Doggie Daycare sounds great on paper; Dogs frolicking with each other, “socializing,” exercising, and wearing each other out in playful banter.
We wish that was the case. Far too often, we get phone calls for dog training from distraught dog owners who are suffering the consequences of Doggie Daycare.
What went wrong? Well, the first problem is that many dog daycares aren’t even owned by pet professionals. They haven’t studied dog behavior, or gone through any dog training program. They are businesspeople. Sure, they may be businesspeople who love dogs but make no mistake, they are following a specific business model: To cram as many dogs into one space, with the least amount of staff possible. The entire point is to have a small overhead, with big profit margins. The easiest way to do that is to hire young dog lovers, at minimum wage (or close to it), and put them in charge of 20 dogs, each.
So, once we cram 20 dogs into the play space, what happens? Dogs do have social norms, and the desire to be together, but the problem is nobody is stepping in when there’s bad dog behavior. It’s basically Lord of the Flies. The young, untrained, non-pet professionals don’t even recognize when there’s a problem brewing, because they don’t recognize the dog body language. The over-confident dogs bully the less confident anxious dogs. If anxious dogs growl or show aggression, either the confident dog retaliates, or the anxious dog learns that aggression works to make the other dog leave it alone. That’s called dog training, only it’s not the good kind! Next thing you know, the dog is practicing that behavior out in the world; the presence of another dog causes them to bark and lunge, leaving the owner confused because, “he goes to doggie daycare, he’s well socialized!”
The overly confident dogs become overstimulated by the presence of other dogs. They are being trained as well. Out in the world, they start demanding for interaction with other dogs, by pulling hard on the leash, vocalizing (barking or lunging), and being more and more assertive with other dogs. This can turn ugly, too, because when the dogs are denied their chance to assert themselves over another dog, they become very frustrated. Frustrated dogs can get angry, and that’s where we start to see leash aggression behavior. We get the same phone call from a distraught owner. “I just don’t understand it. He LOVES going to doggie daycare!”
There are some rare cases where a particularly gregarious dog does just fine at dog daycare, but this is the exception, not the rule. Most dogs do develop bad behaviors from unfettered interactions with other dogs. If you need care for your dog because you need to work long hours, consider using a dog walker, a pet sitter, a dog hiking or jogging company. Better yet, find a facility that offers dog daycare training as an alternative to daily doggie fight club. Exercise their mind, as well as their body, with the added benefit of having better dog behavior at home.
We know that dog owners are just trying to do right by their dogs. But, especially in Colorado, it is so important that we teach our dogs how to be neutral to other dogs so they can enjoy the many perks of off leash dog training. Hiking, camping, breweries, pet friendly stores… all are MUCH more enjoyable with a correctly socialized, non-reactive, off leash trained dog.