Doggy daycares have become very popular as a great way to give your dog company and exercise while you are at work or on vacation. And it is, for some dogs. But before dropping your dog off, you need to know if your dog really should be at a daycare.
Think of the daycare as Disneyland. Some people love it: the crowds, loud noises, and lots of new sights and smells. Others find it a nightmare: strangers in close quarters touching each other, unfamiliar noises, smells, and sights that could be considered terrifying.
Some dogs love the daycare. Others, do not. Liz Randall, CPDT-KA is a certified dog trainer, co-owner, and founder of Dogs Abound, a doggy daycare in San Diego, California. She answered our questions about what makes a dog right for daycare, and how you can tell.
What makes a dog a good candidate for daycare?
Dogs that are already at least somewhat socialized and are in good physical health are the best candidates for daycare. They should be comfortable around new people and dogs and know basic commands such as their name, come and sit.
Dogs should also be comfortable in new environments and being away from their people and/or other canine family members. Dogs of almost any age can benefit from daycare, but they should be placed and grouped appropriately–as in puppies should not be placed with adolescent, rough playing dogs, and senior dogs should not be subjected to adolescents or younger puppies who will push their buttons. Some dogs that are otherwise well-behaved but whom may have mild to moderate separation anxiety can also do well in daycare.
What makes them a bad candidate?
Dogs that are over 6-8 months of age and have had little to no socialization or “life exposure” typically do not acclimate well to daycare. Sometimes they can come around with time, but in all honesty it’s a lot to ask a dog to be able to come into a new environment, engage with new people and strange dogs, and to just “go play”.
Many dogs, understandably, aren’t up to that challenge. That said, some dogs who are timid at first do develop into wonderful daycare dogs with appropriate handling by the facility. A good facility will be very adept at quickly figuring out whether or not your dog just needs more time to acclimate, or if he truly is not a good candidate. It should go without saying that any dog with a history of aggression towards dogs or people should not be taken to daycare.
What should pet owners look for as signs that they should stop taking their dog to daycare?
If dogs are doing well at daycare they should become more relaxed at home and more social in novel environments and with new dogs. Dogs should be tired after a day at daycare, however, your dog should be tired from appropriate amounts of play and engagement, not frazzled and wiped out from being stressed out or going gangbusters for 8 hours.
Dog owners need to know the signs of stress in their dogs. If your dog seems more stressed than tired after a day of daycare it is time to look at other options. One other factor that many pet owners don’t consider is that playing for long periods is physically taxing on a dog. If your dog goes to daycare infrequently, and then comes home cranky and/or sore, then he is either being allowed to be too over the top during play without appropriate breaks, or, he is not in good enough physical shape to handle that sort of intermittent intense exercise. Any extreme behavior changes should also be cause for attention, however, there are many reasons a dog can suddenly decide he is afraid of something, so do your due diligence before assuming it is the daycare’s fault.
What are some good alternatives for dogs that aren’t right for doggy daycare?
All dogs need socialization, with other dogs, people, and the world at large, but dog daycare and/or group dog play will not work for all dogs equally. Other options include organizing play dates with other social dogs belonging to family and friends. Many dogs enjoy being “out and about” without having the need to actually engage with other dogs. Take your dog to “dog friendly” spaces such as restaurants, parks and outdoor malls to teach your dog about the world. Also, training classes are another option in which your dog can learn to be around other dogs in a controlled environment. Regardless of the environment, ensuring your dog is happy and feeling comfortable is key. You should never “force” socialization on a dog that is feeling uncomfortable. Retreat from the situation and reassess how you can take things slower or make the interactions more positive.
The Daycare is HALF the Equation
Don’t forget that choosing the RIGHT daycare is just as important as recognizing whether your dog is appropriate or not. If, after reading this article, you feel your dog would like daycare, check out Randall’s article on how to choose a right daycare. There are a lot of poorly run daycares out there where tragedies like dog fights and death from improper care happen. Choose carefully.