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Okay, so I’m going to let you in on a nasty little secret. I usually represent my Boxers, Janice and Leroy, as the best dogs in the whole world, but the fact is, they failed obedience school. As a matter of fact, the whole class ended up having to be graded on a bell curve thanks to Leroy. He just couldn’t manage the long down. He went in full on “Gotta be with my mom” mode, and broke down, taking all the other dogs along with him.
I love Leroy to distraction, but honestly, he’s not what you’d call a well-behaved dog. Of course I want him properly socialized, but given his experience in what we could call “doggy kindergarten,” I wondered if it would be okay to take him to doggy daycare. I did a lot of research, talked to a lot of people, and pretty much came up with the conclusion that some dogs will benefit from daycare, while others will not.
I decided to give it a go.
I think that what I’ve discovered is that doggy daycare will improve behavior in some dogs, but it could very well aggravate it in others. You’ve probably heard the benefits touted – usually from the people who are operating doggy daycares, go figure – and how it will stop your dog from engaging in undesirable behaviors like chewing, biting, or barking a lung up when you leave him alone in the house. No problem, just send him to doggy daycare!
Okay, here’s the thing. If your dog isn’t sufficiently stimulated, and doesn’t get to hang out with his own kind, then there’s a very good chance that he’ll feel stressed, and he might act out. But doggy daycare isn’t a “one size fits all” solution, and you’re actually going to have to take a good look at your dog before you decide that daycare is going to fix what’s wrong. There are dogs who shouldn’t go to daycare under any circumstances, and dogs that will benefit from it.
Okay, let’s proceed from the understanding that dogs are, generally speaking, social animals. They usually get along well – you just have to check out your local dog park to see that this is the case. But just because most dogs are sociable, that doesn’t mean that all dogs are. If you’re going to take your dog to daycare, you have to seriously evaluate his behavior and personality to determine if he will do well with other dogs. All dogs certainly don’t all get along! If he’s not cool with other dogs, he’s not going to enjoy daycare, and his hostility to other dogs could become even worse.
It’s also possible that your dog is afraid of other dogs. If it’s just a mild fear, then taking him to doggy daycare might help. But if he’s very fearful, then the last thing you should do is immerse him in an environment where he is going to be forced to interact with other dogs. What you want to strive for is a group that consists of dogs that are approximately the same age and weight, and who can play together without hurting one another.
This is a problem dog. Perhaps he was rescued from a puppy mill, or a dog fighting ring. He might be afraid of humans, or other dogs. He’s the only one who knows how much he can handle, and if you throw him into a doggy daycare, he may react with panic or aggression. Fearful dogs need special handling, and might not do well in daycare. You might be better off to introduce this dog gradually to other members of your pack. Keep in mind, too, that a very stressed dog is likely to bite – he’s simply trying to protect himself from serious injury, or even death.
It does happen. Some dogs just are not good with other dogs. They don’t play well with others. So don’t think that sending your dog to doggy daycare is going to show him how. He’s just going to continue to bully, and as other dogs submit to him, the behavior will be reinforced.
Having talked about the bully, it might seem strange to suggest that a dog that will submit to a bully might also be a bad candidate for doggy daycare, but it’s true. A dog that’s being picked on does better with a smaller group made up of more gentle playmates.
I talked about the problem of separation anxiety in “Mommy, Don’t Leave Me – Separation Anxiety in Dogs”. The thing here is that if you have a dog that is scared to death to be without you, then he might not be the best candidate for doggy daycare. Daycare is just going to add to the stress, most of the time. If you’re still determined to put your dog in daycare, make sure that the provider knows about your dog’s separation anxiety. If it works, great, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t.
Now, if your dog genuinely enjoys playing with other dogs, and he doesn’t have any medical issues, he could benefit from doggy daycare. If he’s young, active and friendly but you just don’t have enough time to make sure that he gets enough exercise and socialization, then why not? It could actually be the answer to your prayers.
If you are considering doggy daycare, then you should expect to be screened. The daycare provider will want to be sure, first of all, that your dog has had all of his shots. They will also want to know that your dog is able to get along with other dogs. The fact is that you might not even know if your dog is a good daycare candidate until you actually go to the interview, and see how your dog reacts to other dogs.
So here’s where you pull back, re-group and look at what you’re doing. If the daycare says, “Sure, just put down your money,” and doesn’t even try to see how your dog reacts to other dogs, it’s not a good daycare. Every single candidate should be screened to make sure that they can get along with other dogs, in any number of situations. If they don’t assess your dog, look elsewhere – if they’re not assessing him, then they’re not assessing others, and your dog is not safe in this facility.
Also, make sure to talk to the management and staff. If they seem disinterested, or cavalier about your dog’s safety, then look elsewhere. There are a lot of doggy daycare providers out there, but they’re not all good. You want to be sure that your best buddy is in a good facility, where he’ll be as safe and happy as he is at home.
Another thing you should do is ask if you can drop in from time to time. Pretty much every facility has “good times” and “bad times” so you want to make sure that the bad times look good, and the good times even better. If the facility tells you that you can only visit during certain hours, then something is off.
When you visit, make sure that you tour the whole facility. Take a look at all the dogs. Do they look happy, or are they stressed? Are they interacting with other dogs, or cowering in a cage? Do they seem relaxed? Oh, and by the way, if you see signs saying things like “No viewing for the dogs’ safety,” run, don’t walk to another facility. You can bet that the dogs are stressed beyond belief, and nowhere near to being properly cared for.
Also ask about how many staff members are present. Ideally, you don’t want any more than ten dogs per staff member – more, and it means that the dogs are not getting the care that they deserve.
Obviously, cost is a factor. You don’t want to have to put out a huge, exorbitant amount. But when it comes to your dog’s care, it really is true that you get what you pay for. Usually, when you are using a doggy daycare or boarding facility, you can expect to spend up to $40 per day. Where you live will also play a part. It’s simple supply and demand. When you’re using a good doggy daycare, though, you will be assured of fully trained staff members who know what your dog needs in the way of outdoor and indoor play, knows what kind of snacks will keep him healthy and what kind of toys he needs to stay entertained. They also know when your dog is tired, and it’s naptime.
In a reputable doggy daycare, your dog will enjoy a busy day, with outdoor and indoor play. He might also watch television, swim, or learn tricks. Mainly, he’ll be stimulated, but not over-stimulated. And he’ll get the rest he needs, too.
So, what’s the assessment process? How do you get your dog in?
First, you’re going to have to make sure that he’s up on his shots, and if your doggy daycare doesn’t require that, run away fast- they’re playing fast and loose with your dog’s health and everyone else’s. If you’re one of those people who won’t vaccinate, please protect everyone else’s dog by not even attempting to enroll in doggy daycare – maybe you’re fine with the possibility of parvo, but most of us are not!
Now, once you’re in, consider your play group. Realistically, most dogs get along, but it might not be the best idea in the world to incorporate your Maltese, toy Poodle, Shih-Tzu or other small breed into a gang of Rottweilers or Dobermans.
How do doggy daycare operators determine the breed group? By common sense, usually. They try to structure the groups according to size and age. Sure, accidents can happen. But it just doesn’t make sense to put sensitive little dogs in a group with big, boisterous ones, so a good daycare won’t do that. They’ll keep the dogs separate based on size, and the way that they like to play.
Here’s another thing that you have to keep in mind when choosing a doggy daycare. Is there a vet on call? What if something happens outside normal business hours? Will the daycare provider notify you immediately if your dog is injured?
Also, what about escapes? How secure is the facility? Has a dog ever escaped, and if so, what was done?
It’s sad to say, but true, that if you don’t live in an affluent area, you might find it very hard to locate a doggy daycare provider. You’ll probably have to do some work – search the Internet, or ask around. Family and friends are best, of course, but if you need to call in a pro, then you could be choosing among “good,” “good enough” and “not so good.” Do you really want to trust your dog to a sub-standard provider?
You probably have a fear of online dating, but you shouldn’t. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many people I know who have met the love of their life online. You can meet dog people online too – people who will be only too happy to look after your dog while you’re away. Doggy daycare is an alternative for sure, but don’t discount that sweet person who loves your breed, and would be more than happy to look after your dogs while you are away. I met a caretaker for Janice and Leroy that way. I’m not saying it will work for everyone, but it worked for me.
Doggy daycare? Sure, why not? If your dogs are reasonably sociable and like interacting with other animals, it could be a great thing. Try it, and let me know how it works out!