper if they are not insured, so you may think that the entire staff are all covered because they work there, when in reality they are not. It’s important to ask.

Do you have enough spaces/play areas for all different kinds of dogs? This will give you an idea of how many dogs your dog will be grouped with and what kinds of dogs they will be playing with. If there are only a few spaces, then the variety of dogs in each space will be much more varied.

Has the space ever been reviewed or toured by Animal Services or the local SPCA? This will tell you if the dog daycare space is “up to snuff” and run in a professional manner. At Soulmutts, we have been reviewed numerous times and always receive fantastic feedback. The insight provided by organizations like local Animal Services and OSPCA (Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) is valuable. We have had wonderful experiences with them and consider all of their feedback, suggestions and ideas to be worth their weight in gold.

Do you feed dogs treats and/or food other than what is brought in with them? This is important to know - especially if your dog has any allergies. Professional dog care specialists should not be treating dogs without parental permission or too frequently use treating as a means of getting their dogs to listen to them or obey. This is unnecessary and if used too often, just plain unhealthy for the dog.

Will your dog be taken off site for any reason at any time? Dog owners really need to ask if their dogs will be taken off site for boarding or daycare. Some urban dog daycares places do not have any outdoor space for the dogs to play in at all, and so they have to bring dogs to public areas to do their business (pee/poo). If that is the case, you should ask:

  • Are the dogs getting any leash free outdoor time or only short on leash walks to relieve themselves?

  • Are the dogs going to be in an environment where there are no controls over what dogs they come in contact with (i.e.. any public park, on the street, etc.)

  • If the dogs are leaving the safety of the daycare, then you need to discuss the risks that come with that.

  • Who is taking your dog off site? Is that person insured? Are the dogs insured when they are off site?

HTT: What is the one question that humans reviewing doggy daycares don’t ask?

ASM: I think it’s very important to discuss the not-so-comfortable things. The kind of things that often never get discussed until they become pertinent. It’s important for everyone to discuss the ‘nitty gritty’ parts of any service contract, and that includes dog services, so that down the line if anything were to ever happen, everyone involved knows the drill. Remember that you are signing a legal document when you enroll or register your dog into a dog daycare, dog boarding facility, dog walking or grooming service.

Let me give you a few of the more important examples of what I mean by discussing the not-so-comfortable things:

DOG BITES - If a dog bites another dog, the dog company is not responsible for it - the owner of the offending dog is. This is typically written right in the dog daycare service contract that you sign right at the beginning of service. This is important to know whether you’re on either end of the scenario.

VOMITING/DIARRHEA- What happens if your dog, for example, eats another dog’s poop and gets an upset tummy, or licks a mud puddle and gets runny poops for a few days. What happens if they pick up Kennel Cough or Giardia from another dog? These are all things that come up when sending your dog to play in a pack environment and it happens all the time at the dog parks.

This brings me back to what I said earlier, in Part I of our interview, about knowing your dog, their habits and their tummy strength. If your dog has a habit, then you must warn your dog care service provider if your dog tends to get “into stuff” or rolls in and/or eats poop, etc.

CUTS & SCRAPES - There’s just the common-sense elements of having dogs in a group in an off leash play setting that sometimes are forgotten.

A few examples might include:

  • How common it is for a dog to get a scratch or cut while playing if they are high energy dogs that like to play with their mouths and paws/claws.

  • If the dog is a chewer and they go after the fences or the table edges, then they might get bleeding gums. If they eat or consume toys, then you as the dog owner need to assess that risk if you’re sending your dog into a play setting where there are things like balls in action.

  • If your dog has a tendency to hump or jump on other dogs (or socialize in an overly assertive way), then you should probably expect that your dog will eventually come in contact with a dog who doesn’t like that and may tell them to bugger off or potentially with a snap.

PERSONAL BELONGINGS - Another thing a dog owner should be aware of is that they should not pack or bring expensive items such as pricey coats and/or collars for their dogs to wear while playing in an off leash dog pack (dogs chew on things - they’re dogs)! Don’t use expensive luggage/containers to pack a dog’s items. I always ask, “Would you send a young child to school or summer camp with this item and expect to get it back in tip top condition?” If the answer is no, then do not send it with your dog!

FINANCIAL PROCEDURES - What happens if an invoice for dog services isn’t paid for after 14 days, 30 days, 60 days? What are the late fees and how often are they applied? After how long does a delinquent invoice get sent to collections and what are the fees involved with that?

You can be sure that all these not-so-comfortable things will be covered in the service contract. Simply printing it out and bringing it in with you during your first meeting gives you a great platform to ask questions during your Meet and Greet.

Sometimes the pack leaders on site won’t know the “nitty gritty” of the details of the contract and should write your questions down and email to the owner and get the answers in writing.

HTT: What are the top 3 things humans should look for in a doggy daycare?

AMS: I think the list above covers the main points - but there is one thing that can’t be measured on paper - and that’s just having the right “vibe” between a dog owner and a dog care provider.

This goes both ways, and it is very important not to ignore your gut feelings. The same way you would want to get a positive instinctual feeling about someone you want to hire for a job, or a babysitter for your child, or when you’re on a first date… follow those same instincts in this case.

For anyone thinking of starting their own dog care business. I am contacted all the time about this, and I always say, follow your instincts.

  • For instance, as a dog care provider, if someone asks you to let their dog sleep outside unattended, or drop their dog off in their front yard when nobody is home and leave them outside, that is a big red flag.

  • If their dog is not neutered or spayed and they just keep putting it off no matter how the dog’s behaviour is being negatively affected, then they very likely don’t plan to do anything about it at any point.

  • If a dog shows bad behaviour or aggression and a dog parent denies that it’s an issue with their dog (this is the same as ‘not my kid’ syndrome), then that dog will not receive proper training or correction at home and the behaviour will continue and get worse.

  • If people become nasty over late or unpaid bills, you as a dog service provider will eventually end up dealing with debt collections. And on and on.

These are red flags and also something you will need to assess based on your instincts.

The same goes for dog owners touring a new dog daycare facility and meeting new staff. Follow your instincts.

  • If you ask a question and you don't like the answer, the ask some follow up questions. If you still aren’t comfortable then it’s not the place for you.

  • If the dog daycare provides says the dogs spend a lot of time outside but there isn't really enough outdoor space for that, or they are located right next door to a residential neighbourhood, and you know they couldn’t possibly be doing that... Ask the follow up questions such as: where and how do they all play outside? How do you handle noise complaints if they are outside barking all day?

  • Or, if the dog daycare provider says they have sub contractors working for them and you’re not too sure how that works, then ask the follow up questions such as: What insurance is my dog covered under when they are with those people? What is the procedure/policy if something happens to my dog in their care?

HHT: Any final comments or thoughts you have for dog owners?

ASM: In the end, the biggest thing to take away is that dog care providers vary so wildly that there is no other way to figure out what is right for you other than to meet the people, visit the space and ask the right questions.

Unlike schools for children, doggy daycares are not as regulated or strictly guided by laws. Make sure to ask the not-so-comfortable questions. A dog walker can call themselves a daycare even if your dog is sitting in a van all day long from 8am - 6pm driving around with only a few runs at a public dog park in between - there doesn’t even need to be a physical daycare space by law. “Outdoor exercise” might just be a walk across the street to pee and poo at a public park - there doesn’t need to be any actual outdoor space at the daycare in order to advertise this way.

Reviews are great, but dog owners should not rely on them alone in deciding if a dog daycare company is a good fit. Reviews can be heavily biased. Sometimes bad reviews are not in context, omit facts and/or contain a lot of false information, or even are fake reviews left by rival dog care company. Some review sites are “pay to play’ only and show low reviews unless you pay for advertising with them, etc. A good company should have a lot of feedback and it should be mostly good. There will always be some bad but that is when you have the opportunity to ask questions. In fact, I have had some amazing experiences come from people reading lower reviews, seeing our response and then coming in and eventually becoming clients! The point is that reviews cannot replace you physically seeing the spaces and meeting the faces!

Here are some Must Dos for any dog owner looking to register their dog in a dog daycare:

  • See the space(s) your dog will be for yourself (daycare and/or off site parks)

  • Meet the people who will actually be interacting with your dog

  • Ask all the questions you want to know.

  • Read the service contract.

Here are some Must Asks for any dog owner looking to register their dog in a dog daycare:

  • Where does my dog play when they are with you? Sleep?

  • Are assessments done before dogs are approved for dog daycare?

  • Does your insurance cover all staff at all times?

  • Is feeding left at the discretion of the parents or not?

  • Are the play spaces ample and separated to accommodate different kinds of dogs?

  • Is outdoor time provided as well as indoor time? Please elaborate on what and how the dogs’ outdoor time is provided.

HHT: Thank you Ally for sitting for Part II of interview and really giving dog parents a lot of tips and information on what humans should look for in a quality doggy daycare and what should they ask.

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