What’s really going on at doggy day care centres?

Publish Date:

07/10/2020
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WLP Team

If you’ve taken your dog to a doggy daycare centre before, then you probably dropped them off happy believing that they get to play with friends all day which is much more fun for them than being at home by themselves. All dogs love being in the company of other dogs right? It’s just what they naturally do. WRONG! Dogs, like children, are not all the same and they’re not all suited to the daycare centre set up. In fact, for many it’s really damaging to their behavioural health. We look at the common myths dog owners hold about daycare centres and why you should think twice about whether this is the best pet care solution for your dog.

MYTH – All dogs are social and therefore will love an environment where they get to be around dogs all day long.

It’s a mistake to think that dogs will enjoy the company of other dogs simply because they are a dog. Like us humans, a dog’s sociability lies on a scale – some are incredibly social and others are less so. This changes throughout their life too, just because they start off loving all other dogs, doesn’t mean they always will. Most puppies are extremely sociable while they are learning how to behave, but that does not mean they are suitable for daycare, in fact, the opposite is true:

“A puppy in particular could have its development hampered at daycare leading to mental and behavioural problems, especially if they are unable to get enough sleep. The mental development and sheer volume of stimulus they face daily through all the other things they are learning takes its toll. There is the potential to get over excited and not pick up on other dog’s body language. These sort of areas need an experienced supervisor on puppy behaviour on hand and need to be well managed so that these pups do not end up coming away with behavioural problems around other dogs after learning bad habits from each other.” – Sophie Baldwin, WLP Stroud Director

Vet Nurse Chelsey Wheeler adds that puppies are also physically at risk from being in a daycare centre:

“Puppies have fragile and under developed bones and over exercise has been shown to have long term effects on bone and joint disease. Studies have shown that these bones are not fully formed in many breeds until they are 15-18 months old and too much stress on their joints until this point can increase risks of arthritis, cruciate disease and hip/elbow dysplasia.” 

You have to question whether daycare centres accepting puppies under 6 months old are really thinking about what is best for the dog.

For adults, it’s very rare to find dogs that get on with any dog. The dogs who get on with most other dogs are the ones who were properly socialised when they were young and tend to be very good communicators. They will correct obnoxious behaviour appropriately when they see it. Other dogs are more choosy and need help from owners or handlers when they are in the company of unfamiliar dogs. These dogs have preferences and will only make playmates with a certain play style or energy. They don’t take well to rude behaviour and prefer to be in smaller groups. Even though they are not aggressive, these dogs still require constant supervision and when you have areas of 15, 20 dogs or more all frolicking around together, this can be impossible to manage in a daycare setting.

Dogs that are not suitable for daycare at all will be those who don’t enjoy the company of unknown dogs and tend to snap at other dogs to leave them alone:

“Some dogs just don’t like to socialise with other dogs for various reasons, some breeds are not bred for social interactions with other dogs but more specifically for working conditions. This can be stressful for them. Mixing large and small breeds not only runs the risk of injury to smaller breeds but can be very intimidating and stressful for small dogs.” – Chelsey Wheeler

When you consider the different individual personalities and breed character traits that would need to coexist in a daycare environment, you can start to see how the dynamics of what is going on are a lot more complex than it would first appear.

MYTH – The pack regulates behaviour.

This could not be further from the truth. Certain breeds and personalities give off a bit more nervous energy and attract the wrong kind of attention from other dogs in the daycare pack. On the other end of the scale, other breeds will naturally be a lot more independent and therefore harder to manage in the company of the nervous dogs they want to dominate. Then you have a group of dogs in the middle who outside of the pack were neither dominate nor submissive. Guess what happens to them? When they see dominating behaviour go unchallenged, they follow suit and will chase or intimidate the nervous dogs:

“Like in all school playgrounds there is often a ‘bully’ or one that will get over excited and wind other dogs up. People talk about a well balanced or behaved dog being ‘dog neutral’. This type of dog will not normally view all other dogs as its own source of entertainment but put them in a pack situation and this overexcitability could escalate quickly into something more serious with other dogs beginning to pick sides.” Sophie Baldwin, WLP Stroud Director

Packs create divisions. They don’t unite dogs as we are led to believe. What should not happen is that the daycare centre is used as a ‘treatment’ centre for a dog that has any type of fear with other dogs or separation anxiety. This needs to be addressed in the home environment first. Dogs who are already nervous stand to suffer much more in an environment with lots of other dogs.

Daycare centres may differ in their set ups and many have separate rooms where dogs of a similar personality are grouped together, however, there are some behaviours that naturally arise from having large numbers of dogs together and would be tough to contend with, no matter how well staffed they are. These include: aggressive herding, fear, aggression, pestering, excessive barking and humping.

MYTH – There’s no dog fighting at daycare.

We wish this were true but the daycare centre set up makes it very difficult to monitor so many dogs at once. This carries the same risks as pack walking, but with even less control.

How do the centres control feeding schedules, amounts and types of food? Ask them to explain this to you.  Some dogs do not like to eat around other dogs/people which can cause increased stress:

“Resource guarding in particular can, and will, result in fights over toys and food.  This can translate to the home environment too if they are constantly fighting during the day they will feel the need to do so at home.” – Chelsey Wheeler, Vet Nurse

There’s also a risk of injury due to play in an uncontrolled environment. Fights are more likely to break out and pack mentality set in where dogs team up on individuals.

MYTH – If my dog fails the trial there’s something wrong with him.

All dog centres should be willing to give your dog a free trial session before accepting a booking. This is when they assess your dog to see how they would fit into the pack environment and which, if any, of the existing groups they could join. For some, discomfort with other dogs could spark aggression and for others, it might be that they they seem stressed in a group setting.

With this information, daycare centres will evaluate whether they have the knowledge and competency of staff or particular set up to deal with the dog’s needs. If your dog doesn’t ‘pass’ the test, it doesn’t mean that there is anything innately wrong with them or their behaviour, they simply don’t suit that particular environment and are probably better off staying a home and having pet visits or a dog walker.

MYTH – Photos the centre puts on Facebook show that my dog is having fun.

Many daycare centres upload photos at the end of each day so that owners can check in and see how much fun their dog is having. This is particularly reassuring because it appears to confirm everything you already thought about the experience your dog is having. But look a bit more closely. Are your dogs ears or tail down? Are they on their own? Do they look like they’re being chased rather than played with? Is your dog missing from the photos? How many dogs can you see in one room? Are they doing something you wouldn’t expect them to do at home? Remember that the photos don’t tell the whole story and if you see something that doesn’t look quite right, you should question it.

MYTH – My dog comes home exhausted so he must have had a great day!

Owners often assume that an exhausted dog is a happy dog. But an exhausted dog could also be an irritated or stressed dog. Their emotional and behavioural wellbeing is just as important as their physical wellbeing. If your dog is one of those that is getting picked on by the pack then the sheer exhaustion they suffer from avoiding confrontation all day will see them come home absolutely pooped. You won’t know whether they are genuinely tired or genuinely terrified.

MYTH – My dog get so much exercise at daycare he doesn’t need a walk.

If your dog comes home too tired for a walk and you’ve been at work all day, it’s easy to just let it go. Obviously he doesn’t need a walk, he’s knackered! Wrong! A dog’s walk is just as much about smelling and investigating new things as it is addressing their physical needs. Being able to have that mental stimulation, without several dogs being around them, is incredibly important.

MYTH – My dog’s social skills will improve at daycare.

As discussed earlier, your dog’s social skills are to some extent, already determined by their personality, previous socialisation and breed traits. Dogs that have a more nervous or worried personality might go unnoticed by daycare staff because they are not causing any issues. These dogs tend to slip under the radar while their stress is increasing with every visit. Being in that state of mind can cause long-lasting behavioural issues and affect your dog’s health long term.

If the daycare centre tells you they think your dog isn’t enjoying it, act on that information and think of an alternative pet care solution or daycare in much smaller groups.

MYTH – Daycare centres are checked and regulated by the authorities.

Unfortunately they are not! It’s shocking to think that institutions responsible for dog safety and welfare are not subject to inspection or regulation. We don’t question that those who own and work in daycare centres love dogs and are interested in promoting welfare, but as it stands, there is no legislation that stipulates the minimum acceptable conditions or safe management of daycare centres – only best practice.

MYTH – My dog will go off to sleep when he’s tired.

If your dog normally takes naps at home during the day then ask how they might continue that routine at a daycare centre. Will they be separated from the group to go to a crate or kennel? Your dog shouldn’t be running around for up to 10 hours straight. There should be designated quiet areas for dogs to go and relax. But is that enough?

“Can they really ever truly rest when in a room with a group of other dogs? I doubt they will all be asleep at the same time and whenever one is aroused by something it will most likely wake all the other dogs up to find out what is going on – there you have continual broken sleep!” – Sophie Baldwin, WLP Stroud Director

How much sleep does a dog need? Puppies up to 6 months old need up to 20 hours a day (at least 2 hours or so in a day with lots of sporadic naps throughout the day plus their long sleep at night). Adult dogs need 12- 14 hours a day.

If a daycare centre says it’s kennel or crate free, you have to ask where can your dog go for quiet time and a much needed rest? Look at the centre’s website for any descriptions of daily play and rest schedules and if it’s absent, call them and ask.

MYTH – Daycare staff are all pet first aid trained and professional trained in dog handling and canine behaviour.

The expertise of daycare staff will vary enormously from centre to centre. Look closely at the information provided on the website. If there are any staff profiles available, check their credentials. Are they qualified in reading canine behaviour? Have they got a background in behaviour training? Are they educated in animal science? Do they know pet first aid? Because daycare centres are not regulated, there are no legal stipulations on staff qualifications. Anyone, in theory, can set up a daycare centre without any relevant qualifications.

MYTH – Daycare centres are really transparent about their staff to dog ratio.

This varies and again, there is no legally enforceable ratio similar to those in place for nursery staff and children. You could have anywhere from 3 to 23 dogs all sharing the same space with very few members of staff supervising. Furthermore, it’s prudent to find out what handling techniques they use, what their procedures are for introducing new dogs to a group and how they decide which dogs go into which groups. What access do the dogs have to outside space? If this information is not freely available online, then ask in person and judge whether you are satisfied with the answers provided.

MYTH – Daycare is the best solution for people who work full-time.

Daycare is not necessarily the best option for your dog and their temperament and it’s certainly not the only pet care option available to you if you work long hours. There are plenty of other ways to provide exercise, companionship, and play for your dog while you’re not there.

Dogs who are nervous, who don’t like the company of other dogs and who haven’t enjoyed daycare settings previously might be better off with dog visits and a dog walker instead. Read our guide for 23 questions you should ask a dog walker to find the right fit for you and read what dog visits entail here. Our daycare option is home-based in the company of up to 2 other dogs, no more. If you’re worried about puppies being alone all day, puppy visits are the solution – not daycare.

Learn about why pack walking is bad

 

 

Post Author:

WLP Team

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