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The Problem With Doggy Daycare

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The Problem With Doggy Daycare

the problem with dog daycare

Doggy daycares are gaining popularity all over the country. They are an excellent option for owners who work long or irregular hours and dogs that need plenty of mental and physical exercise.

However, not all dogs benefit from attending doggy daycare.

In my job as a dog trainer, I have encountered plenty of dogs that have adopted quite undesirable habits and attitudes originating in the experiences they made in daycare.

It is not easy to decide whether daycare is the right option for your dog – here are the two biggest problems I see with this way of enrichment.

1. Dogs that don’t care for their owner

Dogs are social beings. They enjoy (and, in fact, crave) attention and engagement. Our dogs can get plenty of that in daycare: day-long interactions with other dogs, and as much play as they want.

When the dogs come home they are tired from romping around all day, and they don’t need to be walked or trained or played with – often they crash the moment they enter the house and sleep soundly until the morning, when it is time to go to day care again.

While this is very convenient for a busy household, it presents a real problem: The dogs only experience reinforcement and fun away from the owner, through other dogs.

This is where they will further look for fun – if 90% of the playing in your dog’s life comes through playing with dogs, he will be drawn to dogs a lot more than to you!

This cycle intensifies as the dog may refuse to play or train with the owner since he is not used to it, the owner gives up and sends the dog back to daycare – where he, again, gets to fulfill his need for social engagement with other dogs.

Eventually the dog lives a life that is separate from his owners: He sleeps and eats at home, and fulfills every need for socialization, playing and learning elsewhere. If dogs get sent to daycare for long hours starting at an early age, it can be hard for the owners to develop a meaningful connection.

You can think of a dog’s desire for social contact as a cup. Once that cup is filled, your dog has no more desire, and will not make an effort, to solicit social interactions. If the need for these interactions is solely filled at daycare, it can make building a solid relationship and bond with your dog hard to impossible.

2. Dogs that need to learn doggy manners

In nearly all scenarios, daycares are not the place at which you want your dog to learn doggy manners.
Ideally, when socializing a puppy we want him to meet a lot of adult, balanced dogs. These dogs will teach him the ins and outs of appropriate behavior between dogs. If for example the puppy tries to solicit play in an overly bold and rambunctious manner, a well-balanced adult dog will not engage in play with him (and also not react overly unfriendly, of course – he will just blow the puppy off). When the puppy asks more politely (by play bowing, wagging his tail, not body-slamming etc.), the older dog will be more inclined to fulfill his wish to play.

In a daycare setting, we nearly exclusively find high-energy, high-drive, young dogs. These are the dogs that need daycare because they will be destructive if left at home. Very few people would take their older, calm and balanced dog to doggy daycare – this type of dog can easily be left at home, and does not need the extra supervision and exercise.

These high-energy, bold young dogs do not specifically care whether play is initiated in a polite manner, and they will rarely turn down an invitation to romp. This means that while a dog in day care certainly learns a lot about running and wrestling with other dogs, he has little opportunity to learn much more important skills: how to tell if another dog is not interested in playing, how to back off politely, how to respect the personal space of other dogs.

You can think of daycare dogs as rambunctious teenagers – when left to their own devices and interacting with peers, they can act quite wild and rude. It is ok, as long as they have interactions with other parts of the population as well, and learn the appropriate behaviors towards different age groups.

I often see daycare dogs (and dogs that spend a lot of time in dog parks as well) approach other dogs on a walk in a very bold and assuming manner – they are not used to play being turned down, and expect any dog they encounter to enjoy wild greetings and being immediately jumped upon.

This overly outgoing friendliness is not necessarily a sign of good socialization, and can lead to confrontations if the dog that gets approached in this manner is less of a player.

How To Balance Daycare and Home Care

Even though we have to watch that our dog does not find all his reinforcement through other dogs and that he also does not learn all social manners in daycare, it is possible to utilize doggy daycare in a way that lets our dogs benefit from it.

When considering daycare for your dog, make sure to:

Balance fun in daycare and fun with you.

If your dog comes home from daycare and sleeps the rest of the day without seeking interaction from you at all, he was probably there for too long. Take care that he still experiences you as a source of fun and social engagement – take him for a short walk after dinner, play a few games with him (check out our Outdoor Games Online Class, Tricks Online Class  or Brain Games Online Class if you need ideas), throw the ball for him in your backyard.

Ideally, you would do the same before he goes into daycare in the morning: Don’t let your dog jump out of the car and drag you into the building to play with his friends. Take him out of the car, and play a few quick food games in the parking lot – it takes 3 minutes, and will make a big difference in how important you are to your dog. We never want to be just the driver who gets him to his friends, we need to be more (or at least equally) fun and engaging to him.

Have your dog socialize with boring dogs, too

Again: The dogs in daycare are not the average dog you will encounter when out on a walk with your dog. They represent a highly energetic portion of the dog population, and if they are your dog’s sole option for social contact, he will adopt habits that are viewed as rude and audacious by other dogs.

Daycare fosters a play centered environment, and it is crucial for all young dogs to experience and deal with dogs that will not engage in play. It will not be fun to walk a dog who will jump at any other dog to play, especially as that can and will result in the occasional scuffle when the play advances are not welcomed.

Make sure to have your dog not only meet the out-going dogs at daycare, but other, “boring” dogs as well. Old dogs are the best for this: They are calm, fair, and will teach a puppy that sometimes it is just not time to play. You will find these dogs at home on the couch or in the back yard but not at daycare. Ask friends and neighbors if your young dog can meet their oldies – he will benefit greatly from it, and it will balance out the daycare experiences he makes.