Doggy Daycare – Should or shouldn’t you?
Doggy daycare is a service that almost universally dog owners have positive feelings about. After all who doesn’t like to think of their dog getting to play and romp around with buddies? Often many owners think that doggy daycares are a good replacement or alternative for exercise for their dogs, similar to how many owners view dog parks.
The reality though is that for most dogs these types of services are not a good environment or a good match.
Socialization and Doggy Daycare
This is a big one and truly one of the most misunderstood pieces of raising a dog properly that I see constantly. When trainers and dog professionals talk about socialization we are not referring to the human definition, which includes interaction. This is a huge mistake and is at the root of a lot of reactivity that I see. Let’s break down the definitions.
Common Definition of Socialization
Social interaction with others.
Dog Pro Definition of Socialization
Safe, controlled, and measured exposure to the world in a way that is supportive to the dog in a positive manner, designed to promote behavioral stability and neutrality to stimulus other than the handler.
As you can see, they are quite different, and the dog pro definition doesn’t include interaction in it at all. This is because the wrong types of interactions, even too much interacting is not beneficial at all.
Instead, a trainer guides, exposes, and shows the world to the dog in a way that not only moves at their pace but is not overwhelming. This is NOT something that can be achieved at doggy daycare or the dog park by plopping a puppy into the environment and hoping for the best.
Doggy daycares generally are run as a bit of a doggy free for all. Often the staff are not trained in dog behavior, and simply don’t have the ability to adequately support 10 dogs at a time. The environments are often a very high octane, chaos, that might be broken up a bit with crate time or a resting period with all the dogs separated, but for most it is not.
The dogs spend hours of time practicing and learning unwanted behaviors, in environments that are overwhelming simply due to the amount going on in them. While staff are there to break up any dog fights (which do absolutely occur with regularity) each dog is relatively on their own to fend for themselves. No one is there to recognize small instances of discomfort, no one is listening to those little body language tells. No one is there to step in and deescalate until something bigger happens.
This is how dogs burn out. This is what plants the seeds of reactivity for many dogs. When socializing a puppy, doggy daycare is not the place to pick. It is actually among one of the worst ways to do so.
This is another common reason I see owners using doggy daycares. While they do burn a whole hell of a lot of energy that a dog might have, one has to ask, is it really healthy for a dog to be in an environment that is so stimulating that they are utterly and completely drained afterwards? Is it something that a dog should be doing daily?
The short answer is No.
Overdoing it has zero benefits to the dog, and the only benefit to the owner is what? That the dog doesn’t need a walk that day? That they will sleep while the owner is home?
I can assure you that the dog is not practicing anything useful at doggy daycare. Even with a trainer on staff, which some of these places do have, that often isn’t enough structure to be useful for the dog and to add balance to the chaos.
Behaviors that doggy daycare environments promote:
- Hyperactivity and hyper behavior
- Lack of impulse control
- Mobbing of new/stranger dogs
- Inappropriate and over the top interactions with other dogs
- No off button without human intervention
- Inability to settle in the presence of other dogs
- Hyperawareness of other dogs
- Hypersensitivity to noises of other dogs
- Loss of softer dog to dog interaction or communication, ie – dogs are more likely to resort to threat displays or aggression when dealing with other dogs
- Strong focus on other dogs and inability to refocus on their handler
Many of these behaviors can be seen even outside of the doggy daycare itself. Owners see their dog dragging them to the building, but don’t understand that this type of inability to be calm around something exciting will also bleed over into many other parts of the dog’s life. Whether that’s just normal leash walks outside, greetings in the home; any time where the dog is in a situation they find stimulating and exciting they are much more likely to react with over the top behavior.
In my experience the majority of doggy daycares and incompatible with having a calm and well-mannered dog. They also make things much harder for dog owners when it comes to training the dog and trying to get the dog out in public.
Are Doggy Daycares Bad?
It is obvious that doggy daycares are not helpful in raising a well-rounded dog, and are very often counter productive when it comes to training a dog. That said I don’t think that they necessarily are a negative thing. It depends highly on the daycare in question, on the dog themselves, and the frequency and duration of the visits.
I do not think that daily visits are good for any dog, especially if the dog is there for full days. There is just too much unstructured freedom that doesn’t add to de-stressing the dog, training, or otherwise letting them do biologically fulfilling activities.
All of that being said there are alternatives to daycares that anyone can do with their dogs, and there often are services that have better structure. Day training for example is a great use of your dog’s time while you’re away, as well as services like dog walkers/runners/hikers, and every once in a while there are individuals that offer small and structured play groups.
Alternatives that help your dog are out there!