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Assessing Value in a Dog Daycare

All Dog Daycares Are Not Created Equal….Your Guide to Evaluating the Best Option for your Dog

We are all feeling the effects of an increased cost of living.  I’ve really noticed it in the past year and based on what I’m hearing, you are all feeling it too.  Some of the things I’ve caught myself saying in the past few months is “Did I really just spend that much money on a cup of coffee?”  “Wasn’t this product 20% less the last time I bought it?”  “Utility costs are crazy right now.” Why did my insurance costs double?”  “Wow….going out to eat is getting really expensive!”.  As a result, I have started looking at what is in my control to reduce spending and what is not?  What things mean more to me than others?  Everyone is different and we all have different priorities.  And as we make decisions on where our discretionary dollars are spent, we focus on what is important to us and what value we are getting from our dollars spent.


What on earth does this have to do with choosing a daycare?   Why are we discussing inflation instead of dog behavior, dog safety or staffing?   Believe it or not, I do have a relevant point to make here.  When we are in the financial situation that we are in today, there are choices to be made.  Is daycare for my dog a priority?   If so, should I choose the least expensive option? What am I getting for my money?  These are questions you have probably asked yourself in the past year.  So, in the spirit of our blog series on choosing the right daycare for your dog, I feel that it is important to address these questions.


Should Dog Daycare Be a Financial Priority?

Obviously, I am not the right person to answer this question for you.  Just like you should not be the person to tell me if buying yarn for my knitting projects should be a financial priority for me.  Although, I’m sure my husband would love for someone to tell me that it should not be a priority.  So, this is a decision you must come to yourself.  But I can point out and remind you of a few of the benefits of dog daycare, as you make this decision.

  • Physical exercise. A day of daycare can get your couch potato up and moving. Conversely, a day of daycare can help to settle that overactive puppy down a bit.
  • Mental exercise. With the right daycare programming, not only will your dog get physical exercise, but will also get mental exercise. I believe that mental exercise can wear a dog out as easily as physical exercise. And mental stimulation can be beneficial to aging dogs.
  • With the right daycare program, your dog will learn basic skills such as impulse control, greeting manners, and name recognition.
  • Social skills. Coming to daycare and being out in the world, riding in the car, interacting with people and other dogs helps to create good social skills that can be used in other social settings.
  • Dog Interaction.  Interacting with other dogs is beneficial to your dog’s psyche (assuming, of course, that they enjoy that).  Dogs speak Dog and no matter how hard we try; humans cannot give a dog the same experience as interacting with other dogs.
  • Time away from home. A good daycare experience can help dogs feel safe away from their home and their people.  There will be times when your dog will need to be away from home.  Daycare helps to prepare them for that.
  • Boarding.  I feel it is a great comfort to your dog to board in a place that already feels like a second home.  Boarding is stressful no matter what, but a day of play with people and dogs you know can make that nighttime stay away from home a lot less stressful.


Assessing Dog Daycare Value


Pricing:  Pricing is a common component that people look at when assessing value.  But I would suggest that it can be a sneaky indicator of value.  If you look deep enough, price can tell you a few things about the daycare (good and bad).  Daycares typically have the same fixed costs of facilities, utilities, insurance, supplies, etc.  When a daycare has a much lower price for daycare than others in the community, what does that mean?  There are a few variables that give us information.

  • Staffing is a variable, and a low daycare price can indicate lower staffing levels. Staffing is the highest cost at Play All Day and accounts for 50 – 55% of our revenues.  In the business world, this would be looked at as “bad business”.  Healthy is considered less than 30%.  I network with like-minded, successful dog daycares across the country and without exception, they all have a similar payroll to revenue ratio.  If you are simply “managing” dogs, it takes fewer staff members.  On the other hand, giving dogs and their parents the best experience possible takes people; people who are committed employees and fairly paid, which leads to higher staffing costs.  And this affects the daycare price. 
  • Another variable is the primary service line of the daycare. Play All Day is a daycare first and foremost.  We offer boarding as a value-add for our clients, but we do not offer boarding outside of our regular client base.  Most of the daycares in our community are boarding based and offer daycare as a part of their value-add to their boarding clients.  This model means that daycare is not the primary focus, and it means that there is an ever-revolving clientele of dogs coming in and out of the playgroups.   We had this model in our first few years of being open and to me, it was not a good product.  It was not a product I would use for my own dogs.  PAD could be much more profitable if we offered open boarding services, but it would not be possible for us to offer the level of service that we do now.
  • Many daycares offer a “First Day Free” option to attract new clients. Play All Day has stayed away from this type of incentive, simply because we are looking for clients who will commit to our program.  We do not offer same-day, walk-in daycare evaluations for this same reason.  The care and consideration we give to all our new dogs takes extra staffing time.  We know that you value the result, so we value the expense that it takes to provide it.


Services:  The deceiving part of just looking at the daily cost of daycare is that it does not tell what is included in that daily fee.  A daycare that costs $2.00 less per day may look like a value, but then you realize that there are hidden fees for some services and that some services aren’t available at all.  And what is the quality of the services you are receiving?

  • As you evaluate a dog daycare and the costs associated with it, look to see what is included in the daily cost. Is human interaction with your dog included or is that an add-on?  Is your dog receiving training?  Is someone assessing your dog’s behavior and well-being each visit?  Is someone putting hands on your dog and assessing them head to toe?  Are cuddles and affection provided?  Are fun things like birthday parties and fun pictures included?  Are there enriching activities such as bone time, toy play, and puzzle games?  Are there dog experts on board to answer your dog-related questions?  Play All Day is proud to say that all these services are part of our daily fee.
  • A la Carte services are all the rage in the dog daycare business world. Pet services consultants tell their clients that nothing besides basic care should be provided in the daily daycare cost.  That has never sat well with me and goes against our mission of providing a fun, safe, and enriching environment for the dogs in our care.  If we hold to our mission, that means we create this environment for all the dogs in our care, not just the ones whose parents pay extra for it.
  • I encourage you to really evaluate the cost per day of daycare thoroughly. Don’t just look at the number.  Dig deep and see what your dollars are getting you.  Go beyond looking at the text and pictures on the website.  Marketing can be so deceiving.  Question the daycare and ask them what their claims of enrichment or interactive daycare mean.  Ask for specifics. Can they back up the claims made on their website and advertisements?   I love it when prospective clients ask me these questions.  Don’t be shy.  Your decision affects the well-being of your dog.


Play All Day will never be the “cheapest” dog daycare in the area.  We offer so much as a part of our daily experience, things that you will not get at other daycares.  We are proud of that and we know that once people experience the Play All Day difference, a few extra dollars per week will seem like an excellent investment in their dog’s well-being.


Thank you for joining me for this 4-part series on evaluating a dog daycare.  I hope you were able to learn a thing or two.  And I sincerely hope that, if you are seeking dog daycare for your dog,  you have a guide to help you in making a good decision.  If you are seeking dog daycare in the Peoria IL area, I hope that this guide will point you in our direction and that you will become a part of the PAD family.

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