Small Doggy Day Care Tips

posted: 05/15/12
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Doggy Day Care Tips for Small Dogs
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The idea is so appealing: drop off your beloved pooch at a doggy day care center a few times a week so he can have fun with his buddies while you're at work. There's no need for your furry pal to sit at home alone, bored to tears, just waiting for you to return. While the regular play time and stimulation of day care can help keep your dog happy, that's not a guaranteed outcome.

Only about 60 percent of dogs are actually well-suited to day care according to Jonathan Klein, a Los Angeles-based dog trainer and behaviorist who runs the training and boarding facility I Said Sit School for Dogs. Twenty percent are too aggressive around other dogs, while the remaining 20 percent are too fearful. Further, inadvertently selecting a mediocre day care center can have disastrous consequences for any dog. To top things off, small dogs are more likely to struggle with day care due to their diminutive size and penchant for human interaction. So before you pack up your pup, do some homework.

First, take an honest assessment of your pet's personality. Is he comfortable in different settings and separated from you? Did you socialize him to other animals as a puppy? If the answers are yes, carefully critique your day care options. Heidi Ganahl, CEO and founder of Camp Bow Wow, the nation's largest pet services company, advises looking for a clean facility that separates dogs by size and has a staffing ratio for smaller dogs that's better than the standard 1:15. "Small dogs, and especially teacups, like to be with people more than other dogs, and like to have a lap to sit on," she says. "A staffing ratio of, say, 1:7 for teacups is much better because they like more loving."

Ganahl also encourages pet parents to ask how many small dogs the day care center typically hosts. "If they don't focus on that market and normally only have two or three small dogs, that's not a lot for your dog to play with, and he won't have much fun."

It's also important to inquire about a center's general rules and procedures, advises East Coast veterinarian Dr. Babette Gladstein, because you don't want your dog picking up bad habits. For example, are dogs allowed to bark at will, or chase each other for hours? And where do the dogs go potty? Many small dogs are trained to go inside on "piddle pads," she says. If the day care center requires dogs to urinate outside, or allows them to urinate inside in a play area, your dog may get confused and start having accidents at home. Bad habits are easy to pick up, but hard to break.

Once you've found a good doggy day care center, don't expect to immediately start your little guy off with a full day, even if he's quite sociable. Start with an hour, and gradually increase the time he's there, making sure to ask the staff how he did each time. Carefully monitor his behavior at home as well. If he starts to become aggressive or neurotic, or drinks a lot of water after a session -- meaning he was so agitated at day care that he didn't drink -- you'll need to back off a bit, or even reconsider.

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Even if your pup is Ms. Sociable, day care isn't necessarily a good option, mainly because of her petite size. Small dogs, and especially teacups, are quite fragile. Even a slightly larger dog can be playing in a friendly manner with your little girl and accidentally break her slender leg. So for starters, don't even consider a day care center that doesn't sort dogs by size.

Many do sort, of course, often using 15 pounds as the limit for determining small versus large dogs. Gladstein says that's not good enough, recommending a facility that sorts dogs out so they're with others not more than 30 percent larger than they are. "Even a three-pound weight difference is sizeable if you're only five pounds yourself," she says.

Ganahl's Camp Bow Wow facilities separate dogs into large and small sizes, and then further divides them into high-energy and low-energy groups. (All dogs are "interviewed" before they're placed with others to determine their energy level, among other things.) "Even if you have the dogs separated properly by size, a lower-energy teacup won't be happy in a high-energy teacup group," she says. In addition to this extensive sorting, Camp Bow Wow has smaller dogs rotate between an hour of play time and an hour of rest. Larger dogs, in comparison, might be allowed to play all day.

Quality day care centers have vaccination requirements. But Gladstein counsels pet parents to beware of centers with extensive requirements, as small and teacup breeds can be susceptible to over-vaccination. Before enrolling your dog, check with your vet to ensure required vaccinations won't be harmful.

Whether your dog is large or small, the center should have an adequate staffing ratio; one employee for every 15 dogs is typical. It's best if staff constantly monitor small-dog play sessions to ensure safety, according to Gladstein, as small dogs are more susceptible to injury. Even better, says Klein, are structured play sessions that include things like agility training and walks on a leash, plus safe, quiet time.

A quick Google search of the centers you're considering is a good idea, as it will often show you if there have been any negative incidents or ongoing problems. It's also good to inquire how long the center has been open, and how long staff members have been on board. Staff longevity is important in the dog-care industry, says Ganahl; you don't want a lot of newbies caring for your pet.

While all dogs should be gradually introduced to day care, it's critical to do so with small dogs, which tend to be especially close to their owners and prone to separation anxiety. You might have to start by leaving your dog alone at home for just five minutes before coming back, then 10, gradually working your way up to an hour before trying an hour in the unfamiliar environment of day care.

If you determine day care isn't right for your dog after all, Gladstein suggests contacting your friends with small dogs and forming a play group. This provides your dog all the benefits of canine interaction, but in a very intimate, constantly-supervised setting.

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