Everyone loves the idea of dog parks, dog daycares, of socializing their dog with the friendly dog on the trail. Because every dog training or dog behavior article we read says we must socialize our dogs as much as possible. To allow them to play with any dog they meet. To sniff, to wag tails, to share toys, to drink from the same water bowl. We want our dogs to run gallantly down the trail, side by side with other dogs. We want our small dogs to say hello to the big boys. We want our big boys to crouch down low and say a gentle hello to the little guys. We want this because the internet says we should have this, or cute Facebook videos make us laugh and desire the same, or because our friend’s dog gets along with all dogs.
Here’s the big But! …
Who we put our dogs in front of, is who they will act like at the end of the day. Sure, daycares are wonderful ( I managed one for a year with 30-50 dogs on a daily basis). The dogs all go home tired and head straight to bed. Clients came in the next day ready to sign up for another month of day care on the spot because the dog was so tired. But then, a month, a week or sometime down the road the dog will need training- big time. I saw it over and over! Because all day dogs are running, jumping into each other, learning how to “play dirty” by chewing and yanking on other dogs collars, demand barking when they want the other dog to play more, and hovering over the shared water bowls. Please don’t hear me wrong though- some daycares are great! Some daycares will have great staffing to dog ratio, will sheriff the play so no bulling happens and dogs are advocated for. But this is not the norm in the daycare world.
So you start bringing your dog into daycare and your dog starts disengaging with you 5 blocks before you arrive at daycare. He jumps around in the car, barks excitedly, spins around and you KNOW your dog is happy to go to daycare and you feel very justified taking them. You can no longer nicely walk your dog into daycare, you can’t pay your bill without your dog yanking on your arm so they can go play. The staff fixes the solution by quickly taking the leash and heading to the play room laughing because your dog is just that excited. But you feel okay about this because everyone acts so normal about it and you like your dog exhausted when you get home.
But you’ve lost any ounce of control, engagement, training that you ever had. The payoff is big, right? So you go to the dog parks. Or you walk your dog more on the rail trails and let your dog meet new dogs that way. But your dog’s behavior gets worse. It can be a slippery slope to big time behavior stuff, like dog aggression, resource guarding, nervousness, insecurities and dog anxiety. And then you can’t take your dog anywhere. Then you realize you need a dog trainer or behaviorist…so perhaps you go back to the daycare where they conveniently have a trainer ready to work on any of the problems you have.
All of this could have been avoided if you realized up front that you may be putting your dog with a lot of bratty, entitled, bossy, over excited dogs all day long. Think back to when you were a kid. Maybe you got to go over to a friend’s house after school. And then mom picks you up. You had a great time after school with your new friend. You think you should go there all the time! But your mom says that you have a bad attitude since hanging out with that friend. You are a bit more bossy or entitled. Now you are not allowed to go there after school anymore. It is the same thing!
If you want your dog to act polite, engaged, refined, well socialized, and trained- then find other dogs and owners who want the same thing. Yes, this can happen at a dog daycare, but you have to research them out. Yes, you can find this at the dog park- if you hang with the right owners and dogs. Yes, you can meet a great handler and dog on the rail trail- but act like a good parent and “interview” the other parent. Check out the other dogs social abilities (or lack thereof).
Who you put your dog in front of, is who your dog will act like!