How to Run a Doggy Day Care

Active play promotes good canine behavior.
chien jouant image by AlcelVision from

Running a doggy day care center is an attractive proposition for a dog lover. There are more than 78 million pet dogs in the U.S. and, according to figures published by the American Pet Products Association in 2012, spending on pet services continues to increase. Day care facilities provide a vital service in this growing market, offering the animal-loving entrepreneur an opportunity to run a lucrative business while indulging a passion for canines. But there is significantly more to it than setting up suitable premises and opening your doors to welcome cute, furry clients. As well as caring for dogs, a day care owner must exceed dog owners' service expectations, manage employees, take care of the finances, continually market the facility, maintain premises and equipment, process essential paperwork, adhere to regulatory requirements and – most crucially – provide a safe and stimulating environment. Before you set about opening a new day care facility – or buying an existing enterprise – consider whether you have the drive, expertise and stamina necessary to manage all aspects of this client-focused business.

Daily Routine

Step 1

Check bookings for the day and allocate tasks and responsibilities to your employees. Remember to schedule in breaks and time for appointments with new clients, while ensuring adequate supervision of the dogs at all times.

Step 2

Coordinate transport if you offer a pick-up service. Settle all dogs into the facility on arrival. Return an owner's keys to a locked cabinet or safe.

Step 3

Greet owners as they drop their dogs at your facility. Ask if there are any special requirements for the day and confirm collection times. Label and store meals and treats provided by owners. Settle each dog into his designated play area.

Step 4

Supervise and engage in group play. Pay particular attention to dogs who are new to day care, nervous dogs and those who are particularly bouncy. Watch out for signs of aggression or possessive behavior and be prepared to remove toys or place a dog in a quiet area at the first sign of a skirmish.

Step 5

Organize periods of quiet time. Provide stuffed Kong-type toys or chews according to owners' requests, allowing any food-possessive canines to enjoy their treats in an area away from the group. Encourage tired dogs to nap in their beds and employ gentle massage or grooming techniques to enhance relaxation.

Step 6

Replenish water bowls throughout the day. Position bowls in various places around the facility so that all dogs have ready access to a drink.

Step 7

Feed dogs according to owners' requests. This can require careful management when dogs are fed at different times, if some are prone to stealing food or others are food-possessive. Designate a special feeding area and closely supervise the situation.

Step 8

Respond to telephone and email queries. Note any new bookings in the diary. Avoid overbooking; the ASPCA recommends providing play space of between 75 and 100 square feet per dog and a ratio of one staff member for every 10-15 dogs, but err on the side of caution and ensure you have additional cover for walks, assessments, transport and potential emergencies.

Step 9

Allow all dogs to have toilet breaks at regular intervals. Either encourage dogs into an outdoor play area of take them out on leashes. Clean up after dogs, both during toilet breaks and in the case of accidents during group play.

Step 10

Administer medication as requested by owners. If a dog becomes sick or is injured in your care, isolate him, administer immediate first aid and, if necessary, call a veterinarian. Inform owners of any injury or illness and record details in the client's file.

Step 11

Walk the dogs on leash once or twice a day to provide a change of scene and a break from group play. Exercise dogs individually or in small groups, depending on age, physical condition, behavior and temperament. Never walk more dogs than you can handle.

Step 12

Welcome clients who arrive at your premises, by appointment or otherwise. Encourage existing clients to drop by from time to time to see how their dogs are doing. Show new or potential clients around the facility and provide each with a welcome pack.

Step 13

Arrange and carry out assessments for potential new clients. When assessing new dogs, look for signs of fear or aggression by handling and giving gentle commands. Introduce the canine to one or two sociable dogs of similar size away from the main group. Observe body language and interaction. If you are happy to take the dog, arrange to integrate him into the group at a quiet time.

Step 14

Complete registration paperwork and set up files for new clients. Take copies of vaccination certificates and make diary notes to check that boosters are given at the appropriate time. Ensure dogs have been castrated or spayed and are appropriately protected against parasites.

Step 15

Arrange transport for any dogs using your drop-off service. Ensure that clients' keys are brought back to the facility and securely stored.

Step 16

Hand over dogs when owners call to collect them. Inform owners of any problems or concerns you may have. Provide receipts for any payments received.

Step 17

Clean the facility throughout. Wash and dry bedding. Wipe toys and equipment with pet-safe antibacterial cleaner and check for any damage that could injure the dogs. Set out toys and play equipment ready for the next day.

Step 18

Record payments received and made during the day. File receipts and invoices. Bank or lock away all cash and checks.

Other Essential Tasks

Step 1

Issue invoices to clients who pay weekly or monthly. Either hand these to clients or send them by mail.

Step 2

Update inventories of essential supplies, such as cleaning products, first-aid items, food and small toys. Either order or shop for necessary replacement items,

Step 3

Conduct weekly risk assessments of your premises. Check that alarms are functioning, gates and fences are fully secure and that temperature-control systems are operating effectively. Consider risks to clients and employees as well as the dogs.

Step 4

Examine your diary and booking schedule at the end of each week. Draw up and issue a staff rota for the following week and confirm any appointments or meetings.

Step 5

Pay employees and update payroll records. Pay bills and invoices as they fall due and deal with essential correspondence.

Step 6

Produce monthly income and expenditure accounts. Review performance against budget and determine what, if any, remedial action is required. Reconcile your checking account. Contact clients whose fees are overdue.

Step 7

Meet with each staff member every month to review performance, obtain feedback and identify training needs. Conduct formal, annual appraisals and organize appropriate training. Include part-time employees and those who work for you on an occasional basis to provide cover for absences.

Step 8

Contact clients whose dogs' vaccinations are about to fall due and remind them to supply you with copy certificates. Take the opportunity to ensure that all records and contact details remain up to date.

Step 9

Update your website at least once a month. Produce a monthly newsletter and email it to new and potential clients, other local pet service businesses and the local newspaper. Devise special promotions to coincide with imminent events such as holidays -- for example, a special Saturday service to allow clients to take the children to visit Santa or a free session for anyone introducing a new client in the new year. Post details of promotions on your website and on social networking sites.

Step 10

Network with other pet service and pet supply businesses including groomers and pet stores. Maintain close relationships with trusted veterinarians, dog trainers and behaviorists and seek their advice when required.

Step 11

Renew all insurances, licenses and permits as required. At least annually, review and, if necessary, amend business procedures and client paperwork. Renegotiate contracts with suppliers, including utility providers. Complete your annual accounts and produce budgets for the next 12 months. Submit your tax return and pay your taxes.


  • Never leave playing dogs unattended -- a fight can break out in a split second.

  • If transporting dogs to and from your facility, either provide cages or safety harnesses to prevent injury.


  • Host an annual open day to promote your business.

  • Encourage satisfied clients to leave positive reviews on your website.

  • Check with a trusted veterinarian to keep up to date with vaccination requirements -- these vary from region to region and can change with emerging viral strains.

Items You Will Need

  • Dog toys
  • Play equipment
  • Leashes
  • Cleaning products
  • First-aid kit
  • Feeding bowls
  • Dog beds
  • Safe or lockable cabinet



About the Author

Sally Holmes began writing in 1991. Her published work includes financial articles and training materials for "Leasing Life," HSBC and the Chartered Institute of Bankers, and lifestyle pieces for U.K. magazines including "Bella" and "Woman's Own." Sally attended King Edward VI Grammar School in Birmingham and subsequently attained the ACIB banking and finance degree level qualification through the CIB, London.

Photo Credits