Daycare for dogs is a relatively new phenomenon, originally introduced in trend-setting cities such as New York and San Francisco in the early 1990s. In the last 10 to 15 years, daycares have become a norm for dog — and more recently, cat — owners. In NE Portland alone, the industry has quickly grown to include eight dog daycares. These types of offerings, together with pet boutiques and supply stores, dog parks and dog-friendly restaurants, mean the pooch is out and about more than ever, and of course we want them to “be good” in a crowd.
Yet, while visiting any one of these pet-friendly venues, you’ll likely occasionally witness tantrums, aggression and even downright bullying between animals. Whether this comes from over-stimulation or grumpiness, these behaviors can cause tension and fighting between dogs.
Sadly, in the daycare setting, this type of behavior often leads to timeouts, discipline and removal from the premises. After hearing that their dogs are causing issues, many owners’ first response is calling their dog “bad” and asking how they can “fix” the behavior. The fact is, these dogs aren’t bad — they’re stressed out by the situation.
The reality is, many dogs do not enjoy the company of other dogs in a daycare setting — and that’s perfectly acceptable. Often a dog will initially seem to enjoy playgroups, but as they settle in will begin to exhibit behaviors that clearly convey stress. Some dogs are not well socialized with other dogs, so are nervous or submissive in large groups. Other dogs become the playgroup bully, herder, or are quick to react negatively when approached by an undesirable dog.
While these dogs are usually harmless, snapping at the "wrong" dog can quickly start a scuffle. On the flipside, there are dogs that love being around other dogs but who quickly become over-stimulated. These dogs often don't respond to signals from other dogs — or humans. While they mean no harm, these dogs can turn a playgroup chaotic.
For families facing these types of canine behavioral challenges, solutions range from simple socializing skills to intense therapy.
Gaining social skills
For dogs lacking social skills, start with playdates with neighbors or family members with dogs. If your dog enjoys these interactions, take a step further and visit a local dog park to see if he is still comfortable with increasing dog interactions. Make several visits to the park to see if your dog continues to enjoy himself; if she does, try daycare again.
Learning to relax
If your dog is the defensive, bullying or over-stimulated type, but playgroups are a desirable option for your family, consult an expert. There are many great certified trainers and behaviorists who can support positive change in how a dog interacts with other dogs. Keep in mind that the process takes time, patience and dedication on the part of everyone involved.
At the end of the day, if daycare isn’t a fit, don’t feel bad about finding another option for your dog. Hiring a dog walker or carving out playtime at home may be the perfect solution. Not all dog breeds or personalities are daycare-friendly, but that doesn't make them “bad” — it’s just their individual dog personalities shining through.
All photos © Kim Hormby
Kim Hormby provides strategic consulting services for pet business owners interested in improving or starting a pet-related organization. She is also the owner and founder of Stay Pet Hotel, a boutique hotel for dogs in Portland, Oregon.