Do Dogs Benefit From Day Care And Dog Park Socialization
The Play Pals
I could hear them before I even punched in for the day, the happy squealing from the the separate kennel areas at the boarding facility where I worked weekends. I knew how many dogs to look forward to from my earlier text from my husband who worked the day shifts, but weekends with the drop in day care, it was anyone's guess and at times I saw up to thirty some canines.
While many of the dogs we had this weekend were regulars and had mixed with a lot of those that dropped in for day care during the week, there were some names I didn't recognize.
Social by nature, the dogs had a formed a pack away from their homes here and occasionally there were issues if the new visitors hadn't been claimed by any of the groups.
Some owners think they are keeping their pet safe if they are aware from other animals but it really hinders their mental health as they aren't sure how they fit in when they encounter other dogs. Dogs that are kept away can sometimes come off too scared and aggressive setting up potential bite risks of them lashing out at another dog or a person.
Like all pack animals, dogs will have any variety of personality and they have to sometimes grapple at where they fit in the pecking order if there are too many dominants or submissive in a given group.
Fortunately we had our mighty leader with us today that took care of everyone dog there as long as he was seen as the alpha. The Merle collie hadn't won the position through fighting, instead his over confidence made him the leader and under his influence the new dogs should be just fine.
To some that don't understand dog behavior or non pet owners, the concept of taking a dog on play dates with other dog friends or having them in social activities like agility training, doggy day care, or dog parks is just crazy. Dogs need mental stimulation through play just as children do, so allowing them a safe environment to interact with other dogs is beneficial to their over all health and well being.
Day Of Play
The new dogs seem to have different experiences with other pets from their levels of anxiety. Like a new child in the class on the first day of school, some hang back in the groups they are put in and wait for someone more confident to literally sniff them out and initiate play.
Following the leads of the dogs already solidified in the group, someone of the dogs begin to play with their new friends, running and barking, exploring the new area. A trip to the communal water bowl, like a water cooler at the office, a few dogs stand wag and nudging each other.
In another corner a few tussle with a rope that is being used for tug of war.
Under my feet one of the new less confident dogs, is trying to feel out the situation. His occasion lip curl when someone gets too close is corrected and he's finally starting to relax proving to be more of a watcher than a participant in the play.
Like the school playground, the group has broken down into many smaller groups. Dogs of the same family aren't necessarily together- in fact many day cares will put them in separate groups to encourage them being able to be on their own.
An example of one such dog is a German Shepard female that only comes out of her shell when her dominant brother is away with another group which allows her the opportunity to have interaction with other dogs and form bonds.
Even in a multi dog home, dogs need interactions with new dogs. They know how to function as a unit in their own pack but a submissive dog might stay that way if they are only allowed to stay in that position. Most day cares break up family groups so each dog can have their own experiences. Here that submissive dog that was kept down by the dogs at home might rise in pack status as they are less shy and restricted from acting out in a way they are comfortable.
Those against dog daycare have their reasons saying that it is silly to have a dog that can't be left at home by themselves or why should they pay to have their dog play with other dogs when they are just fine by themselves.
From those examples though, think of the first time when your dog boards as you go on vacation, are called away on business or emergency. A dog that has never had experience outside the home with other dogs and new people can go one of two ways.
When I was in high school I had a Golden Retriever I had to board for a week when I went on a class trip and no family wanted to care for him for me. It was the first time that he had been on his own and not being watched at home. All week I had gotten calls that my dog sulked in the corner refusing to eat, throwing up, and was generally nervous. He had several dog friends in the neighborhood that he saw on occasion and barked at while running the length of the fences in the yard but I never realized that he wasn't getting the development he needed from being with another dog.
Dogs that are never allowed to socialize can also go the other way and be overly confident and too aggressive.
The critical period for a puppy's socialization is very small so when a dog isn't allowed contact with other animals, types of people, or children in that window sometimes a dog can attack out of fear causing some of the worst bite stories imaginable.
While some think giving your dog a place to play be it once a week or every day if they do day care while you're at work, you are creating a happier dog in the long run.
Day care does have its costs. As well as the facility costs, you are expected to provide your own snacks and meals for your pet during the day. While prices range, many offer monthly packages where days can be split among the month if you want to offer your pet a day of play when time allows rather than consecutive days. No different that a sitter for your kids, the dogs are given a safe environment to socialize with other animals and improve their mental happiness.
Down In The Park
In addition to time at day care, or a free option, dog parks can be just the thing for a pooch that may have been in isolation as an only pet at home.
While sometimes dog parks get a bad rap due to negligent owners and dogs that are not properly socialized or spayed and neutered- overall the dog park experience for those that actually care to watch over their pets goes rather smoothly. Especially for dogs that frequent the same area and become a social group.
Like the dogs that drop in at day care, the dogs learn to find their own ranking among the dogs present. Knowing what other animals will and will not tolerate sets limits and usually keeps dogs from getting too rough or rowdy in their play.
While keeping your dog on the leash if the area isn't enclosed if probably a best idea even if it inhibits your dog running around with his buddies, if the area is enclosed you still have to keep an eye on your dog especially if someone is getting too rough or they are cornered as accidents will happen.
Dog parks get a bad rap from bad owners that carelessly bring a dog that is in heat to the group or a dog that has toy aggression around ones that are chasing a ball.
Accidents do happen.
Fights do happen.
People and dogs get hurt on occasion. With the human as the thinking end of the leash in these situations, check out the group before letting your dog loose.
Is there a dog that doesn't seem to be getting along with the group? Is there something that doesn't seem right?
Even if everything checks out, always keep your eyes on your dog. When distractions like talking to other owners and playing with cell phones get in the way you may miss a social cue that a fight is about to take place.
Dogs don't do anything without giving a warning first, so watch the eyes, ears, and tail movements which are early indicators of fear or aggression.
Is anyone growling?
Is anyone guarding?
Break it up before a fight starts by redirecting the attention of the dog that seems to be upset, thus protecting everyone else. Then the owner of the offending dog should remove the animal from the group just to make sure.
If you still don't feel confident about allowing your dog to socialize at the day care or dog park due to fears of the unknown, start your own social group for your dog allowing them to visit with other dogs in the neighborhood.
Always make sure dogs that socialize are all spayed and neutered, which is a must at every day care and some dog parks as a rule. You may think that animals of the same sex that are in tact will be OK as them can't reproduce, the reason most think of spaying and neutering.
Actually in tact males especially can be more aggressive.
Dogs of the same sex that are not fixed can be troublesome together and fights do happen where dogs are seriously hurt.
Know if any dogs in the play group have toy or food aggression and don't have those items present. Even dogs that don't normal guard resources may turn aggressive if they feel the other dog is stealing from them.
Always keep proper supervision on your dog no matter where they are.
Keep your vet records current if there are any incidents as accidents do happen. Knowing the dates of your dogs last vaccinations can prevent later quarantines at the vet's office or by animal control if a serious event does happen.