I have owned and operated a dog day care in Seattle for the past 14 years. We were one of the very first. This is not the first time I have written on the subject but it has been a while so I thought I’d refresh.
This week was a rough one at Dog’s Day Out, we had to “dismiss” more than one dog, which is certainly rare but unfortunately does happen. And it is always a bummer. While some dogs whoop it up like there is nothing better in this world, day care can be stressful, detrimental or just plain no-fun for some dogs. Snarking at other dogs can certainly be acceptable behavior in some situations but we have a zero tolerance for well, blood. We have to. We have a fairly extensive evaluation process here but even then dogs need to be monitored and watched closely. Dogs can change over time and certainly their tolerance for others can change. Some dogs do well in day care for a while but once they hit maturity or have become more comfortable (or UNcomfortable as it goes) things can change.
The bummer part to me is not that the dog can no longer come to day care because the dog DOESN’T WANT to come to day care. A biting dog is a dog under stress. If a dog has resorted to biting at day care he is definitely not happy to be here. This can be very hard for the humans to take. Humans bring their dog to day care to do the “right thing” for their dog, only problem is, sometimes it’s the wrong thing. Great dog guardians treat their dogs as members of their family. Which is fantastic but also makes it all the more difficult when those dogs do not feel or behave as we wish. They are still animals and along with treating them as family members we also need to remember they are dogs and we need to respect and understand that and let them BE dogs.
Guardians may see their dog playing with other dogs in other situations “just fine.” Sometimes a dog does quite well with other dogs, even in a group, if only for a shorter period of time. Day care is generally all day. I have seen many dogs who did not do well at day care do really well when out with a small group for an hour or two at the park. On the other end, I have also witnessed what the guardians would call “just fine” or even “great” play to be something else completely. I see the dog throwing off stress signals left and right with their guardian oblivious to the scene (this of course, brings us back to learning to read your dog’s body language but that’s another blog!).
It is never fun for us to have to tell someone day care is not right for their dog but I promise you we are in no way rejecting you as a person/guardian or your dog, we really just don’t want your dog to have to be in this environment and stressed out! Ask the staff how your dog plays in day care, who he plays with, does he take breaks, can he settle down, is he having FUN, does he seem to enjoy his time and the company there? Many day care staff are afraid to bring these topics up with guardians because they are afraid of how the people will take it but you should want to know. And take it as information, it is not judgment or about whether the staff likes your dog (or you), it is merely information.
If your dog goes to a day care that does not evaluate your dog (at the beginning and throughout care), if they say every* dog can attend, or if they have never dismissed a dog, you need to find a new day care.
*Note: Day care can be right for “any dog” but can also be wrong for “any dog.” I am not talking here about restricting certain breeds – all dogs need to be evaluated as individuals. We have had Pit bulls in day care who do really well and some who do not. We have also had Golden Retrievers do really well and some who we have had to dismiss.