A popular choice, but is it right for your dog? and what should you be looking for in the right establishment?

General perception is dog’s love and need to spend time with other dogs, and even more so during these difficult times. Due to social distancing many are not sharing the experiences that they were before.

Whereas it is true that dogs benefit from exposure to other dogs, it can sometimes be stressful for some dogs when left with multiple unknown dogs, especially when their owners are not present to find sanctuary with.

For certain, there are some very good establishments that have considered every aspect of the daycare service that they provide, by keeping the dog intake numbers low and matching compatible ages, sizes, energy levels and breed types together. However, there are some that unfortunately miss or do not understand the glaring ‘red flag’ body languages shown by the dogs in their care.

As dogs cannot speak to us, it is important to watch the body languages portrayed by the dog. Stress and anxiety body language can include; the dog’s ears being flat and pinned back more than the neutral position, the tail low and in-between the legs, excessive panting and pacing, the dog trying to move away, a tightly closed mouth position and the dog giving warning snarls or growling to other dogs or trying to hide. These are avoidance techniques to enable them to cope in the environment that they are in.

When several dogs that are unknown to each other are placed together, problems can occur through the integration of many differing breed traits and personalities. A dog, or group of dogs that are overly confident, or excitable, and stronger-willed can gang up on a sole dog. This personality will display different body languages, often using their body to barge, block and herd another dog.

Some dogs may persist for interaction with another dog and do not read the more subtle, ‘not interested’ body languages from the dog that is avoiding interaction.

On the other side of the coin there is the dog personality who are artful dodgers, that have learnt an adept language of flirtatious and submissive style behaviour that has to be tiringly utilised to the full in large dog groups, these dogs are usually the peacemakers who notice the underdog and spend their time trying to intervene to lower energy levels.

 

Some other red flags to look out for are where dogs are being chased and cornered by other dogs, hiding or sitting very still too scared to move about in case they get noticed.

There is also the dog that has a low tolerance to the close proximity of other dogs and simply wants a quick sniff and to then move on and be left alone. Environments with multiple dogs can cause immense stress on the internal system of a dog like this and can filter into reactive behaviours of barking and lunging when on leaded walks with their owner. Owners often get confused by this contradictory behaviour, stating their dog is fine with other dogs in daycare, but acts aggressively when on a lead walk. This begs the question, is the dog fine at daycare? Or is it using complex and exhausting avoidance techniques to avoid conflict in a multiple dog situation?

 

Owners collecting their dogs can be totally unaware of any of these issues, perhaps they have seen snapshot pictures of their dog’s day and now the dog is back home exhausted and sleeps all evening.  This could be perceived as a happy and contented dog that has been having fun all day.  For sure, some dogs can handle multiple dog dynamics, they have confident genes from the off-set and/or may have interacted with a multiple dog household and are the social butterflies of the dog world, but many of our sole pet dogs find this situation overpowering, over stimulating and stressful.

Small breed puppies and very young puppies when mixed with large breed puppies find it scary and this can impact on their development and how they will interact with dogs into their adulthood.  Indeed they need socialization with other dogs to build their resilience and learn about their own species body languages but far better in repeated short bursts of exposure with positive outcomes.

The Dog’s Basic Key Welfare Needs are Paramount

  • A safe physical environment
  • Fresh water stations
  • Sleeping areas
  • Retreat areas
  • Designated toileting areas
  • Shaded areas
  • Warm areas
  • Dry Areas
  • All equipment must be safe for dogs to walk, play and run on or over
  • Area should be cleaned with specialized pet products, rinsed well and dry

Emotional Welfare

As well as the physical welfare there is the emotional welfare needs of the dog.

  • A dog requires a lot of time in the day to rest. Young puppies require an incredible amount of sleep, up to eighteen hours per day! Adult dogs also require sleep periods throughout the day
  • Dogs need to feel safe with the other dogs in their company and to be watched over by experienced care takers, who have a wide knowledge of canine body language
  • Dog’s and puppies should be matched well and in numbers which are not simply set to what is manageable by staff, but numbers that can be managed by the individual puppy or dog
  • Enrichment environments the are offer alternative stimulation experiences
  • In my opinion, dogs manage and have less stress when introduced to smaller groups of dogs rather than large packs of unknown dogs

I have seen an increase in young puppies being left at doggy day care for much of the day and on multiple days per week. On each occasion that they go to daycare, there will be a new set of dynamics and challenges for the young puppy to endure or overcome. The outcome has been very evident in their outward behaviours when they return to their owners, compared to puppies that are not experiencing this sort of environment

  • Lack of focus for training
  • Lack of focus in general to their owner
  • Overly aroused
  • Inability to settle
  • Dog crazy! They only have eyes for other dogs so pulling and lunging behaviour to get to other dogs has increased

Owners have reported to me the below list of home behaviour concerns

  • A regress in toilet training
  • More ‘clingy needy’ behaviours
  • Mouthing and nipping has got worse
  • Jumping up and barking has increased

*Many of these behaviours are due to the puppy being over tired, over stimulated or experienced anxiety.

Therefore, as a dog owner what should you do? What are the alternatives? And what should you look out for in a doggy day care or pet care service?

Check List 

Assess your puppy/adult dog’s daily care. What can you do and what do you need assistance with?   Then consider the following;

  • Local dog walkers and pet care services that offer pop in’s, group walk and sole dog walks. Check the company’s safety policies and walking practices
  • Home from home boarders where intake numbers are regulated. Once registered with one, you may find that your dog will most likely get to know one or some of the regular dogs on the day’s they attend. Ensure you see where you dog will be kept within the home and that all welfare needs are met and there are segregated areas for your dog to feel safe, rest and have enrichment items safely
  • Doggy day care establishments that keep group numbers low and match your dog with compatible social groups in sectioned off safe areas. Not just experienced staff but qualified supervisors having attended at the bare minimum, a course on dog welfare and dog body languages. Ensure there is the required physical welfare needs as stated above. Check there are exercise areas, indoor and outdoor and if there are any grass enrichment environments.  Does your dog get any one to one time or walks and importantly time to rest?
  • For socialisation a well-run class using positive reinforcement modern day methods

Whereas the day care service can seem attractive financially, sometimes costing not much more than an hour dog walk, consider what your dog does need to have a balanced day

  • Sleep
  • Enrichment items
  • Time to self-chill to prevent separation anxiety
  • Interaction with its owner
  • Exercise as per breed guidelines
  • Some interaction with meet and greets with other dogs/or visual of other dogs
  • Play with known dogs (does not have to be daily)

Ask for not just pictures, but also for video footage of your dog’s walk or daytime activity, and really observe whether your dog is happy or not. You know your dog better than anyone. Ask to walk around and see the establishment and observe the dog’s there. Turn up early to collect and ask to have a spy on your dog, without it knowing that you are there. Any great establishment will allow this and have nothing to hide. Start with shorts visits first and if you are happy and more importantly you can see that your dog is happy, you can increase the time they’re left gradually.

One final thought, you would not leave your child without checking out everything first. It is even more crucial as your dog cannot speak to you. Any detrimental changes in their external behaviours should ring alarm bells and most definitely be investigated.