Dog socialization, doggie daycare, agility training, be a good citizen….the list goes on with all of the things you could do for your dog, even with your dog. I fear that all these options may seem daunting to potential pet parents if they somehow believe that any of it is something you HAVE to do. Many ask the question, is dog daycare good for a dog ?
There are so many programs on TV and so many “dog experts” and even now some cat ones. But if not controversy, certainly differing opinions exist as to the who is right and who is wrong. I ascertain that it isn’t as much a question of right and wrong but rather personal preference and of course varying degrees of effectiveness with different dog training methods. One thing I can definitively say is wrong, is how the word socialization has been interpreted.
We come across it at the dog hotel when parents will apologise because their dog doesn’t do much socializing, or doesn’t behave well on a lead etc. I hear them beating themselves up over things they “think” they are supposed to be doing with their dogs. I’ll ask what is it that they experience or deal with that indicates their dog has inadequate social skills ? Invariably the answers are not issues that affect the lifestyle that as a family they lead, but rather lifestyle options or “social” activities they haven’t been able to provide for their dog.
A prime example was a recent guest, who while checking out of the canine hotel, following a dog boarding vacation, was adorably charging around the office happy to see everyone. Her parents enquired about doggie daycare. Their motivation wasn’t concern over her being alone for extended periods of time (they were retired), they didn’t have issues with providing her with adequate amounts of excercise or stimulation. And finally when questioned about training issues they could provide just one. She seemed aggressive towards big dogs when they would take her to the dog park. She is a Yorkshire Terrier.
Dog aggression can indeed be an issue of socialization and most definately something that we can offer positive training for in our daycare environment…but we do daycare differently. Let’s look at socialization as it would happen in a typical daycare setting where a group of dogs (changing daily) usually in excess of 10, 20 maybe 30 dogs “play” all day. They will be dogs of all breeds, sizes and age. What is the ratio of dogs to people ? Remembering these dogs are members of people packs and will be looking for the attention of the people with them. The ratio needs to be small enough that the competition for attention doesn’t get out of hand. Just like with children, dogs will need positive correction and promoting of good play habits during play while it’s happening, if any of it is to be remembered. Are there enough trainers physically with the group at all times to do this correction ? Where do the dogs go to rest? Do they rest? A tired dog reacts poorly under stress, as we all do. Over tired dogs lead to big problems in doggie daycare.
At the dog hotel we are very scathing about groups of large numbers in dog daycare. In the wild, packs of dogs experience infighting and the expulsion of dogs once the pack begins to grow much bigger then 7-10. Daycare groups of these numbers without increased numbers of supervision are definately dangerous, but not the most dangerous element of most dog Daycares. The single most dangerous practice is the mixing of sizes. You would not see a small dog surviving in a wild pack. I constantly clarify that we have changed a lot of things in our dogs makeup by bringing them into our homes and fully integrating them into our families. But we can’t completely change the “pack mentality” of dogs when you put them back into a canine pack.
Let’s go back to our little Yorkie with her “big dog” issues. Her parents describe her as aggressive with big dogs. The first thing we clarified was our experience of her with other dogs. Whilst dog boarding at the canine hotel we were a part of many different positive interactions of their dog with others. We saw brilliant social skills with people and excellent social skills with other appropriate dogs. We would never have put her with a large dog friend, as while it can work in specific circumstances, it is generally not natural. When we enquired about dog parks and how they love to go to them. It transpires that they don’t enjoy the walk in the area of the dog park nearly as much as the trails in their neighborhood. They were travelling to the dog park specifically so their dog could play with the other dogs. They were trying to be good pet parents and offer her “social” activities.
The description was one of “she loves to play with them, she runs into the group no matter how big, almost always just large and giant dogs, but she immediately starts to upset them all by running around barking and nipping at their feet, we are worried she could annoy the other dogs with how she plays and they could hurt her”.
There was one absolute definate about what they were saying. A dangerous situation is being created. I highly doubt and in fact disagree that her Yorkie wants to play with the big dogs. What I heard described was a little dog feeling threatened and wanting to put on a show of bravado for all the potential predators it saw. Her Yorkie was putting on an aggressive show to prove that she wouldn’t be an easy meal and telling the big dogs that they “didn’t want to go there”. Many small dogs have big dog friends. The pets of their extended human family or neighbors. They have been able to come to know these large dogs and do so on a one to one basis without pack behaviour. This is obviously rewarding for both pets and people and as long as it is properly supervised and they are never left alone with each other, perfectly safe. But please don’t mistake your small dogs acceptance of a big dog friend as meaning they are okay with all the big dogs they meet, especially in a group environment. It is decidedly unsafe to put your dog into a pack or predatory situation that they are indicating they don’t want to either by cowering or as is most often the case – overcompensating with fear aggression.
In this situation daycare is not an option for aggression because we don’t want to correct the behaviour, we want to avoid the dangerous situations completely. We introduced the Yorkie to a known gentle Great Dane under supervision. We did not see any of the fear aggression, confirming that it was not an issue of poor communicating skills but rather her saying that within a pack she felt quite genuine concern that she may become prey. We did subsequently welcome our Yorkie friend to daycare here at the dog hotel because our style of daycare would not promote or reinforce her fears of becoming prey. Small groups, separated by size and sufficiently supervised, allowed for positive reinforcement of her desirable behaviors without other factors such as fear coming into play. Her parents chose to use daycare to better address her confidence with other similiar sized dogs and handle the energy difference between her and them.
Her parents had no need for her to become acclimated to a large dog pack situation, and in fact it was safer for her to avoid and no logical reason for her to find herself in that situation again.
Jenn Dahinten has been involved in health and pet care for over 20 years and is currently a part of the caring team at The Royal Pets Hotel & Spa, a 5 star Pet Hotel just north of Toronto in Barrie, Ontario.