Guide to Dog Daycare | Dog Boarding

Dog boarding is a facility where they take care of your dog either for a few hours or a day (called dog daycare) or for a longer period of time, like when you go on vacation. Dog boarding has been around for many years but dog daycare has taken off with the increase of dog ownership among working families. Dog daycare can be fun, even enriching — for both you and your pup. Staying positive is key, because your dog can sense any anxiety you’re feeling. How will you know if your dog likes daycare? As one of our experts says, you’ll know — because your dog will never lie to you! Here’s how to find dog daycare that’s sure to be a howling success.

First things first: Does my dog need daycare?

The best way to find out is by asking whether you have time, every two hours, to give your dog attention. Here’s why: If you’re one of the millions of Americans who adopted a dog during the pandemic, amid the work from home (#WFH) lifestyle, your dog might be used to lots of quality time with his people. If you’re still working from home, are you interacting with your pet every two hours by taking a short walk together, enjoying a tummy rub or romping in the yard?

If you honestly can’t devote those pockets of quality time to your dog (and no judgment if you can’t—work happens!) or if you’re returning to an office job — then doggie daycare is a great solution. That’s according to Carmen Rustenbeck, CEO and founder of the International Boarding & Pet Services Association (IBPSA). Carmen advises pet owners not to feel guilty because there are lots of silver linings for both you and your dog.

How to find a dog daycare

Crowdsourcing is your first step, Carmen says. Simply ask your friends and family for their best recommendations. Next, drive past each daycare to evaluate curb appeal. Carmen says to approach this like a real estate search. Does the facility look clean and well-maintained? If the answer is yes, then call to schedule a visit.

Questions to ask before signing up for doggie daycare

Here are some of the questions you need to ask before putting your dog in either dog daycare or for boarding your dog for a longer period of time than just a day. There are more dog boarding/dog daycare questions at the IBPSA website here.

  • When you walk through the front door, is the facility clean and inviting?
  • Are the caregivers warm and welcoming?
  • Can you imagine trusting them with your dog’s care?
  • What cleaning protocols are in place? 
  • Are daycare providers trained in dog CPR and first aid?
  • What happens if your dog gets injured or sick while he’s there? The daycare should have procedures in place, Carmen says, to handle emergencies.

Expect the dog boarding facility to require your pet’s proof of vaccinations and your vet’s contact info. But Carmen reminds dog owners that Bordetella (kennel cough) changes, just like strains of the flu in humans. Therefore, the Bordetella vaccine cannot guarantee your dog’s complete protection — but the likelihood of him getting sick is decreased.

  • If you live in an area prone to special weather events such as tornadoes or wildfires, ask whether the facility has an emergency plan.
  • If you have more than one dog, does the facility offer daycare rooms where your pups can stay together?
  • If your dog has special needs, can the facility accommodate them?
  • Talk about your scheduling needs on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, and think long-term: Does the facility also offer overnight boarding for your upcoming vacations? Once your dog is comfortable with daycare, transitions to overnight boarding can be seamless.

If you are happy and satisfied with all the answers you receive, then ask to schedule a dog boarding test visit with your dog. A test visit can last just a few hours or one overnight stay, but it’s important to keep it short to assess how both your dog does and how satisfied you are with the service.

Prepare your dog for daycare

Most dog boarding facilities require a temperament test, Carmen says. This basically evaluates how well your dog tolerates and gets along with other dogs. This is especially vital during a dog daycare’s group activities, socialization and playtime.

But Carmen advises dog owners to also think about their own mindset. To set the tone, keep a positive, happy outlook while preparing your pup, driving and arriving. This can go a long way in laying the groundwork for a paws-itive experience.

Words of wisdom from a doggie daycare pro

Rescue dog Gigi goes to dog daycare twice a week — but her human Lynn Anamasi relies on two different dog-boarding facilities in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. That’s because each facility has a slightly different strength. She prefers one daycare when thunderstorms are forecasted because it’s sound-proof and even offers an app-based camera that lets Lynn keep a watchful eye on Gigi. The second facility is smaller with a more personal touch.

Gigi plays with other dogs at Camp Bow Wow in Charlotte, North Carolina
Photo credit: Camp Bow Wow

Gigi is well-loved at both dog-boarding facilities, where she enjoys baths and training. Ultimately, Lynn says she values dog daycare because it provides her with a quiet #WFH atmosphere, as well as socialization for Gigi. An added perk? Lynn loves receiving cute playtime photos of Gigi.

Dog daycare add-ons

The list of services offered by dog daycare facilities is ever-growing. Here are a few options you may want to seek:

  • Walks and exercise, alone or with other dogs.
  • Grooming, including baths, nail trims and dog massage.
  • Fun, games and socialization.
  • Enrichment such as training, or even behavior modification. Ask if the trainers are certified.

Red flags for dog boarding facilities

Overall, does the facility feel safe and secure? A top question for geriatric dogs: Is the flooring slippery? Are there places where you can imagine your dog putting his nose — and do they look safe? If you’re uneasy about any of the answers to these questions, these may be red flags.

Speaking of noses, make sure to use yours. There shouldn’t be any unpleasant odors, Carmen says.

Do the dogs seem overscheduled? Naptime is vital. Carmen says her dog daycare provider turns down the lights and plays classical music between noon and 3 p.m. During that time, no dog pick-ups are allowed, which literally lets all sleeping dogs lie.

Dog boarding and daycare research is important

Dog daycare and boarding, as an industry, has grown exponentially in recent years. But in many countries, including the United States and Canada, pet boarding and daycare is not regulated. Carmen advises pet owners to research whether local, city or state regulations are in place. Facilities that belong to IBPSA agree to adhere to the industry’s best practices as part of their membership.

Dog daycare and boarding rewards

On a typical day, Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center welcomes about 85 dogs. Located in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Holiday House is veterinarian owned. This distinction sets them apart and gives many dog owner peace of mind, says Cheryl Lindley, Holiday House’s daycare and training program director. She’s seen an increase in daycare demand since the pandemic, primarily because dog owners are recognizing their pets’ needs for socialization amid or following shutdowns.

Daycare options at Holiday House include group play in three categories called Adventurers, Explorers and Trailblazers. Activities include pools, brain games, nature hikes and agility skills. VIP daycare is available for dogs that aren’t quite ready for large group experiences, or those that aren’t yet spayed or neutered.

The most rewarding part of offering daycare, Cheryl says, is building bonds with every dog. Even though she only has one dog at home, she considers herself lucky to have hundreds of dogs on the job. She especially loves gaining trust from puppies who are nervous when they first come in. Even adult dogs who are friendly and playful at home can take a while to come out of their shells at daycare. Cheryl says each dog needs time to process his introduction to daycare.  

Ultimately, how do you know if your dog likes daycare?

Trust your instincts — as well as your dog’s. Your dog won’t lie to you! The experience shouldn’t leave your pup exhausted. You’ll know if your dog is happy, says Carmen, by his behavior and mood. Ideally, daycare should be a healthy break that refreshes both you and your faithful companion. As the saying goes… reunited and it feels so good.


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