1. Reviews: reviews are important, but can be misleading, as customers are far more likely to post negative reviews than positive ones. That said, if a facility has hundreds of poor reviews and only a handful of good, avoid them. Don't be afraid to ask the owner about negative reviews.
2. Tours: make a visit without your dog, unannounced, and ask for an on-the-spot tour (continue to do this periodically after selecting your daycare). If they are hesitant to let you see their facility and/or ask to reschedule, don’t give them your business. A reputable facility will have nothing to hide; if they don’t have enough staff present to give you a tour immediately, then they don’t have enough staff to keep your dog safe. Going without your dog will allow you to focus on the facility rather than your dog.
3. Excessive Barking: this is usually due to anxiety or boredom, which is a good indicator that there aren't enough staff to take proper care of the dogs. It could also mean the staff are ignoring the dogs. A random surge of barking whenever a new dog or person enters the building is normal but should not last more than a minute or two.
4. Staff to Dog Ratio: there should be one staff member for every 10-15 dogs. If there are multiple “yards,” there should be at least one staff member in each of them (even if there is only one dog) in addition to a front desk attendant. Do not be afraid to ask how many dogs are present, how many yards are being used, and how many staff are present. Having the appropriate number of staff is the #1 means to resolving destructive dog behavior and maintaining a clean, safe facility. Keep an eye on these numbers during your tour.
5. Wounds: dogs play with mouths and nails and some love to play rough! You should expect your dog to come home with minor punctures, cuts, and scratches, just as you'd expect some minor scrapes and cuts on a child playing rough at the playground. These heal quickly and are generally not even noticeable (to you or the dog) until they begin to scab. In addition, your dog may develop a minor limp a few days later, just as you might feel sore after exercising. If your dog is obviously hurt, bleeding or seriously limping, however, and you weren't informed when you picked him or her up, it is time to look for a new facility. Staff should check each dog as they come and go (keep in mind that it may be difficult to find injuries, especially on fluffy-haired and/or black dogs) and should be aware if the dog was involved in a scuffle or was just playing rough.
6. Doggy Friends: ask how your dog did and who he or she played with that day. Staff members should be able to tell you and may even have a funny story for you. If you receive a generic “they did great/fine today,” your dog may not be getting the attention you would like them to have (after all, you’re paying for it). This answer is only acceptable if your dog is a regular and they always do great.
7. Communication: are all of the employees/owner(s) are on the same page? Ask how they keep each other informed during shifts changes. Do they keep notes, do they pass information verbally to incoming staff, or do they do both? Ideally, incoming staff will spend 15-30 min in the yard with outgoing staff preparing both the staff and the dogs for the change. Do they have a profile on each dog of likes, dislikes and behavior quirks? Communication is key to keeping dogs happy and safe.
8. Customer Service: staff should be friendly, helpful, and upbeat. Beware if they are grumpy, rude, unwilling or unable to help you and/or are not willing to find someone who can. Do not trust these individuals with your dog.
9. Food: do not leave your dog with a daycare/boarding facility that doesn't require you to bring your own dog food. Facilities that provide food generally use cheap, unhealthy kibble that can cause a wide range of health issues in a short time. Adding upset tummies from a sudden dietary change to the stress of staying in a strange place is a recipe for disaster. Don’t be surprised if your dog doesn't eat much during the stay - this is a normal behavior for dogs in new or unusual environments.
10. Medications and Other Instructions: a facility should be willing to administer medications and follow individual instructions for each dog, so long as the medications are not given through injections (by Utah law, professionals must have a vet tech or doctor’s license to give injections).
11. Sleeping Arrangements: dogs should be kenneled securely and separately during the night for their safety and comfort. Multiple dogs from the same family should be able to sleep together unless you request otherwise. You should be given options to provide your own bedding, to have the facility provide bedding, or to have no bedding. If your dog is not used to being kenneled, don’t be surprised if he rips or shreds his bedding during his stay, even if he has never done this at home before. It is normal for dogs to display unusual behaviors in new or unusual environments.
12. Cleanliness: a “doggy smell” is OK. On rainy or snowy days (or in a facility that provides a pool) a “wet doggy smell” is OK. If it smells heavily of feces or urine, however, or if you see multiple messes on the floor, this is a hazard to your dog’s health. Find another facility. Trash or clutter anywhere in the facility is also a health hazard. If your dog comes home and throws up or defecates something that didn't come from your home or backyard, the facility may not be cleaned properly or the dogs may not be monitored properly.
13. Happiness: dogs will need a few sessions of daycare or boarding to learn they’re not being abandoned. But if after 5-7 visits your dog still does not want to be left behind, this may not be the right environment. Regardless of what the staff say, pay attention to what your dog tells you, as some facilities will lie to you to keep your business. If your dog hates to go to daycare or leaves a daycare shaking with his or her tail tucked, you need to find another facility.
14. Mental Stimulation: do you see any toys, agility equipment, or play things? If not, THIS IS A PROBLEM! Dogs need mental stimulation - for most, interaction with other dogs is is not enough. If they do not have these items "because the dogs destroy them” or "for safety reasons" this indicates poor supervision, poorly trained staff, and/or insufficient staff. Well trained staff can handle basic levels of toy guarding or high stimulation, especially if there are enough staff. If a dog is toy aggressive or easily stimulated to the point of being beyond control unless all toys are removed, this dog should not be allowed at the daycare! He or she may show this behavior in other situations and is a danger to other dogs and staff. Be grateful if the staff tell you your dog has one of these problems, as this allows you to correct the behavior before it escalates to something worse.
15. Down Time: A good daycare/boarding facility does not leave the dogs to roam the play yard all day. This creates an environment of too much stimulation and stress and greatly increases the likelihood of fights breaking out. A good facility will provide your dog with downtime. Ideally a dog will have about 2 hours of down time for every 2-3 hours of play. Be sure to ask the staff what their ratio of playtime vs downtime is.
16. Temperament Testing: a good open play daycare/boarding facility will require your dog to pass a temperament testing process before being allowed to stay there. If they don’t, do not give them your business. Ask what they do for their interview process. They may ask you to wait up front while they interview your dog. This is fine because most dogs act differently when their owners are around and the staff needs to see how the dog will react while you are not present. Expect this process to take 30 min to an hour. The daycare/boarding environment is different from any environment most dogs are used to. This means dogs have the potential to show behavior they have never shown before (anxiety, aggression, etc.). A good facility will be up front and honest about your dog's behavior and will not accept your dog if he is not a good fit for this environment.
17. Play Groups: Play groups can be divided up in multiple different ways. Simply dividing dogs up by big dogs and little dogs is rarely enough though. Some big dogs love to play rough while others may be much more laid back, mellow, and timid. Some large, older dogs may actually be much happier and fit better in a group of smaller dogs. Many small dogs can be very active and boisterous and some can be a bit temperamental and not a good fit to be in the same yard with young puppies. Personality and temperament should be taken into account just as much, if not more so, than size and age when it comes to dividing up play groups.
18. Credit Cards: NEVER give your credit card information to a daycare or boarding facility. Some facilities will ask to keep this information on file as a protection for their business and for use in case of illness or injury while you are out of town. This is a terrible idea for you AND for the business and is legally questionable. First, this gives the business the ability to use your credit card at their discretion. Second, reputable veterinarians will not charge bills to your card if you are not present – even if you've given written permission. Finally, it only takes one employee or ex-employee with knowledge of the business’s security (or lack thereof) for your credit card information to be stolen. A responsible daycare or boarding facility will maintain a fund to pay for emergency medical expenses and abandoned animals. This fund will be used only in accordance with the contract you signed; they will then bill you the appropriate amounts and use a collections agency if you refuse to pay.
19. Cameras: While these are not an absolute requirement, they are a really good thing to look for in a facility. A great facility will have cameras throughout the entire facility. Ideally these cameras will all be live streaming footage that you can hop on and watch at any time. If a facility only has live stream cameras in some areas, but not others, again, they may be trying to hide something.