Pet owners are sometimes surprised that while doggy day care can be an excellent environment for some, it is not the right fit for many other healthy, social, normal dogs. Below are a few reasons why day care may not be the right fit for our dogs.
- History and Socialization- Our dog’s previous social history, which includes their first eight weeks while they are still with their littermates, has a massive and lifelong impact on their comfort with other animals. If there were any deficits or traumas with this early learning history, it can affect their comfort with other animals long-term. Of course, social interactions throughout a dog’s entire life will play a part in how comfortable they are sharing space and interacting with a variety of other dogs.
- Genetics- Social behavior can also be affected by genetics. High levels of sociability (and true animal aggression) often have a strong genetic link. It is always important to keep in mind that no matter how carefully we socialize our puppies, we sometimes see behavior changes that are outside of our control. This brings us to our next point…
- Normal Social Changes- Just as human social circles shrink as we mature and age, our dog’s social circles tend to shrink as they mature and age. Emotional maturity typically occurs between 2 and 4 years of age and is not the same as physical maturity. It is not uncommon for dogs that previously enjoyed the social environment at day care to no longer find it as thrilling as they reach maturity. This is absolutely normal! Some adult dogs continue to love the highly social atmosphere well into their senior years. However, just like our own human social interactions, we go from enjoying the party scene in our 20’s to enjoying much smaller social gatherings with close friends as we mature. Again, this change in social interests can be a completely normal part of aging.
- Environmental Sensitivities- Doggy day care is an exciting, stimulating environment! Some dogs enjoy it very much, but for some dogs (even social dogs!) it can be a lot. For some of our companions, they will be most successful with one-on-one play dates with other dogs (rather than playing in a group). This is not a negative in any way, rather simply a facet of their individual personality. Our goal for all of our dogs will always be to support them with whatever social outlets they enjoy the most, whatever that looks like.
At Central Bark our behavior assessment process allows us to gather information on what each individual dog’s level of comfort, play style, and energy level is to set them up for success when matching them to the right playgroup. Sometimes, dogs just prefer having one or two social playmates. If a dog is successful in other social environments, it’s important for us to protect the integrity of their existing social skills. This means that if they love playdates and trips to dog parks but enjoy the day care environment a little less, we don’t want the way they feel about social interactions in the day care environment to influence the way they feel about other social situations they’ve previously enjoyed. In this way, dogs are constantly learning and being influenced by social interactions throughout their lives. We want to do our very best to maintain healthy social skills, even if that means day care isn’t the right fit to do so.
- Trauma- Sometimes dogs that were previously successful in day care experience trauma related to other animals that affects their social skills. If this happens, our goal is not to bring back their previous social skills (which for some dogs just won’t be possible), but rather to support them in a way that allows their lives to be happy and fulfilled, which may not include day care. Each individual will have different needs and require different investments to provide the enrichment, exercise, and stimulation they need. Those needs may be ever evolving throughout a dog’s entire life.
- Injury and Aging- Pain and soreness that comes with injury and aging can have a massive impact on our dog’s comfort with other animals. Being bumped around, interactions with dogs attempting to solicit play, and more can exacerbate pain responses in our pets and we may see increased reactivity as a result. If our dogs seem to have a decrease in tolerance for other dogs related to a pain response, it will be important to carefully support their social interactions going forward. Sometimes, dogs with more inflammation in their bodies are also affected by this at any age; chronic GI upset, allergies, and arthritis may all influence our dog’s interest in engaging in play with other dogs.
If doggy day care is not the right fit for your dog, that’s OK!
There are so many ways that we can support the behavioral, physical, and emotional health of our dogs outside of the day care environment. Below are a few ways that we can give our dogs healthy, happy, fulfilled lives, without day care as a component!
- Mental Enrichment- Puzzle toys are an excellent way to offer our dogs mental enrichment. Filled Kongs, puzzle bowls, snuffle mats, and so much more can be incorporated into our dog’s daily lives as an excellent way to satisfy our intelligent companions need for mental simulation.
- Longline Walks- Taking your dog to a local green space with a secure, appropriately fit back-clip harness and an attached longline can be a great way to let your dog run, sniff, explore, and be a dog at their own pace! You would only do this far away from roads, strange people, and strange dogs for safety. You would also hold onto the longline for the entirety of the session. This is an excellent way to wear your pup out mentally and physically, with a high level of safety!
- Swimming- Did you know that for our dogs four minutes of continuous swimming is the equivalent of running a mile? Swimming is an incredible, low-impact way to fulfill our dogs physical exercise needs. Many areas have indoor, private dog pools where you can take your dog (without other dogs present!) for exercise and fun. Particularly in areas where you must navigate inclement weather, indoor dog pools are an excellent option for rigorous exercise.
- Rental Spaces- Some spaces also offer private rentals! These might be private dog parks (where you pay to use the space for just your dog, with no other dogs present), local training centers that allow you to rent the space privately, or apps like SniffSpot where you can search for private, fenced in rentals. Be sure to reach out to your local Central Bark to learn more about their private space rental options!
- Training- Attending training classes or working privately with a professional dog trainer can be a great way to fine tune your dog’s manners, work towards modifying behaviors, learn fun, new tricks, and generally improve your relationship with your pup. Regular training sessions are excellent mental enrichment and for some dogs can open up new possibilities for what experiences you can enjoy with your dog!
Remember, doggy day care is just one of innumerable options for providing your dog with a happy, healthy, fulfilled life. If day care is not the right fit for your dog, that’s OK! Our dogs are individuals just like us, and what they enjoy will vary based on their past experiences, genetics, and individual temperament.