But is dog daycare the best thing for your dog? In short, no it's not.
Dog daycares sell you on one simple fact: your dog has a lot of energy and needs a lot of time and effort - while you have little energy and little time to spare.
So in that regard, they're right and it's an awesome fit.
However, energy isn't your problem. What your dog really needs is purpose and meaning - these are much harder things to give than a large room filled with a bunch of dogs.
And if your main goal is to wear your dog out, that plan will only work for so long. As with humans, dogs who work out a lot will increase their stamina and suddenly have the energy to play or even misbehave for longer periods of time. You can try more daycare at that point, but eventually your dog will become impervious or going to daycare will become as boring as sitting at home.
Dog Daycare is Harmful to Most Dogs
First, most dogs don't enjoy dog daycare. Unless they're put in early as puppies and have a good natural temperament for it, they will either be overstimulated, petrified, or a combination of the two.
Even good dogs in a poorly run daycare situation will find themselves in trouble. My dog, Donovan, in his adolescence thrived at one facility and turned into an idiot at the other one - he even got into a fight when there was no attendant in the room (negligence is common at dog daycare facilities). This is not his typical behavior and I take the blame, because I knew the environment was not a good fit for him. I wanted to force it, because we all want our dogs to be perfect in every situation. The reality, though, is that the daycare environment is a very difficult one for most dogs to be in.
Secondly, dog daycares promise that your dog will become better socialized. In reality, dog daycare is a much better fit for dogs that are already socialized. If the facility is staffed with respected trainers or behaviorists, then it could be an awesome situation for your dog to make improvements. But more often than not, daycares staff their play areas with low-wage, part-time workers without the proper training or support to make sure your dogs are truly happy. Often times, they are dog lovers, but dog lovers aren't always informed dog handlers.
5 Better Alternatives to Daycare
In a perfect world, trained professionals could supervise your dogs and make sure that they are developing nicely in an open play setting. But this isn't the norm.
Instead of daycare, consider these options to wear your dog out, socialize him, and make him mentally stronger and more satisfied:
- Start your day with a structured walk. When Cesar Millan told everyone to walk their dogs, a lot of people missed that self-control and impulse control are a big part of walks - this both challenges your dog and wears them out!
- Take up a dog sport! Nose work, agility, or competitive retrieving are all great options.
- Join a pack walk where your dog can socialize in a more natural way for dogs. This also provides structure.
- Keep practicing obedience - the more your dog has to think, the more tired and happy they will be. Just because obedience class is over doesn't mean the work is over. My wife Tracy always tells me that mental games like sudoku are good for the human brain - find a good sudoku-like game for your dog.
- Take up some more high-energy activities. Dogs love to run alongside a bike or someone on rollerblades.
Can't Do Without Daycare? Keep These Points in Mind
If daycare is a must, remember to find the right daycare for your dog (and there's not a right daycare for every dog). Consider these things when choosing a daycare:
- What is the human to dog ratio in a play area? Look for something 12-1 or less.
- What training tools are used in playrooms to stop or prevent fights? Are you comfortable with them?
- Is it a training school? Are trainers staffing the playrooms or is that reserved for part time employees?
- What kind of training do people receive who are in charge of your dog? I've recently shopped for daycares for my human child and of course I would ask similar questions there. Why not do the same for your dog?
- How many dogs are allowed in play areas at one time? Your dog will likely have never been around as many dogs as they will at dog daycare. Too often these rooms will be overfilled because the dogs can't complain and the more dogs there are, the more money is going in the owner's pockets.
- How is it determined that the dogs are allowed in community play areas? Are they temperament tested?
Know a great daycare in Indy that meets this criteria? Share it with our readers!