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You adopted a puppy because you have room in your home and love in your heart. However, it's tough to communicate to your pet that you need to leave him at home five days a week to go to work. You've worked on training him to be alone during the day (and even considered getting a second dog to keep him company), but if your gut tells you it just might not be enough, is there another option? Is puppy day care a good option for your pet?
What Is Dog Day Care?
Similar to day care for babies and children, a day care for your puppy is a place you can bring him during the daytime to be cared for while you're not around. These facilities often have structured activities, free play time, and quiet areas where pups can escape for a nap.
A dog day care is different from pet sitting or kennel boarding. Pet sitting usually consists of one person watching only your dog or a small group of pets, in your home or theirs, for as little as a few hours to a few days at a time. Boarding your dog is usually a multi-day, overnight option for situations like a vacation or a home renovation.
Puppy Day Care: What to Look For
Even if it's just for a few hours a day, it's important to make sure a dog day care is a good environment for your pet. Consider places that allow for an initial assessment. If you simply drop and go, you'll never know what the day care is like while you're away. But if you bring your pet with you to check the place out, you can see him interact with the staff and other animals. There should be enough room for all dogs to play, and the facilities should be clean.
You can also ask who will be watching your pet while you're away. There should always be a human "pack leader" and assistants to help and socialize the animals. Look for places where the human-to-dog ratio is no higher than one adult to every ten to fifteen dogs (one to five is even better if possible, says The Bark).
How to Prepare Your Dog for the First Day
Before attending a dog day care, your pet should be trained well enough to answer commands. Some facilities may even require proof of an obedience training before welcoming your dog. Many groups also need confirmation from your veterinarian that your dog is up to date on common vaccines, such as rabies and distemper.
The initial assessment will help your pet understand the environment before the big day, so there's not too much prep you need to do. If your schedule can accommodate it (and the facility allows) you may want the first day or two to be half-days. This will help your dog understand that you're not ditching him with the new cool humans and other fun dogs, and that you'll be back later. This can be especially important for young puppies that may have separation anxiety or former shelter dogs that may be fretful when dropped off in a strange place. See if you can stay for a little longer in the morning to play with your pet and make him feel more at ease.
What Should You Expect?
One of the biggest reasons to send your pet to doggy day care is to let him socialize and release energy! When you pick up your pet at the end of the day, you want to see that he's happy, healthy, and tired. All facilities plan their activities differently, so choose one that you like best. Some may have free play all day, while others may schedule structured activities. At the end of the day, ask for a report on your dog's activities if you aren't already given one. Some puppy day cares will even text you a picture of your pet at play mid-day.
Keeping Your Dog Safe at Dog Day Care
Similar to a children's day care, the staff should be providing you with reports of how your dog's day went. They'll be able to point out if there are any questionable interactions between dogs or if anyone needed to be separated. The facility should also enforce a strict stay-home-when-you're-sick policy (yes, pets get sick too!), and if another dog is showing signs of an illness, such as kennel cough, they should alert you right away.
However, accidents do happen, and it's important to know that the business where you leave your pet has insurance and is bonded. Since your pet cannot speak for himself and you aren't there to witness any issues firsthand, you don't want to be responsible for medical bills or property damages. A facility with video monitoring should make the top of your list, though it isn't necessary.
Most importantly — relax. Your pet is going to love puppy day care and you will, too!