Not for Every Dog

April 11, 2018

It never seems to get easier to have the conversation that generally starts along the lines of “I don’t think your dog is suitable for daycare…”  I tend to beat around the bush because people seem to take it personally. They think that they’ve “raised them wrong” or that their dog is bad. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Daycare is simply not suitable for all dogs, and not all dogs enjoy daycare.

Let’s look at some of the reasons daycare may not be suitable for some dogs:

  1. They are too shy/timid

    I think of daycare as a place for socialized dogs to come and play, not a place for unsocialized dogs to become more comfortable around other dogs.  If your dog is over a year old and currently does not enjoy the company of even a few other dogs at a time, 99.9% of the time, he/she will not enjoy daycare on their first visit and probably never will.  If they aren’t comfortable being around one strange dog at a time, imagine them being locked in a room with 30 strange dogs at a time.  The daycare environment is just too overwhelming for this type of dog, and as a result, the dog has no fun.

    If they are less than a year old and haven’t been around many other dogs before, then daycare MAY help increase their confidence around other dogs.  But it may not.  It will depend on a lot of things including, how scared they are, how they react to their fear and what their underlying personality is.  The great thing about daycare is that most of the dogs in attendance have fantastic social skills (or they wouldn’t enjoy daycare).  This means that when another dog is giving out “back off” signals, they’ll listen. And if they don’t, we’ll help redirect their attention off the scared dog and on to someone else.  By being given space, this can allow the shy dog time to get used to the idea of the other dogs, approach on their own terms and slowly warm up to the idea of interacting with the other dogs. It never fails to make us smile when we see a timid dog finally reach forward tentatively to sniff another dog.  Once they start doing that, it can be a fairly quick progression to play, however they are still easily overwhelmed at that point and we work hard at making sure that doesn’t happen.

    But some scared dogs just find it too much.  They’ll sit in a corner and fear snap at any dogs that dare to come close – even if they are just walking by minding their own business. Or they won’t even acknowledge the other dogs and will just stare pleadingly at the gate the whole time they are with us. Or maybe they’ll nervously pace and pant and frantically search for an exit. They might even contemplate climbing the fence, or digging their way out. If we see these kinds of behaviours in your pet, we will suggest that daycare is too much.  In these cases we are essentially “flooding” the dog – which is not an ideal way to acclimatize your dog to something new.  (You can read more about what flooding is in a great article by Victoria Stilwell that actually references a dog daycare.  https://positively.com/dog-training/positive-training/victoria-stilwell-articles/flooding/)

  2. They are too excitable.

    I know this is going to sound a little weird to some of you because you probably think that daycare is where your dog comes to burn off steam and get exercise.  And it is!  BUT, with a large group of dogs, we need to make sure that the arousal levels of everyone doesn’t get too high, as that is when we have the biggest risk of a fight.

    Some dogs are very keyed into the energy of the room and the other dogs at the daycare.  These are the dogs that are unable to relax unless every single dog in the room is still.  Most dogs are able to play when they feel like it and relax on a bed when they need a break.  The ones that are unable to relax, tend to be constantly getting into mischief – third wheeling (trying to play with two dogs that already have a game started), chasing any dog that moves, barking at other dogs playing, poking and prodding resting dogs in an attempt to wake them up and get them to engage, etc. By the end of the day these dogs are exhausted but are still unable to stop. Non-stop action all day makes for cranky, short tempered dogs.

    For these dogs, the more energetic the other dogs are, the more energetic they get – to the point where they often stop paying attention to anything other than the action in front of them and they tend to react before they think.  For example, they might run along the fence barking at dogs playing in the other play area.  If another dog happens to be in their way, they’ll just barrel their way through or maybe even snap at them for being in the way. When they are calmer, they walk around other dogs rather than trying to run right through them.  See the difference?  The overly excitable dog is just too wound up to consider social niceties anymore.

    Often over time, these dogs settle a bit.  They get over the novelty of daycare and they realize that they don’t need to be go, go, go all the time. Some dogs can seem to “relax” when they have a toy that allows them to entertain themselves instead of constantly focusing on the action around them.  Some times these dogs do OK with short periods of play instead of staying all day.  These overly excitable dogs don’t generally have “ill intent” but they can be overwhelmingly enthusiastic to some of the other dogs in the room.

    We usually try and work with these dogs quite a bit – we’ll crate them during known high arousal times (first thing in the morning, lunch time and at the end of the day which is when dogs are coming and going).  We’ll attach a leash to them so we can redirect them as needed. We often use the leash when other dogs are playing and they are trying to get involved even though they haven’t been invited into the game. We’ll practice and reward recalls over and over and over when things are calmer in the hopes that this behaviour will start to carry over when they are in a higher arousal state.

    However if there is no improvement or we can’t predict when the dog is going to get overly aroused, we feel daycare isn’t the right fit.

  3. It’s just not in their personality.

    You’ve heard of introverted and extroverted people right?  Well dogs are exactly the same.  Some thrive on social interaction, and others prefer a quieter environment.  And there is nothing wrong with either one.  When I first opened the daycare I was so excited that my dog would be able to come play instead of going for a walk every day.  She was a high energy dog that required a walk every day to maintain her sanity (and therefore ours!) so we went out rain or shine, + 30 or -30 C.  But as it turns out, daycare wasn’t her cup of tea.  She was an introvert through and through.  She’d much rather have fun with a toy, than another dog.  It took me a while to accept that, but once I did, she was a happier dog for it.  If I hadn’t wanted to walk her or didn’t have the time, she would have been much more content with a dog walker instead of daycare.

  4. They’ve gotten older and their priorities in life have changed.

    We call this “aging out”. What your dog used to enjoy quite a bit, they now don’t. I’m in my forties, and when I think back to my early twenties, I definitely enjoyed going out more and hanging out with large groups of friends.  Now I’d much rather have coffee with a friend, than go to a party with 20 people.  The same thing can happen with your dogs – they get set in their ways, they might like their existing friends quite a bit, but have no real interest in making new ones.  Sure they might make a new friend every now and then, but they aren’t the social butterfly they once were.

    Some dogs get older and play less but still enjoy the company, while others get older and start to get cranky.  We’ll let you know if they are of the cranky variety!

    DoesMyDogLoveOtherDogs LiliChin revised 1024x662 Not for Every Dog

  5. They don’t get along with certain dogs

    Sometimes two dogs just don’t like each other.  I’m sure most people can relate as we don’t like everyone we meet either.  And in most cases that’s fine.  Every dog doesn’t need to play with every other dog and if they can co-exist and just ignore each other, there is no problem.  It becomes a problem though if they just “can’t let it go”.  We might find them stalking the other dog and making them feel uncomfortable, or posturing near them and basically daring the other dog to take offence. It’s kind of hard to explain but it would be like a person purposefully pushing someone’s buttons just to get a rise out of them. In these cases, the risk of a fight is too high.  If we can move one of the dogs into the other play area we will, however this is not always possible as not all dogs are suitable in both play areas.  If that is the case, we’ll ask the dog who is posturing to change days.  Often that fixes it up, other times, they find another dog that they don’t get along with and we essentially run out of available days for them to come.

  6. They are obsessed with certain dogs.

    This doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, it usually involves an un-neutered male.  We allow dogs to come who haven’t been neutered but they need to follow the same “rules” as everyone else.  Contrary to popular belief, humping is not our biggest issue with intact males – it’s obsession.  They find a dog that they fall head over heels for, and they can’t think of anything else.  They are like love struck teenagers.  They’ll follow the love of their life everywhere, often licking their ears or muzzle adoringly whenever they get the chance.  They won’t play with anyone else and will often be found laying next to the object of their affection watching them, even when they are sleeping.  If we move one of them into the other play area, they’ll even obsess through the fence – following them as closely as they can even though they can’t get to them.  If their love interest isn’t there, they usually find another one in a day or so and the issue starts up all over again.  Having a “stalker” can make the stalk-ee uncomfortable, and let’s face it, Mr. One Track Mind, is probably not having much fun either as he’s just being ruled by his hormones.  Usually neutering the dog fixes this problem but if that isn’t something you want to consider, then daycare probably isn’t the best option for your dog – at least not at the moment.

These are the most common reasons daycare  may not be suitable for your dog.  Our goal is to make sure every dog feels comfortable and has fun.  If your dog isn’t have fun, or is causing other dogs to not have fun, we’ll let you know!

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