What exactly are the benefits of Doggie Daycare? What can I expect?
Dogs as pack members:
Let’s start by discussing the philosophy behind why doggie daycares originated and why they are so important. Everyone may know that dogs are pack animals, but many people don’t know what that means. Dogs are born knowing how to be dogs. They instinctually know how to communicate with each other, what a play bow means, how to play, how to interpret another dog’s mood, etc. When I hear a customer say, “My dog doesn’t even know she’s a dog,” it makes me smile. Your dog not only knows she’s a dog, but expects you to communicate and behave like one too. They desire interaction with their own species. Human mommies and daddies are great, but no matter how hard we try, we can not replace our dogs’ need for canine companionship. This is why I highly recommend owning more than one dog. If owning more than one dog is not an option, dog parks and daycares are great alternatives for providing much needed dog socialization.
While in this “pack,” a hierarchy quickly establishes. Within minutes, dogs distinguish who the alpha is. Alpha doesn’t imply aggression; it simply means dominance. As humans, we can more easily substitute the word confidence in place of dominance. Anyone with a feisty dachshund can tell you that size, sex, color, breed nor age has anything to do with who becomes the leader. Within the pack, dogs play, submit to others, exert their dominance (even during play), try to “romance” and even discipline (give an appropriate behavior to show disapproval of another dog’s behavior) their fellow canines. An example of dog discipline can be seen when a rowdy puppy jumps in an adult dog’s face, only to be greeted with a growl to let the puppy know, “I don’t want to play.” The puppy signifies that he understands this message by either rolling over to expose his belly or simply moving away, actually “shaking it off” as a way to diffuse stress. With a few exceptions (e.g., two unneutered males vying for a female dog’s attention, or a dog guarding its food from other dogs), approximately 80% of dog “fights” do not lead to injuries. The goal of each dog is to communicate a message, NOT to inflict injury.
Doggie Daycare vs. the Dog Park
The difference between doggie daycares vs. dog parks/group of loose dogs is a controlled environment. Here at The Dirty Dog, the staff member assumes the position of “alpha.” The dogs in day care quickly learn to recognize staff members as the leaders of the pack. We, as staff, are able to formulate the best playgroups, match dogs of similar sizes, similar play styles, etc. Staff also step in to help the aforementioned puppy appropriately interact with his puppy peers so that he/she may know how to interact appropriately later with adult peers. In addition, we help dogs understand when another dog is not in the mood to play, redirecting their attention and/or matching them with other equally playful dogs. Furthermore, we have the luxury of selecting only those dogs suited for doggie daycare as well as keeping all unneutered males over 7 months old out of the play groups whenever it becomes necessary. Lastly, staff keep all food out of the communal areas to curtail food aggression among the dogs.
Steps to Ensure Safety
As evidenced by trained staff and close supervision of the dog playgroups, you can easily see how doggie daycares are safer than un-manned dog parks. Now, let’s take a moment to discuss the extra steps The Dirty Dog takes to ensure the safest environment possible for your dog(s).
-Playgroup Compatibility Evaluation
During our evaluation, front-of-house staff take time to discuss with the dog’s owner any potential problems/concerns. Our next step is to introduce the new dog to our staff dogs to be sure he/she does not show any signs of outward aggression to other dogs. The newbie is then introduced —one at a time— to the other dogs in daycare. We are very selective about the dogs we introduce first, using those that attend daycare frequently and do well amidst a variety of personalities. As the dog acclimates to his new surroundings, staff keep a watchful eye for any signs of aggression. Posturing is to be expected. A new dog may emit a nervous growl to let the other dogs know that he needs some space. Overt aggression and lunging at other dogs, however, is not tolerated.
Having an animal behavior background, I can say, with assurance, that dogs of mixed sizes “can” do well together. I know many Jack Russells and other terrier type breeds who prefer the company and play style of the bigger dogs any day.
Though most dogs don’t care about size (those with high prey drive excluded), due to the higher chance of a smaller dog being accidentally injured by a big dog playing, we at are compelled to err on the side of caution by not allowing the mixture of different size dogs during group play.
-Behavior Reports and Log Books
Even after a dog has been through and passed our evaluation, our monitoring doesn’t stop there. Employees keep a very thorough log of any behavioral problems we see from a dog. We note any scuffles, rough play, time-outs, or inappropriate behaviors. Scratches or abnormalities found on any dog are detailed as well. If a dog’s behavior becomes a safety concern, that dog is therein restricted to alone play away from the other dogs. Many owners may not want to hear that their “baby” has misbehaved; however, it is our policy to keep owners aware of any problem behaviors we observe from their dogs. We are NOT trying to pick on your kiddos, we simply want to make sure that we are all on the same page so that we may maintain the highest level of safety for everyone.
-Monitoring Playgroups and Keeping Play at a Safe Level
Dog playtime comes in cycles of play: rest — play — rest. You may notice groups wrestling around, or at other times sleeping, or lounging around. It just depends on which part of the play cycle they are in. Most of the dogs that come to our facility love to play and can become quite rowdy. Staff make a concerted effort to ensure that play/excitement level in each play group remains under control. We teach the dogs to observe certain rules and boundaries, e.g., not jumping on the gates and fences, not barking at each other through the fence, not jumping on people, not shoving each other through doorways during rotations, etc. Respecting these rules ultimately ensures that all attendees and staff will remain happy and safe.
-Extensive Employee Training
All new staff members learn about pack behavior, play behavior, proper dog supervision, effective discipline techniques, etc. They are taught how to respond in cases of emergencies or natural disasters. Even after their initial training is complete, staff are encouraged to advance their knowledge and learning. Educational staff meetings are also held every month to update staff on dog and cat related topics and/or learn about additional aspects of animal care and behavior.
Worst Case Scenario
So, the question on some people’s minds regarding doggie day care is: “Can my dog be injured?” The best analogy to describe how safe doggie daycare really is would be to compare it to letting your child play on a playground. Your child can fall off the slide and break a leg, catch a cold from another kid (playgrounds don’t require vaccine records like we do), run into a bully, get a scratch from rough housing with the boys, etc. Most people wouldn’t think twice regarding such contingencies. Unless you keep your child in a padded room (or a crate as in your dog’s case), you have to be ready and responsible for accidents like these. You know how great the benefits are of letting your child play and have a good time with other children. So, why does it seem so different when it happens to dogs? Well, dogs don’t play with hands; they play with paws, claws and teeth. If your dog is a playgroup member, you may occasionally see a scratch or two. However, it is very rare for any major altercations to occur. The few injuries that do happen are actually the result of play.
The Dirty Dog has always and will always pride ourselves in providing the highest level of care. Here, your dogs will not only be safe and well cared for, they will also have fun! Your dog pulling you in the door is testament to that! We love our customers–both human and canine. Since having an open relationship with everyone is important to us, please don’t hesitate to ask any questions about our policies or procedures at any time.
And as always, THANK YOU FOR SHARING YOUR PETS WITH US!