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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.

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41 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!

      1. Hello, thank you for this post it’s really interesting. Our 10 month old whippet has been attending doggy day care where there are just 6 dogs in a ladies house. So it’s very small and personal. He has recently become hyper attached to the lady that runs it and we’re struggling to know what to do. He cries when she leaves the room, even if someone else is there and gets very stressed out. He used to cry when we left but now we give him a kong in the car he is fine. Any advice? He doesn’t do this with us at home.

        Thank you,

        Rachel

        1. It is hard to say with limited behavioral history and information on the environment but it sounds as if the day care provider would need to work on the separation anxiety on her end. I love the books by Julie Naismith and Malena DiMartini-Price on separation anxiety. Both women also have certified SA trainers who work with clients virtually all over the world.

      2. Hello, I have a 10 1/2 old Wheaten and she goes to daycare where they play for 3 hours, break in kennels for 3 hours, play for another 2 hours and then back to the kennels. She will sleep that night and most if the next day. Sometimes I’ve noticed she will limp a bit the day after daycare. Could this be because she’s an older dog and 3 days is too much ? I know she will run with other dogs or she’ll find her spot, sitting on top of an object looking over the dogs.

        1. Yes, that may be too much for her physically. I would definitely get a full medical check up from your veterinarian and likely cut back on her days or ask the day care to give her more rest while she is there.

  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!

      1. I took my husky puppy for a full day of day care because I couldn’t leave her at home alone and I was gone for 9 hours. I had absolutely no choice. She came home exhausted. It’s now Monday, she was taken on Friday and she is still not herself. My baby is usually active biting and nibbling on everything including me. Should i be as concerned as I am? She also stopped eating her dry food, won’t won’t touch it. She will only eat wet wet.

        1. Puppies can certainly be tired from an entire day of day care but I would have him checked out by your veterinarian. 9 hours is really too long to be in a play room so if he must be there for that amount of time, I would ask the staff to give him breaks in whatever space they have for that – crate, kennel run, or even an office.

  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.

          1. This is interesting to me. We adopted a 14 month rescue dog recently. He is very friendly and sweet. But he has leash reactivity because he wants to play with everyone and every dog. He lacks manners in greeting because he is excited. Started obedience training two weeks ago, and was told to keep him away from dogs and people on walks so we can build a bond with obedience. He does fine taking him to other houses and meeting new people when we have gone to visit family. Outside, the leash is frustrating to him. He is not getting the activity he needs, because we don’t have a fenced yard and we do as much as possible to play inside and mental stimulation, but I can’t help but feel he needs daycare, which they said not to do right now. He has started to bark and want to play rough with us inside and I know he needs more stimulation. Your thoughts are appreciated.

          2. It’s hard to say specifically with your dog without getting more information but I do think getting him some access to play with other dogs is beneficial but a day care (or even dog park) may be too stimulating for him. I would try to set up playdates with individual social dogs with compatible play styles so that he does get interaction with his own species but in a more controlled (and less exciting) environment. You might want to check out the Reactive ReDo Webinar . You can purchase a recording of if for $25. If you are interested, email: Danette@dogsdayoutseattle directly.

  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.

  8. Hi! I have been taking my 4 year old Shep/Collie Mix pup to doggy daycare for about 2years now and she goes 3 times a week. She is loves people and dogs but would rather interact with people. She is a very anxious and she is afraid of certain noises. She gets excited when I say Car Ride but I noticed recently that when I get her out of the car she won’t budge to go to the door of the Doggy Day Care place. She started sleeping under the bed at night which she never does so I am wondering if something happened at Doggy Day Care.

    1. I would have a conversation with the staff to ask about her heavier once she is inside and to see if they know if any event that may have caused her to not want to go in (altercation with another dog, scary sound inside etc.). If they report she is happy and playful once inside it’s possible there could have been a sound in the parking area that scared her. You could try to get one of her dog friends to come out to meet her at the car to see if that makes her excited to go inside. We may never know the reason for her resistance to enter but she still does not want to go in then I would listen to her and stop taking her.

      1. This sounds really similar to what my dog has been doing. He is a 1 year old beagle/boxer/cattle dog mix and has in the past really enjoyed daycare. However, recently he seemed reluctant at drop off to want to be left there-but the staff sends photos and videos of him playing and letting me know that he was doing well. Then, the last time we went to drop off, he physically crawled into the daycare, flipped on his back, and then started shaking, ran to me, and crawled into my lap and refused to go into the daycare room. This has never happened. Once another dog got there, he “snapped out of it” and followed the daycare owner and the dog happily back into the room. This startled me to the point that I have been searching for another daycare to bring him to, and a trainer to focus more on training and mental stimulation at home. My struggle is that the daycare has continued to reach out to see if we’d be willing to try again. They said they have been, and will continue to be honest with me-that nothing had happened to him while he was in their care-however they had a staff member that was somewhat unpredictable in her moods and was causing negative energy in the daycare and my dog was not the only one who recently started to react this way, so they terminated this employee. My concern is-has the damage already been done? Is it going to be too traumatic to put him back in the same environment-even with her removed-because he might be scared that she could show up at any time?

        1. It really depends and is hard to speculate on what his reaction will be. If you have an open line of communication with the staff, I think you could certainly try again and see what his response is. You would want to determine if his response is just on the initial entrance or if he is reacting fearfully during the day as well. You (and the staff) should be working on making his entrance and his time in the day care positive. I would be treating him heavily on entrance. Playing with the other dogs might be the strongest positive reinforcement he needs once in the day care.

  9. I have a small chihuahua mix that I rescued and he was home alone while I worked before the pandemic but with me all that time since. I have to go to the office again about 10 days a month now and feel so bad with him home, I watch on a camera and he just looks around like he’s waiting for me all day. I tried a couple of daycares and the last one took pictures. He just went inside one of the big toys they had in the hard and peeked out at other dogs all day. The pictures of him were wide eyed and panicked. It broke my heart. We aren’t around a lot of other people so I thought it would be good, but you’re the first one I’ve found that agrees that maybe it isn’t. I’ve struggled with whether to take him or not since he is so scared around other people and doesn’t have much to do at all with other dogs. Do you kind of agree that maybe he should just stay home? Thank you for your help.

    1. Yes, from your description, I would agree he may not enjoy day care (at least that one). i would look at other alternatives if you need to leave him for long hours. Possibly, a dog walker who could come and take him out mid-day or a smaller day care. I don’t know where you are located but you may be able to find someone who takes dogs into their home during the day too.

      Thank you for looking out for what is best for your dog!

  10. Hi,
    I have a 10 month old Goldendoodle that has been going to daycare twice a week for 3+ months. She didn’t mind it at first and would come home exhausted, but never bounced into daycare with excitement. About a month ago she started refusing to get out of the car, we now have to carry her in. She is shy, when I say “shy” I mean she likes polite hello’s from other dogs and then goes about her business but is friendly to dogs and people. The facility keeps telling us we need to continue to show authority but I don’t want to keep sending her if it’s doing more harm. I also wondered if maybe this daycare just isn’t the right fit and is it too late to try another facility. Thank you

  11. I took my 1.5 year old Karelian bear dog to day care for the first time today. I had to carry her inside and she tried to run back to my car. I stayed for ~20 minutes before leaving and she had started wanted to play with other dogs. There were no more than 20 dogs there. I picked her up after 4 hours and the staff said she mostly paced the room and observed. Normally she is very social and wants to play with every dog she meets. She does have some separation anxiety but I’m able to leave her home alone without worry about her becoming destructive. Do you think she will eventually become more comfortable with daycare or is it maybe just not a good fit for her? How many tried should I give it before decided it doesn’t work for us? Thank you in advance!

    1. You could try her another time or two; sometimes it does take dogs a couple of times to feel comfortable. I would not do a full day, rather just trial her for a few hours. Keep an open dialog with staff. They should be telling you if she is stressed and if she is, they should also not want her to continue.

  12. My 20 month Yorkinese is having serious barking issues ALL the time. Not only can I not walk him around other dogs but he continuously barks at the TV, or pretty much anything. I try to play with him regularly but he doesn’t seem to like to play. He was a rescue dog and may have possibly been crated 24/7. At times I will see him play fetch (by himself – yes) or chase his tail. If I play fetch he grabs the toy and runs under the bed…He will growl or snap at me if I try to retrieve the toy.
    Most importantly, I tried Doggy Day Care. He is at his 2nd facility now. The first Day care mentioned he snapped while they would try to get him out of the crate after naptime. So, moving to the 2nd facility, I notice on the CAMS he sits literally ALL DAY in the corner and observes. The staff mentioned to me that this can be normal behavior in some dogs. I think NOT.
    I tried the separate Day Care Plus with Max of 8 dogs, and they said it was a little better. But when they put him aside for naptime alone, he would constantly bark for an hour. Is this a serious issue of Anxiety along, or possibly Separation Anxiety> I’m hoping it’s not too late to get him evaluated or some training where he doesn’t seem so stressed out.

  13. My dog is just about 18 months old. He started daycare when he was about 5 months old. So he has been going there there for about a year now.
    When he first started, they were fairly new and didn’t have very many dogs at a time each day. Now they have at least 15 – 20 dogs each day.
    My dog started off shy and kept to himself in the corner until he became brave enough to venture out and play with the other dogs. He’s a 50 pound mix breed.. very friendly, loves people and other dogs. He prefers/ feels more comfortable with smaller dogs or dogs his own size.
    Well, it’s been a year now and I have been told that my dog is good about befriending any new dog that joins the pack. He’s a sweet and friendly dog and very submissive.
    Well his daycare has cameras so we can check up on our pups whenever we want. I checked in to see how he was doing and saw there was a muzzle on him. I was shocked!! He has never displayed any aggressive behavior ever.
    So I went to get him right away. His care taker told me he was being snippy when a do would walk by him.. But he has never reacted to other dogs that way. Do you think it could be because he is overwhelmed with a lot of dogs? He is typically a relaxed and lazy dog.. Just wondering if it’s best if I don’t take him to daycare anymore. I don’t want him to experience being muzzled again.

    1. This would be quite concerning to me. While there are certainly times to muzzles (see our blog post on muzzle training) I would never want to put a muzzle on a dog who has not been conditioned to it first and certainly not without your approval. There are much better ways to manage your guy in day care. If he is snippy when a dog walks by him, he is uncomfortable and needs help to feel better, or get out, of that environment. A muzzle is not changing the way he feels.

      https://dogsdayoutseattle.com/train-dog-wear-muzzle/

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