What are the benefits of doggy daycare?
Dogs as pack members
It is important to start by discussing the philosophy behind the dog’s need to be a part of a pack or group. Dogs instinctually have a pack mentality, meaning they learn rules/boundaries from interactions with one another and understand how hierarchies are established within the group. They instinctually know how to communicate with each other; however, it is from a young age that a dog observes and develops skills like how to play, how to interpret another dog’s mood, and how to respect elders. They desire interaction with their own species and we humans cannot take the place of a dog’s need for canine companionship. For these reasons, dog parks and daycare facilities are great options that allow the much needed dog socialization that we humans can’t provide.
While in this “pack,” a hierarchy quickly establishes and shortly dogs distinguish who the alpha is. It’s valuable to point out that alpha doesn’t always imply aggression; it simply means dominance. As humans, we can more easily substitute the word confidence in place of dominance. The more socialized to people, places, and things your dog is, the more confident they can be in a group environment. Anyone with a feisty dog can tell you that size, sex, breed, nor age has anything to do with who becomes the leader. Within the pack, dogs play, submit to others, exert their dominance (even during play), try to “romance” and even discipline their fellow canines. An example of dog discipline can be seen when a rowdy puppy jumps in an adult dog’s face, only to be greeted with a growl, letting the puppy know, “I don’t want to play.” The puppy signifies that they’ve gotten the message by either rolling over to expose their belly (submitting) or simply moving away. With a few exceptions (i.e., two unneutered males vying for a female dog’s attention or a dog resource guarding against other dogs), approximately 80% of dog “fights” do not lead to injures. The goal in each dog’s perspective is to communicate a message, NOT inflict injury.
Doggie Daycare vs. the Dog Park
The greatest difference between daycare and the dog park is the controlled environment. Here at On Command, the staff members/kennel techs assume the position of “alpha” or pack leader. The dogs in daycare quickly learn to recognize kennel techs as the leaders of the pack. We, as a staff, are able to create the best playgroups based on dog size, play styles or temperaments, age, etc. Techs are always present in play groups to insure the safe interaction of all dogs. Furthermore, through the evaluation process with a trainer, we learn the dog’s personality and can find the play group best suited for them.
Interactions at a dog park do involve a certain associated risk. One such risk in visiting dog parks is the increased chance of infection or disease. Dogs aren’t required to have basic vaccinations at the park, unlike a daycare facility that would. It is also common for dog parks to have sources of water within the park (pond, creek, etc.) that can harbor disease, especially if the water is stagnant. Tall grasses are also prime habitat for ticks, fleas, and mites, all of which can be harmful to your dog(s). With this in mind, dog parks can provide a great outlet for physical activity and social interaction, but “swim at your own risk.”
Steps to Ensure Safety
Daycare Evaluation- During the evaluation, a staff member takes time to discuss with the owner the dog’s social history and any potential problems or concerns they may have. Our next step is to introduce the new dog (one at a time) to other dogs in daycare. We are very selective about the dogs we introduce first, using those that attend daycare frequently and do well amidst a variety of personalities. As the dog acclimates to its new surroundings, the staff keep a watchful eye for a signs of discomfort or anxiety that may result in aggression. Posturing is to be expected and a new dog may emit a nervous growl to let the other dogs know that they need space. Repeated group exposure helps the trainer and staff find the appropriate group for the new dog. Overt aggression, lunging, or snapping at other dogs is never tolerated in daycare at On Command. If these behaviors are observed, the trainer will discuss training programs as options to break such habits.
Similar Sizes & Age- In the dog world, size doesn’t always matter. Dogs of all sizes have been known to get along and have a great time together. However, for the safety of everyone, playgroups at On Command are built based on dogs of similar size. It is no secret that dogs of smaller size have a higher chance of accidental injury when play with big dogs. For this reason, we prefer to error on the side of caution by not allowing the mixture of different sized dogs. Age is also a crucial factor considered when creating play groups. Younger dogs (≤ 4 months) can be a range of sizes depending on their breed. A 4 month old Great Dane and a 4 month old Shih Tzu can be drastically different in size, but equally inexperienced in dog socializing. At On Command we see a high population of dogs aged 3 months to 1 year, bursting with energy and still learning the proper ways of play. We’re conscious of these differences and never push a young dog to play with adult dogs before they’re ready.
Behavior Reports & Log Books- Even after a dog has been through and passed the daycare evaluation, our monitoring doesn’t stop there. Kennel techs keep a very thorough log of any behavioral problems they observe from a dog. We note any scuffles, rough play, time-outs, or inappropriate behaviors. Scratches or abnormalities found on any dog are detailed as well. Daycare for dogs is a lot like the playground for children. Bumps and bruises do happen. However, if a dog’s behavior becomes a safety concern, that dog is restricted to “alone play” away from other dogs and these issues are discussed with the owner. Again, we may recommend training as a solution to any behavioral problems so that the dog can continue to play in daycare.
Monitoring Playgroups and Keeping Play at a Safe Level- Dog play comes in cycles of play, rest, play, drink water, rest. You may notice groups wrestling around, or at other times sleeping, or even lounging around. It depends on which part of the play cycle that group is in. Most of the dogs that come to On Command love to play, and hard, in which play can become rowdy. Kennel techs make a concerted effort to ensure that the play/excitement level in each play group remains under control. We teach the dogs to observe certain rules and boundaries (i.e. not jumping on the gates/fences/kiddy-walls, not barking at each other through gates, not jumping on people, etc.). Respecting these rules ultimately ensures that all dogs at On Command will be happy and safe.
Worst Case Scenario
The greatest question on some people’s minds regarding daycare is, “Can my dog be injured?” The best analogy to describe how safe doggie daycare really is would be to compare it to letting your child play on a playground. Your child may fall off the jungle gym and sprain an ankle, can catch a cold from another kid (playgrounds don’t require vaccine records like we do), run into a bully, get a scratch from rough housing, etc. Most people wouldn’t think twice regarding such contingencies. Unless you keep your child in a padded room (or a crate in your dog’s case), you have to be ready and responsible for accidents like these. So then why does it seem so different when it happens to dogs? Dogs don’t play with hands; they play with their paws, claws, and teeth. If your dog is a playgroup regular, you may occasionally see a scratch or two. However, it is rare for any major altercations to occur and the few injuries that do happen are actually the result of play.
The reality is, doggie daycare is a safe, supervised, and a fun environment for your dogs. Many could say safer than your backyard. While keeping the playground analogy in mind, bumps and scrapes do happen from everyday interactions and play. However, there infrequency should relieve any stress or concern and our track record is among the best.
On Command has always and will always pride ourselves in providing the highest level of care for your loved ones. Here, your dogs will not only be safe and well cared for, they will also have FUN and sleep well at night. Your dog’s growing excitement level from a couple blocks away to actually pulling you through On Command’s doors is a testament to that! We love and appreciate all of our customers, both human and canine. Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions about our policies or procedures at any time.
875 Greg Street
Sparks, NV 89431