If your dog currently attends dog day care or you are thinking about starting, here is some food for thought…

I have owned and operated a dog day care and training facility for just about 20 years now. I have a lot of experience in this arena, have learned a ton (thank goodness) in the past 20 years and my opinions and recommendations on dog day care have changed. When I opened in 2000, dog day care facilities were a brand-new thing. I used to recommend day care for most of my training clients (and other folks too) and now, more often than not, I ask people to decrease the number of days their dog goes to day care or tell them to stop attending day care completely. Spouting from my own mouth back then was “a tired dog is a well-behaved dog.” We’ve all heard it and well yes, exercise is a necessity and dogs definitely need it but I think some of us have taken that a bit too far. Sometimes a “tired/well-behaved dog” is actually a super-stressed-out-mentally-and-physically-exhausted dog.

For the dogs that day care is good for, it is really good, great in fact. But for dogs that day care is not good for, it can be extremely detrimental and damaging to that dog’s behavioral health.

How can you know when dog day care is bad for your dog…?

  1. Your dog is not a good day care candidate. Day care is not for every dog. I think day care is really good for only about 20% of the dog population and OK for another 30% or so. That leaves about 50% of the population I do not think do well in day care at all and whose behavioral health is at risk. Keep reading to determine if that’s your dog.
  1. The physical space does not work for your dog. If your dog is shy, anxious or nervous, day care may not be the right option for him. The physical set-up for a dog like this matters greatly. Some dogs do OK in a big space with a lot of dogs but the majority do not. Most dogs will do best with a smaller group of dogs. I do not like to see more than 15 dogs (even that can be too much for a lot of dogs) in a space. I recommend staying away from any center that has more than 20 dogs together in one space. In cities, it may be hard to find a day care facility with an outdoor potty area but I would look for that as well. Some dogs who may not like a big room with a bunch of dogs may be perfectly comfortable and happy in a small space where they can hang with a few (maybe mellow) dogs and humans.  And, some dogs really just don’t want to hang out with other dogs at all and that’s OK! I’m not a fan of big parties/clubs but let me hang with a few of my besties in a quiet space (even better if we can eat and drink too) and I’m in!
  1. Your dog goes to day care too often. Please, do not send your dog to day care 5 days/week. That’s way too much activity, both mental & physical and much too stressful. In our facility, we do not allow it. If you work long hours make other arrangements. Try day care 2-3 days per week (max) and a dog walker or other alternatives on the other days. If you work long hours and are thinking of getting a puppy – don’t! Adopt an adult dog who will not need the same time commitment and can handle some time alone. The exception to everyday day care would be for a puppy 8-16 weeks who attends a specialized “puppy camp.” These are specialized programs geared for very young puppies where pups go for part of the day every day or are crated for frequent naps, introduced in very small groups (3-6 pups) and are monitored carefully. These are not cheap so if you want a puppy, plan for it. Your dog does not need to go to day care every day and should be able to cope with some time alone. Be sure to have some stretches of time where you dog is home alone so that he can learn to be OK with that too. I do not like to see a dog in a crate for more than 4 hours at a stretch though, so figure it out. If your dog must go to day care for several days ask the day care to crate/kennel/separate your dog for breaks and naps during the day. Your dog should not be running around for 8-10 hours straight.  A dog day care facility should have a separate space (kennels or crates) for dogs to relax. Some dogs are good at taking a break on their own but many (most) adolescent dogs need to be separated and crated or kenneled from the activity in order to rest. A facility that claims to be completely “kennel-free” and “crate-free” is not what you want.
  1. Your day care dog is missing out on other, very important stuff. Besides creating an over stimulated, overtired dog, when I see a dog going to day care too often (every day), I see a dog NOT going on regular walks or doing other activities (hiking in different areas, training, etc.). The dog comes home too tired to go for a walk (much less a fun training session) and “doesn’t need it.” The human is fine with that because she has been working all day. We know now (I didn’t 18 years ago) that a dog’s walk is just as much, maybe more so, about his nose (smelling and investigating new things!) than it is about his legs and lungs. Your dog needs to go out for a walk to “exercise” his nose every day and a “well socialized” dog does, and is comfortable doing, a variety of activities.
  1. Your day care provider is not talking to you. An open dialog with the day care staff is crucial. The staff should be making continuous behavioral assessments of your dog in the environment. A dog may start out great at day care as a young dog but his feelings and tolerances may change as he gets older. Ask how your dog is doing. When the staff talks to you about your dog’s behavior at day care, this is not a personal reflection of you or your dog “parenting” skills. You need to know how your dog is doing at day care. A day care provider should not want your dog to attend if your dog is stressed out and not thriving in this environment.
  1. Your day care staff is not trained. Dog day care has now become big business. Unfortunately, the staff at a dog day care may know little to nothing about dog behavior. Day care staff should have extensive training on reading canine body language. They should be trained on using force-free group management and NOT be using aversive techniques like squirt bottles, citronella or e-collars to stop barking, shaking coin-filled cans or making loud noises to “manage” the environment. If they are using any of these, find another day care.

You are your dog’s advocate and protector. Learn what is best for your individual dog and make your choices based on what is best for your dog even if that is not what may be best/easiest/pleasurable to you.



16 Replies to “When Day Care is Bad for Your Dog”

  1. My 10 month wheaten loves to play. I have been taking her to a doggy Day care where they play outside and have breaks in their own kennel at least for an hour or so between play time. When I pick her up, she comes home and is exhausted! She barely moves around and is very tired. Is she getting too much exercise?

    1. Every dog is an individual so it is hard for me to say but I do not usually recommend dogs attend day care more that 2-3 times per week. Mainly so that they are doing a variety of other activities as well.

  2. hi we have been taking our 3 year old golden retriever to a day care once a week for a little over a year now. he always loved it and be almost busting out of the car to get into the place. 2 weeks ago we tried to take him an extra time that week and he would not get in the car. totally would not budge. this past week we tried our usual once a week trip and he still would not get in the car in the morning.
    we also do other things with him such as regular walks around the neighborhood and also off leash runs at a huge local safe field that he greatly enjoys. do you think it is possible that he has just become bored by the daycare? i was also thinking maybe something happened there but it is a very repuatble place so i prefer to think it unlikely. any insight you have would be helpful. thank you

    1. It is really impossible for me to say why you dog’s behavior change so abruptly. I do not think that type of strongwomen averse reaction would be because he was bored there. It sounds as if something happened there but it could be may things, likely something that scared him or caused him pain (he could have been injured while playing) that can happen regardless of how great the facility is. I would have a discussion with the staff to see what his behavior had been prior to that and if they noticed any physical pain (limping etc.) while he was there or if he had any issues with any of the other dogs. Keeping an open discussion on your dogs behavior there is the most helpful for both you and the day care staff!

  3. I work at a doggy daycare, and we use (water) spray bottles to help manage humping/barking, etc. I thought this was okay! Could you please help me with some alternative ways to manage bad behavior?

    1. We use various things to redirect dogs including: short-high pitch-happy sounds, squeaky toys and scatter feeding. Obviously with scatter feeding you need to make sure there is no resource guarding from any of the dogs but we have actually been surprised at how effective this is and how rare it is for us NOT to be able to do this because of resource guarding. We also keep a small group of no more than 14 dogs and take behavioral histories and do evaluations on all dogs prior to attending. I also feel it is imperative that the day care staff is well-versed at reading canine body language and understanding what “good” dog-dog play should look like so that they can intervene and redirect BEFORE any escalation of behavior. Search our blog section for Dog-Dog Play to see what I mean!

  4. Hello,

    My dog enjoys dog parks and other dogs. She’s great with small puppies that I sometimes foster. She’s even patient with dogs who play too rough for her and will wait out their energy until they are on her level. When I first took her to day care she would play and play and play. I know she loves going to day care. When I say “daycare” she typically starts running to the door. She even dislike car rides, but will happily get in if she knows we are going to day care. I noticed recently though, she doesn’t play at day care like she used to or like she does at the park or with other playmates she has. She sits or lays to the side by herself. Other dogs come up to her and seems unphased, but it’s odd to see a dog who wants to run and chase and play with other dogs choose to sit the sidelines. Is she not enjoying day care? Is she happy to “just be” and doesn’t feel a need to play? I will stop taking her if she is not happy, but i also don’t want to stop taking her if she is happy.

    1. I think some dogs do just enjoy being there in the company of dogs and humans but I would definitely have an honest conversation with the staff to see what behavior they are observing when she is there.

      1. My 10 month old retriever goes crazy when he sees other dogs on walks as he wants to play with them! We don’t let him play with dogs we don’t know and we don’t know many dogs! He loves dogs more than humans. He has no recall when dogs are around. Our trainer thought doggie daycare would help him get over his fascination for them! In your experience would you say it might help him become calmer around other dogs.

  5. We have an 10 month mini Australian labradoodle – we have needed to take her to a well liked day care a couple time s due to us not being able to be home. Typically someone is home during the day. each time we get a call within an hour that she is barking non stop at the other dogs . So we tried pet smart and she seemed to love it – she only went 2 x and on the 3rd they called and said they had to isolate her because she wouldn’t stop barking in other dogs faces . We have never seen this behavior for her she plays well with neighbors dogs and doesn’t bark at any dogs when out on walks etc. I am assuming it’s anxiety? We just don’t know what to do, we need an occasional day care for when someone isn’t home. Thoughts on this situation.

    1. There are a lot of factors to consider. I would likely try to find a smaller day care (or one that has separate groups) with a staff experienced in reading canine body language and knowledge on how to manage a group of dogs without using aversive methods. A god walker who takes dogs out on adventures could also be a better option.

  6. Hi. I have been taking my 6 month old goldendoodle to daycare. 1-2 times a week for the last month. Recently she is starting to jump on us and biting at our ankles. She seems to playing but it hurts. At daycare they say she is good. Could she be getting to much play

  7. Hello,
    Wondering if anyone has an answer for this situation. My dog is 13 months, has been going to daycare on and off since he was 6 months. He gets picked up by the shuttle and just this week he had an issue with guarding the daycare worker. He was done on the van with be other dogs and fine getting into the daycare but as soon as the driver/worker would enter the dog area he would start guarding her and going after the other dogs. They are going to try again tomorrow but I have no idea how to fix that other than no more pick up service which would suck for him and myself with work.

    Any suggestions on correcting this would be much appreciated. Thanks

    1. Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to answer that question without full insight in to your dog’s history, the staff’s interactions/history with him and the actual environmental set-up which plays a huge role in the dogs behavior in the space. Hopefully, your day care has a knowledgeable staff and possibly even a positive reinforcement trainer who works with them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *