Doggie Day Care: Is It Right for Your Dog?

A friend of mine has a bright, energetic Labrador Retriever.

He’s well socialized, well trained and is a good dog. Although she usually telecommutes from home and can stay home with her dog, several times each month she needs to work long hours away from home. On those days, she drops her dog off at a doggie day care facility where he can run and play. He gets the exercise he needs, isn’t left home alone and she doesn’t feel guilty for being away from home. The doggie day care is a great solution for them.

Unfortunately, though, this isn’t the right solution for all dogs. Recently I talked to the owner of a Border Collie who is also well socialized and well trained. She was able to take her dog to a doggie day care for several days but then was told that her dog wasn’t welcome back. Apparently her lovely dog decided that the day care needed a playground supervisor and the Border Collie tried to break up all of the play between the other dogs. In other words, she was treating the other dogs like sheep and wanted them herded together in one group: one quiet, calm group.

Let’s take a look at which dogs thrive in doggie day care and which dogs might not be a good fit.

Prior Socialization is Vital

A doggie day care facility is a place where dogs can exercise, socialize with other dogs, hang out with the human staff members of the facility and just generally have a great time. The day care, however, is for well socialized dogs; it is not the place where dogs gain socialization skills. Instead, those skills need to be learned when they are puppies and with their owner. An unsocialized dog will be stressed in a day care group of other dogs who are actively playing. A stressed dog could hide, try to escape or become aggressive towards the other dogs or the people in the day care.

Matched Play Groups

Ideally, the dogs attending a doggie day care will be in play groups that match dogs by size, age and temperament. If the facility accepts puppies (not all do) they should be in their own group. Smaller dogs can be in another group, younger, active teenagers in another group and quieter adults in a third group. By having multiple groups with the dogs matched similarly, the chances of scuffles, fights, and stressed dogs is decreased. Plus, the dogs will have more fun.

If the doggie day care has only one or two large groups, then be cautious if you have a very small dog who might be trampled, or a very large dog who might take advantage of the smaller dogs. Ask the facility how they decide on the group (or groups).

Bossiness Not Appreciated

As the owner of the Border Collie learned, dogs who tend to be bossy with other dogs are not good candidates for day care. Other dogs don’t appreciate being poked, barked at or herded by other dogs who are trying to control the play. Many of the bossier herding and working breeds are often playground supervisors, including Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Australian Cattle Dogs and Belgian Malinois. This doesn’t mean that these breeds cannot attend; instead, it means you should take a good look at your herding or working dogs and be realistic. Does your dog try to control playtimes?

No Bullies Allowed!

Just as there are some people who are bullies, there are dogs who are bullies. These dogs tend to play rough and try to overpower or overwhelm younger, smaller or more timid dogs. They may prevent the other dog from moving, playing, getting a toy or a treat, or sometimes even water. Bullies can frighten other dogs or cause a fight. A doggie day care is not the right situation for a canine bully.

Aggression is Never Allowed

Dogs who show aggression toward other dogs are not suitable for doggie day care facilities. If your dog is aggressive towards other dogs because of a lack of socialization, fearfulness, anxiety or other reasons, don’t take him to doggie day care. Not only could he put the other dogs at risk, but the exposure to the other dogs isn’t going to cure him of his aggression or fears. Instead, it could exasperate his issues.

Obviously, since people need to interact with your dog, dogs who are aggressive towards people cannot attend day care either.

Other Dogs Not Suited

If your dog is anxious about new situations, new people, new dogs, noises or other things that might be found in a doggie day care, then keep him at home. Although some dogs with mild anxiety might gain new skills, for many, because they are facing these situations without their owner, the day care environment simply increases their anxiety.

Dogs who are strongly bonded with their owner might panic when left at the day care. Dogs with significant separation anxiety may also panic. Canine escape artists are a bad fit as they may try to keep dashing the doors or gates.

Although some dogs with health issues can thrive in doggie day care, these must be discussed with the day care staff first to make sure the staff can handle the situation. Obviously the health problem cannot be contagious and since the dogs will be playing, sometimes roughly, the issue should not be painful. Get an ‘okay’ from your veterinarian before talking to the day care staff.

The Best Dog Day Care Candidates

The dogs who thrive in doggie day care are well socialized dogs who like other dogs and who are thrilled to meet new people. The dogs who do best in doggie day care are happy, playful, full of energy and love to play.

You know your dog better than anyone else. Be realistic about your dog when trying to decide whether your dog would be a good fit for doggie day care.

Part 2: Choosing a Doggie Day Care

In a future post, we’ll take a look at how to choose a doggie day care, including what questions to ask.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.

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