Problems with Doggie Day Care

by Denise Mazzola, CPDT – KA

Have you ever been to a party with too many people? It’s only tolerable because you are there for two to three hours. It’s a huge relief when you get home, take your shoes off and stretch out on your couch.

When was the last time you flew? Talk about crowded. Flying from Boston to London is a 7-hour flight and they plan it at night so most people will sleep through the over-crowdedness. Humans can tolerate and get through these stressful times because we know it will get better, we can look at our watch and know that there is only 1 hour left of this torture, but dogs aren’t so lucky. Dogs live in the moment; there is no future or yesterday for them.

I’ve visited doggie day cares from Virginia to New Hampshire, and most are seriously over crowded. The two I visited in Arlington, VA never let the dogs outside, NEVER. The dogs eliminate in the same room where they played. Why is that acceptable? Dogs are hardwired to NOT eliminate where they have to eat or sleep. To force the house trained dog to crap where he has to play, sleep and drink is as horrible as it gets. It’s on the same level as hoarding or pet stores where dogs are kept in cages where they pee and poop all day.

Most daycares put 20+ dogs in too small a room. They can’t run, play or move around without being in another dog’s space. I’ve walked through many day cares where one dog is clearly giving body signals that say they do not want to play, they are also called distance-increasing signals, but other dogs are still pestering that dog to play.

The dog that doesn’t want to play will in most cases escalate to growling, showing teeth and possibly as a last resort, fighting. You’ll get the call that your dog caused a fight and gets kicked out. Consider it a blessing in disguise. Your dog can now relax at home and not be so completely stressed out.

I measured Big Mama Jubilee at three feet long. (I included some tail) I would like to see her have 25 square feet to move around and not have another dog in that space. Frankie (another dog in our home) is longer at 4 feet long. He would roughly need 36 square feet of space.

If you wanted to have 10 dogs that required 25 square feet of personal space, you’d need a room roughly 15×20 or 250 square feet. These are my personal calculations on what space a dog requires. Herding breeds such as border collies might need more space simply because their breed is more spatially sensitive. You get the idea. Dogs require more space than most day cares are giving them and we expect them to get along for 5, 8 and even 10 hours a day!

Here is what you need to look for when you are looking at doggie day cares:

  • Visit during the busiest hours, 11:00 am to 3:00 pm. If you aren’t allowed to see the dogs, do not stay.
  • Count how many dogs are in the space, ask for dimensions, but really, you will be able to tell if it’s over crowded.
  • Ask how many dogs visit during the average day. Some day cares have proudly told me 90 to 100! Where do they put all of those dogs?
  • How frequently there are dog fights, there shouldn’t be ANY.
  • If there are frequent dog fights, don’t stay.
  • Read the contract, who is financially responsible for damage during a dog fight? I believe the day care needs to be, not you. Why? Because your dog is in their care, they are monitoring his/her behavior and should recognize when the/she needs a break.

I often discourage using similarities between people and dogs, but I’m making an exception. If you wouldn’t leave a child at a day care that is over crowded, riddled with fights, why would you leave your beloved dog?

So many people feel guilty because their dog is home all day, alone. They think they need some playmates and they maybe correct. The dog might benefit from a few good playmates, but not a prison full of them. Many of my dog reactive dog clients are day care drop outs. They learned that their dog signals didn’t work so when they see another dog, they begin to react, aggressively. This is what day care taught them. Let go of the guilt, take your dog for a nice long walk when you get home, he and you will be better for it. Or, consider hiring a dog walker.

Certified Professional Dog Trainer Denise Mazzola is the owner of Denise Mazzola’s Everything Dog. She has been training dogs and people for over 25 years. Everything Dog provides services to clients throughout the Monadnock Region of NH by offering private lessons, group classes, board and train, as well as day training services.

Denise has been published in the trade journal, Chronicle of the Dog, and writes a monthly column for the Monadnock Ledger Transcript. She also hosts a monthly “Ask the Trainer” radio show on WKBK. Denise lives in Keene with her life and business partner, Amy Willey CPDT-KA, and they share their home with three dogs and three daughters. For more information, visit

Denise Mazzola

Denise Mazzola


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