Should My Dog Go to Daycare?

border collie at day care.jpg

The Dream

A dog-lovin' city like Austin is replete with doggy day care options. From completely indoor, climate controlled facilities to doggy swimming pools and birthday parties, there's plenty out there for folks to choose from.

Doggy day care is so alluring. Who doesn't want their dog to have fun all day and then come home wiped out?! Sounds like the ideal set-up, right?

The Reality

Unfortunately, as a professional dog trainer, day care isn't something I frequently recommend. The problem isn't necessarily the dog-dog play, but the behavioral harm that can accidentally happen during "play." 

The reality is that dog body language is a foreign language. An incredibly subtle foreign language.

Imagine a sporting event where the referees and players come from vastly different cultures and don't speak the same language. The referees are uncertain exactly how the game works, but can't communicate well enough to get it sorted. They call fouls when everything's fine, and mishandle or completely miss legitimate violations.

This is what often happens at doggy day care. The staff does the best they can with what they've got, but, sadly, it isn’t often enough.

"So what? They're dogs; they'll sort it out on their own."
If only it were that easy. Without referees to constructively intervene, the dogs repeatedly engage in poor social skills, bullying, chronic over-excitement, and horrific lack of self-control. To borrow another analogy, it's like sending a group of unsupervised kindergartners into Chuck E. Cheese for the day and wishing them luck. You can bet there’ll be squabbles, and they won’t work it out appropriately themselves.

The other really important thing to understand here is that what happens in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas. The poor social skills and chronic over-excitement he practices at daycare will transfer to other environments. It is not uncommon for daycare (or dog park!) dogs to have problems with reactivity.

And the good news is…?

At this point, you may be feeling pretty discouraged and even a tad offended. Take heart. Daycare isn’t universally off-limits.

For day care to benefit and not harm your dog, the entire staff must be particularly knowledgeable about dog body language and appropriate behavior modification. 

They need to recognize the subtle signs of poor social skills and know how to properly improve the dog’s behavior.
Sadly, this is an extremely tall order for most facilities and that’s one of the reasons why I don’t typically encourage daycare. In fact, Train My Dogs Austin is the only local dog day care I recommend.

When in doubt, it’s better to stimulate your dog at home with reward-based training games than send him to facility you are unsure about.