Is dog daycare a good idea?

Dog daycares are quite common in Chicago. Especially these days when people have a tendency to work longer hours and might even need to take on a second job to make ends meet. It is easy to feel guilty about dogs not getting enough exercise or attention. So many people look into dog daycare to provide their dogs with necessary exercise and social interactions. But, can these trips to daycare cause more problems than they help?

I think dog daycares are great in theory. Dogs get to exercise, socialize and get out of the house. I truly believe that the owners of dog daycares are usually caring, responsible people that truly love the dogs that they take care of. However, there are reasons why dog daycares can be problematic and that is what I want to address today. I am basing my theories on 15 years of training thousands of dogs. In countless interviews over the years many of my clients identify behavior changes as a direct correlation to trips to dog daycare. I have also witnessed first-hand dozens of interactions at a variety of dog daycares in Chicago that absolutely can cause major behavioral problems even if they happen sporadically during visits. But, based on my experiences, the interactions that I saw happen more frequently rather than less.

I always recommend dog walks instead of daycare unless a dog has severe separation anxiety and can not be left alone. Dog daycare is an option until the proper separation anxiety exercises are practiced and the dog can be left alone.

Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding whether daycare is good for your dog. 

I think dog daycares are great in theory. I truly believe that the owners of dog daycares are usually caring, responsible people that truly love the dogs that they take care of.

No downtime. Some daycares advertise "cageless boarding" as a benefit. However, dogs need a lot of sleep and rest. If they have constant stimulation of playing and barking dogs, they can become over-stimulated, causing stress. An over-stressed dog can be more reactive and less tolerant. This can lead to anxiousness or even fights between dogs. Even daycares that offer downtime in cages throughout the day dogs often have numerous dogs that bark continously throughout the day, further adding to the stress.

Bully dogs. Dogs that are either improperly socialized or have overly aggressive play styles can wreak havoc in dog daycare. Depending on the confidence level of your dog, he might learn bad play styles or become anxious or even aggressive around other dogs.

The attendant's knowledge of dog behavior. When you leave your dog in the care of a daycare, you are assuming that the attendant can identify problems before they start and skillfully prevent situations from getting out of control, right? I have personally witnessed a Yorkshire Terrier puppy shaking out of fear in the corner of a play session while the attendant either did not see him or ignored his obvious distress. He should have immediately taken the dog out of the play area, called the dog's guardian and told him or her that dog daycare is not the best situation for their dog.

I have also witnessed many play sessions where one or more dogs are getting harassed and no one steps in to help. This can lead to dog's learning that the only way they can get help is to escalate their behavior until it is obvious that they are scared by snapping, growling or snarling at other dogs. These dogs can then start exhibiting this behavior at home when they are under duress.

​Pick up or drop off? â€‹If you choose to use daycare, I strongly recommend dropping off and picking up your dog. I spoke with a driver from a daycare a number of years ago that had to quit because he was so frustrated with the situation. He relayed to me how some of the dogs were in his van for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon since they were the first to get picked up and the last to get dropped off. Bad traffic is legendary in Chicago, so this added to the commute times. I have also seen many situations where many dogs are in the back of a van or car without proper doggie seatbelt or other methods to keep them from injury if there is an accident. 

​How many days? â€‹Maybe use daycare for 2 or 3 days a week and get a dog walker for the other days. Multiple days in a row can cause extra stress. Just because your dog is tired when he gets home doesn't mean it is a good kind of tired. 

I have clients that have used dog daycare for years with no problems. However, I see many problems that seem to stem from going to daycare. You need to use your judgment and monitor your dog's behavior, become acquainted with the staff and ask a lot of questions if you choose to use daycare for your dog. There are definitely good daycares and it can work out really well for some dogs, but not all.