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Dog Daycare: What It Is and What To Expect

Dog daycares have exploded in popularity over the past decade, and even more so thanks to the pandemic. As a result, daycares, dog walkers, and pet sitting have become more in-demand than ever before. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you’re considering bringing your beloved dog to daycare for the first time. Or you've been bringing your dog but have some questions about what they’re like. We get a lot of questions from pet owners about daycare, so we thought it’d be helpful to answer as many as we can here.

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A group of dogs in daycare including a yellow lab, newfoundland, German shepherd, black lab, and doodle

What is Dog Daycare?

Dog daycare is just like human daycare, except for dogs of course. It’s a daytime facility that offers supervised playtime and socialization for dogs of all sizes and ages. Every facility is set up a bit differently, but they generally have a large area for dogs to run around and kennels to provide a safe area for dogs to relax or be separated from the group, if needed. More on that in a bit. Many facilities also use these kennels to provide overnight boarding as an additional service.

Any reputable dog daycare will have staff that is trained to properly handle dogs and provide appropriate care. That means that handlers need to understand body language, different play styles, and how to redirect dogs to prevent altercations, if needed. It is the staff’s job to watch all dogs closely and gently correct behaviors as needed, though they certainly are allowed to play with and pet the dogs during the day. That’s one of the great perks of the job! At Daragan’s, our staff is encouraged to engage with the dogs. We often work with dogs and have them sit and wait as a group, which helps them all to learn how to take direction when in environments with a lot of distractions. We also love to play with toys and play fetch. This is not always possible if there are dogs that resource guard, but that is why the meet and greet process is so important. It helps us learn about every dog that comes under our care and what behaviors to be aware of.

Playgroups at daycare are set up differently at every facility. Larger facilities almost always have dogs separated into different groups based on size and temperament. At a smaller facility like Daragan’s, we have one open group with the ability to separate dogs into two groups if needed, based on the dogs we have on any given day. There is also a capacity limit for each playgroup, as overcrowding can easily lead to overstimulated or anxious pups in such environments. This is also so that there are not too many dogs for a single handler to watch. Many facilities usually have playgroups with a ratio of 15 - 20 dogs for every handler.

A Note About Dog Altercations

Altercations between dogs are rare at quality facilities, as dogs are typically evaluated for their temperament and personality before their first day. Daragan’s Dog Care is no exception; we evaluate all dogs as a part of our Meet & Greet process. But even good dogs have rough days. They may be tired, grumpy, or overstimulated on any particular day or they just don’t appreciate the play style of another dog. Handlers are constantly observing dogs for body language and behavior that indicates that a dog may need a break to collect themselves. This is why daycare’s have kennels and designated time out areas for dogs to rest before their behavior turns into aggression. Many daycare facilities, including Daragan's, also have nap time, where dogs are separated to rest for an hour or so. This helps dogs, especially younger dogs, learn how to regulate their energy and prevent overstimulation.

Is Daycare Good For Dogs?

Daycare is great for many dogs, but not all dogs. Dogs are not as universally social as you might think, just like people. Many people simply prefer to spend time with people or play with one or two others at a time. In these cases, a dog walker or a scheduled play date would be more appropriate instead of a daycare environment.

Dogs can be separated into four different categories of sociability and tolerance for other dogs. And a dog may move into different categories over the course of their life. Dogs typically become less tolerant of large groups as they age. A negative experience, such as an altercation, can also cause a dog to become more selective or even fearful and aggressive. However, dogs that are selective or aggressive can improve with training to become more tolerant of other dogs and puppies.

dachshund and lab mix playing in daycare

Dog Social

Social dogs are the best candidates for a daycare environment. They love all other dogs and have a very high tolerance for rude dog manners and different play styles. Most puppies fit into this category. These dogs make friends easily and are able to adjust to a daycare environment faster.

Dog Tolerant

Many adult dogs fall into this category and are still strong candidates for daycare. They are not reactive on leash or as eager to go meet other dogs as they once were. Instead, they’re more indifferent to most dogs they meet, but still willing to play with dogs when they are in the mood. They still have a higher tolerance for rude behaviors, but will certainly correct behaviors that annoy them. Dog tolerant dogs get along best with dogs they know and are friends with. They’re less likely to seek out new friends like a puppy or social dog.

Dog Selective

Selective dogs may not be the best choice to bring to daycare, though a smaller facility could work for them. This would be determined by an evaluation of the dog and possibly a couple test days, where the dog is brought in for a couple hours to see how they do. These dogs have less tolerance for rude behaviors and are more willing to correct other dogs that annoy them. It’s these dogs that handlers often need to pay the most attention to when they are in a playgroup and often receive multiple breaks throughout the day. That isn’t to say they won’t enjoy or succeed in a daycare environment, but more care must be taken as to what groups they’re in and how often they are brought to daycare. In cases where an owner needs to bring these dogs to a daycare facility due to a lack of a sitter, it is not uncommon for dog selective dogs to be out of a playgroup for extended periods and instead receive one-on-one attention from handlers. This often means being taken for multiple short walks during their extended break periods.

Dog Aggressive

Aggressive dogs may have a couple of dogs that they know and like, but many aren’t able to socialize with other dogs at all. They can certainly live with other dogs, with supervision and separated when the owners go out. These dogs are not suited for daycare. If they need to be brought to a facility for any circumstance, they will be given playtime with handlers separately and taken on a walk during the day.

Is Dog Daycare Good For Socialization?

Dog socialization is the process of making your dog feel comfortable in the world around it. That means getting them used to interacting with other dogs, people, and in unfamiliar surroundings such as city sidewalks and other busy areas. If you want to bring your dog to places like the beach and dog-friendly restaurants, then they need to be socialized for everyone’s benefit. An unsocialized dog will be anxious, fearful, and potentially act out in negative ways. Usually, they’ll cause some mild embarrassment. At worst, they might cause harm to themselves or others.

The good news is that there are multiple ways to socialize a dog, which includes dog daycare. Dog daycare can help dogs of all ages become socialized, but it’s best to start this process when your dog is a puppy. It shouldn’t be the only solution to socialization, but it helps to expose a dog to large groups of other dogs and feel comfortable around new people.

If you have an older, unsocialized dog, then daycare may not be the best place to start. That would be like having someone afraid of rollercoasters conquer their fear by riding the Superman at Six Flags New England. You should start small and work up to more dynamic situations.