• Cosmic Canine

Doggie Daycares and Dog Parks

Updated: Feb 10, 2021

Should I take my dog to a doggie daycare? What about a dog park? Contrary to what most people believe, these settings are often not safe or fun for your dog.

group dog training class

“An individual behavioral analysis is performed on each dog.”

“Dogs are grouped together by temperament and carefully monitored.”

“Our staff is specially trained in canine behavior.”

“Your dog will be well-exercised and all tired out by the end of the day!”

“An individual behavioral analysis is performed on each dog.”

“Dogs are grouped together by temperament and carefully monitored.”

“Our staff is specially trained in canine behavior.”

“Your dog will be well-exercised and all tired out by the end of the day!”

If you’re one of the slew of pet owners who take their dogs to daycares or board at those same facilities, these are probably all promises you’ve heard before. “We clean kennels and dog common areas multiple times a day! Our facility is staffed by dog lovers! We take pride in ensuring every dog has a safe and pleasant experience!”

While some establishments do a good job at living up to their promises, not all do. So here are some things to look out for when either deciding whether day care is right for you dog, and if so, how to select a good one.

Issue #1: Disease When large numbers of dogs come into direct contact within small, occasionally enclosed spaces, diseases can more easily spread. Not all events where large numbers of dogs gather are prone to the spread of disease. For example, dog shows, training facilities, veterinary offices, and controlled boarding facilities have lesser risk of spreading infectious diseases because they avoid direct contact.

Though most daycares try their best when it comes to cleanliness, because of direct contact between animals, it is still difficult to prevent the transfer of some diseases. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association:

The very reason you take your dog to a dog gathering – social mixing with other dogs – is the same thing that can put them at risk. Diseases can be spread through direct contact between dogs, shared bowls and equipment, contaminated water, stool, insects and other methods.

Daycares and dog parks are two of the highest risk settings for the spread of diseases, as they involve groups of dogs directly interacting with each other, using communal water, and often coming in contact with urine and feces even in clean settings.

Issue #2: Fights Just like in the prison yard, fights are a regular occurrence in day cares and dog parks that are not carefully monitored. Not all fights result in physical injury, but just bad experiences can cause future behavioral problems.

This is not to say all facilities that let dogs interact are the same. There are a few that do the best they can to keep the dogs under their watch safe, and other that keep the same dogs coming in that do form a safer family pack. However, the skill and care of employees at daycares can vary extensively from place to place. Businesses with experienced workers who are well-versed in canine body language and who are not tasked with an impossible dog to human ration, can do a good job policing the crowd. Unfortunately, many times workers lack skill and interest in the job and may be on their phone instead of carefully watching the dogs.

Issue #3: Stress

Unlike children, dogs are not programmed to get along in large groups of other strange dogs. Some dogs are extremely social and love all other dogs, some dogs are bullies, some are shy, and some may like to play for a while then would prefer to be left alone. Dogs are programmed to live in their family "pack," but not so much to interact with many unfamiliar dogs. For many dogs, this experience is extremely stressful and exhausting. You can equate this to the yard in general population in a prison. Everybody but the strongest are having to stay alert!

Many people believe their dog has had a great day because they are tired when they picked them up. There is a good tired and a bad tired. A dog tired from physical exercise and mental stimulation is a good tired. A dog that is tired from a day of stress is a bad tired. Try to get a feel for which kind of tired your dog is feeling!

Issue #4: Bad Habits Just as their good forms of tiredness and bad forms of tiredness, there are good forms of socialization and bad forms of socialization. Dogs who have pleasant, fun experiences with other dogs and humans generally learn to be polite, gentle, and friendly, looking forward to interacting with others. After all, why wouldn't they? Other dogs and humans have only ever brought them a pleasant time!

Dogs who have negative or stressful experiences, on the other hand, can learn undesirable or dangerous coping mechanisms, or become fearful or reactive. The most common behavior issue we have seen from day care situations are dogs that start to snap at hands near their faces. This is often caused by workers going to grab dogs to break up fights and the dogs react by snapping.

Also, dogs who spend the day only playing with other dogs are often less interested in engaging with their owners or humans. If you want to make more progress in training and bonding with your dog, letting your dog roam free with other dogs all day will set you back in those goals. If you don't have further training goals or wish you had better engagement from your dog, then this isn't as important.

So What Should I Do? Do your research. If you you have a busy schedule and you need your dog properly cared for during the day, look carefully for somewhere that has high standards, specifically, 1.) check the dog to attendant ratio. If there are 20 or 30 dogs to one attendant, go elsewhere. Anything more than 10 to 15 in a group at a time is too much, and even that is a lot. 2.) Get a feel for the staff. Go with your gut feeling when you meet them. Sometimes your gut feelings are all you have. 3.) Ask if your dog gets breaks away from the chaos to rest during the day. 4.) Once you decide to send your dog to day care, assess your dog every day when you pick up. See if your dog seems stressed tired or happy. Try to learn the difference!

Other options are hiring a dog walker, or finding a day care option that does not promote unruly group play, or offers individual walks!

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