Let’s put on our Imagination Caps. I want you to imagine yourself in this scenario.
You have a 5-year-old son. He is the apple of your eye. You want the best for him. But, you work 8 to 10 hours a day. You need to make sure your son has fun while you are gone. So, you enroll him in daycare. He will have fun, right? Be with other kids his age; play games, etc. But, what if your daycare just put all the kids in one big room; some of the kids are younger than 5; some were older. There is only one person to watch all the children. There are no structured activities, no nap time, no breaks, no lunch and some of the kids didn’t speak your son’s language and he can’t understand them. Some of them are bullies and push your son around. New kids keep entering the room; or a child leaves just when your son is getting to know him. Sometimes an adult walks through and shouts “Quiet” or picks up a bottle of water and sprays some of the kids.
No one would subject their child to this. But, many of us do this to our dogs on a regular basis. For some reason, many people think their dog should go to doggy daycare and play nonstop for four to eight hours. We feel guilty for leaving him at home while we work. Or we don’t have enough time to exercise our dog, so we put it in doggy daycare and hope it comes home exhausted.
This is not a slam against doggy daycares. There are awesome ones out there; there are also not so awesome ones. I was recently asked to consult with a daycare to help its employees learn more about canine body language and brainstorm ways for dogs to have more fun and less conflict.
It turned out one of the major stumbling blocks to many of my suggestions were the dogs’ owners. No one wants to find out his dog isn’t the best-behaved dog in the room. Many owners want their dog out in the play room playing for the entire time they are at daycare. For the daycares that have video cameras so people can see their dogs; owners will call and ask why their dog isn’t playing or why he is in his kennel so much.
From the other side of this coin; I meet with many training clients whose dogs have either been kicked out of daycare or who are using daycare to exhaust their dog so they don’t have to deal with it. Or people are sending their dog to daycare out of a misguided notion that the dog will love it and have a great time. Over the last eight months, I’ve met with 15 clients who were devastated because their dog was kicked out of daycare and who wanted training help so their dog could go back to daycare.
So, first, STOP and ask yourself why you are sending your dog to doggy daycare? Is it so you will feel better about leaving him all day? Do you not have time for him when you come home from work so you want him tired? Or is your dog a super social butterfly who enjoys playing with all dogs, is highly confident in play and can handle an occasional rude incident from another dog?
If you fall into categories one or two of the above paragraph; you may want to rethink
your options. Most dogs probably do not want to spend hours and hours playing with other dogs. It is just too stressful. Many dogs may prefer to be home in a crate or loose in the house with a bone or frozen Kong to entertain them. If you don’t have time to walk your dog or provide adequate mental stimulation; then you need to rethink owning a dog or look into a dog sitter who comes to your home.
If you want to send your dog to doggy daycare; do research. You would research anyplace you were sending your child. Do the same for your dog.
If I ran a dog daycare here is what it would look like:
- There would always be at least two people in the play room. There are daycares that are allowing 20 or more dogs loose with only one person watching them. If a dog fight breaks out; one person cannot stop it. And that one person could be in danger. What if that person goes down before he or she can make a help call on a radio? I don’t care if the room has two dogs or 10 dogs; it should have at least two people in the room.
- There should be a cap on how many dogs are in a playgroup at any one time. I personally have a difficult time keeping track of more than 10 dogs. Also, how many dogs depends on space as well.
- The people watching the dogs should be confident in their ability to read canine
body langue and know when to step in and when to leave things alone and let the dogs sort it out. I see too much talking by the staff to the dogs and too much stepping in when the dogs growl (which is ok with me in many circumstances) but not enough stepping in when a dog is clearly bothering another dog but the other dog is too polite to say something about it.
- The doggy daycare should have time limits on play and a quiet place for each dog to rest based on how long it will be in the facility on a particular day and how much fun it is having in play. Some dogs only want to play for 20 minutes and then they get stressed. But, they have a great deal of fun in those 20 minutes. Maybe they take a two-hour break and come back and play again.
- More than one play area so dogs can be grouped by age, playstyle or size as needed. Putting adolescent, high-energy dogs into a room with older dogs probably is not fun for the older dogs. Dogs under 10 or 11 months probably should be together and anything under 6 months definitely needs its own play area with age appropriate playmates. Small dogs may be confident, but can be accidently injured by larger playmates. Various dog breeds have their own playstyles and may not enjoy playing with other types of dogs. I watched a border collie annoy the heck out of 10 other dogs and the humans because the border collie was barking into the face of every dog and then rushing in and grabbing the dog’s hindlegs. No one was having fun, not even the border collie because she was just becoming more and more frustrated.
- I would have a program for dogs that had issues playing with lots of dogs; but who could play with some dogs. Staff would work on helping the under confident dog learn to play with other dogs by slow introductions and limited numbers of dogs in the group.
- My staff would be certified in canine CPR and basic canine first aid.
- My staff would not encourage behaviors most owners would not want to see in their homes. Or if an owner was reporting nuisance behaviors; the staff would be proficient in working on these issues and helping the owner have a better dog at the end of the day.
- If your dog just didn’t enjoy playtime, then there would be walks, fun time in a play yard with enrichment equipment and human contact throughout the day.
Hopefully, there are doggy daycares out there like this, but all my ideas are extremely expensive to staff. However, if you are looking for a good daycare, see how many of my criteria they are utilizing. And if the doggy daycare staff tells you your dog isn’t having fun; don’t be mad at them. Recommend that daycare to anyone who is looking as that is the mark of a great daycare. Don’t be cheap either; the great daycares are going to be more expensive. But, most of all; don’t send your dog to doggy daycare just because it makes you feel better.