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Finding A Good Daycare
Over the last two decades dog daycares have become a convenient option for many families. They can provide company for the dog with separation anxiety; keep the dogs that get bored and frustrated at home for the day, active and entertained; some people even use them to help socialize their younger dogs.
With the number of daycares available nowadays, you can be choosy. But how can you decide if one daycare is better than another? What things should you look for and what questions should you ask? When vetting a daycare there are many overlooked considerations that are just as important to your dog’s health and well-being as vaccines.
As with most dog-related services, daycares are unregulated. Because of this, anyone can open a daycare, no matter how limited their experience with dogs. Having a love for dogs or having them all your life are not qualifications for being responsible for looking after a group of dogs. Whether you are using daycare simply for babysitting or to help your dog develop skills around other dogs, it is equally important that you take the time to check out potential facilities carefully before you drop your dog off for the first time.
Finding out the facility’s philosophy, protocols and experience is a crucial first step. If these are not up to par, then everything else will be of little consequence. A modern, attractive layout is an eye-catcher for sure. And a clean and safe environment is certainly important for the care of any animal. Looks aren’t everything though and spending a lot of resources on making a facility attractive to people, but skimping on research, training and the education of those looking after your dog, is all too common and a BIG red flag.
One of the biggest drawbacks of most daycares is that their protocols and setup are not based on what we now know about dogs. Being responsible for looking after any number of dogs while using outdated information as a guide is not only inappropriate it’s also dangerous.
- Have they had formal training in dog behaviour?
- What is their philosophy in the handling and management of the dogs in their care?
- How do they handle misbehaviour? Do they use squirt-bottles? Do they correct the dogs? Or do they give time outs so the dog can take a break?
If they think dogs are wolf-wanna-be’s and the group at their daycare is a pack with individuals vying for position and needing to be dominated for control, RUN. This is old information. Any caregiver should be better informed. It is vital that you find out what the knowledge base and qualifications of the staff is. They should be skilled in managing the dogs in a safe and kind manner.
Another dangerous aspect of most daycares is that they don’t have a good understanding of what safe and appropriate interactions look like. Dogs are typically put together that should not be together, not supervised adequately and allowed to be active for too long.
- Most people ask what the maximum number of dogs allowed is. This a good question, but even more importantly is how many dogs are together at a time.
- How many people are actively supervising the dogs?
- Most play involves dogs pairing off. Can that happen?
- How often do the dogs take breaks during their visits and what else do they do other than play?
All too often dogs are over-stimulated and allowed to interact inappropriately. This allows some dogs to become rough and bullying in their behaviour, while others are left to defend themselves. Both situations can lead to behavioural issues. Dogs do not just magically learn manners and social savvy by being around other dogs. It takes skill, understanding and experience on the staff’s part to be able to organize, monitor and supervise pairs and groups of dogs. It is vital that those in charge of watching the dogs, understand canine body language and recognize signs of stress and arousal.
As touched on earlier, the facility should be set up so that it best suits the needs of the dogs.
- Are there separate areas for small or shy dogs?
- Can dogs pair off to play?
- Are there separate areas where dogs can safely rest or have a snack?
At our facility, our dogs have ample time for non-dog activity. Many choose to play with other dogs for only a part of their visit. I think parents would be surprised at how much time their dogs want to be doing other things than playing. They enjoy time to investigate and sniff without being hassled by another dog to play; time to chew or work at a food puzzle; time to have a nap or a cuddle with a best friend. In one-space only daycares, these activities are not usually possible. A single area just isn’t good enough. Dogs should be able to be grouped and there should be additional space to rest or participate in non-group activities without having to feel vigilant. It’s neither natural or healthy for a dog to play uninterrupted for hours at a time.
- How will they be provided a chance to go potty?
- Is there a secure, outdoor area with easy access?
Although it’s not possible for all daycares to provide a full-sized outdoor play area, it is a bonus if the dogs are able to have access to some kind of secure outdoor enclosure during their visit, versus having to go out for a walk to do their business and get some fresh air.
Another indication of whether the facility is up-to-date in their care, is the protocols in place for vaccination and pest management.
- Do they require annual vaccinations? If they do, oh oh.
- Do they accept titers?
- Can dogs be on a non-pesticide management program?
Requiring outdated health protocols is usually a tip off that they haven’t done their homework in other areas either. Adopting protocols that make it easier for the facility, rather than what’s best for the dogs, is not a good sign.
- What type of information do they require beyond vaccines and emergency contacts?
- How do they get new dogs started at their facility?
- Are dogs allowed to come everyday?
Many dogs lack the skills, experience or confidence to safely and comfortably be around other dogs in a daycare setting. It’s important that the daycare wants to get behavioural as well as health information from you AND meet your dog before staying for a visit. The facility should be interested in your dog’s early socialization; whether your dog has attended any other kind of group activity; whether they have ever had an incident with another dog – either on the giving or receiving end; if they have bitten a person; whether they are segregated in any way at home; or have shown resource guarding towards items, people or food. These are just a few of the things that should be discussed.
Along with an pre-visit interview, a good daycare should ask for at least one short set up visit. Having an easy, carefully supervised introduction to the daycare will allow them to keep new dogs comfortable, get to know them properly, introduce them to the other dogs properly and recognize any potential issues.
Not all dogs can handle the same amount of time at daycare. Restricting how long and often a dog can attend shows concern for the dog’s well-being versus profits.
And finally, although incidents will be rare at a well-run facility, with good management and prevention keeping dogs safe and comfortable, being prepared for the worst is important.
- What happens if 2 dogs get in a fight? How would they break it up?
- Is their a person with an animal First Aid certificate on site at all times?
- Do they have a relationship with a local vet clinic? What is their policy for emergency vet care?
Having a plan and good protocols in place not only makes good sense, it will afford you extra peace of mind.
Although this list is not complete, I hope that it gives you an idea of the considerations that are important in finding a facility that will make your dog’s daycare experiences fun, safe and positive.
It’s important to recognize that not all dogs are suited for daycare. Dog Days has been able to provide an environment that was supportive and safe for many dogs that really are not candidates for regular daycare.
Biting on the Leash
Trying to stop a dog from doing something we don’t like is a multi-step process. Although it might seem that simply getting after them is a solution, it typically is not an effective one in the long run.
A better approach is to focus on what we would prefer them to do and teach them that. While that is happening, it is imperative that good management protocols are in place to prevent them from getting better at the pesky behaviour we don’t like.
This approach applies to almost anything that our dogs might do – counter surfing, chewing on the leash, jumping up or even eating their poop. People are typically unsuccessful when trying to fix these because they are spending too much time and energy on the stuff they don’t like – either because they don’t know what else to do or they don’t have a good management plan in place.
Let’s use leash biting as an example.
As part of good management, we need to have ideas and a plan ready. If your dog is prone to leash biting at specific times during the walk or when certain things are happening, then be proactive so you can provide an alternate activity to keep them busy and happy. This may be some more mental activity, like practicing fun behaviours you’ve been working on, or a treat toss that will allow your dog to spend some time focused on looking for a bunch of treats in the grass or on the ground. If you do this before they get going on the leash, that’s great. If you don’t, then make sure you interrupt the leash biting by getting their attention, and asking them to do a couple of things first (like sit or take a few loose leash steps). We don’t want to set up a pattern of grabbing the leash to start the fun. By putting a bit of space between the two, it will separate the good stuff from the undesired behaviour.
Another option for dogs that tend to be quite mouthy is to have an appropriate chew item available on walks. This is simply a management tool so that they are not chewing on the leash. By providing a soft fleecy toy, they can outlet the behaviour more appropriately during the early stages of the program.
Now remember, that our focus needs to be on what we DO want our dog to do. This will require of combination of:
1. teaching your dog other great things to do while on the leash
The best place to train these leash behaviours is not actually on a walk, but on leash in the house to start. Like any behaviour we work on, the first steps should take place in the less-distracting home environment.
2. catching them not chewing on the leash on walks (outside training sessions) and rewarding it big time
Rewards could be food, lavish praise or a quick round of something they love to do. If a leash biter walks for some period without chomping (depending on the dog and the stage of training, that could be 15 secs or a couple of minutes), then I offer a short session of tug, a toss of the ball or a chance to check out something interesting nearby.
I’m including a short video by Kevin Duggan, CPDT-KA that shows some of the things that you can teach to help your dog develop better behaviours on leash. Keep in mind that the dog he’s working with already has a session under his belt. Also, he’s started the training in a low distraction environment and has done a great job with the reinforcement. That means rewarding well – frequently and with high value treats to start. The reinforcement you are providing has to outweigh the value that the existing behaviour has to your dog. Once you start working on it outside, the reward also has to outweigh the distraction of the environment. No minimum wage people! And keep it fun!
Bringing a Second Dog into Your Home
Even if you already have a dog in your home, bringing a new dog home requires some planning and time to ensure the introduction and transition phase go as smoothly as possible. Regardless of how easy-going either of the dogs may be, it is still important to use good management and care to ensure both dogs are set up for success in their new life together.
Plan to keep the dogs separate for the first while.
This seems to be the toughest part for most parents. Whether because of the extra initial effort or because they feel freedom is the kindest welcome, most dogs new to their homes are given too much freedom to start.
This actually causes more stress in the long run, because the dog has to make too many choices on their own. They often don’t have the skills to make the choices comfortably, and this extra ‘responsibility’ takes it toll over time. Having our dogs believe that we are capable of making choices and that they can safely defer to us, comes from our actions and the choices we make on their behalf. Expecting our dogs to deal with things and cope on their own without guidance from us can place them in an undesirable position. It is through our actions that we display our capabilities and thereby earn their trust and respect to guide and keep them safe.
In addition to anxiety, free run in the home can also create other problems as it takes away the chance to teach real-life skills like patience and tolerance. Many dogs are left to decide their routine for the day – when they eat, where they go, when they take breaks or choose to be away from the family. This can appear to work smoothly. No fussing, no barking – everything seems great. Why shouldn’t it? The dog can do as they choose. Now try having the dog stay in a spot of your choosing and remain there (in another room, in a crate, on a tether) while you go about your business. Many free-choice dogs really struggle when faced with requests that aren’t their idea. The point being, at some point, whether at home or in the outside world, your dog is going to have to do something that isn’t part of their plan. It’s much easier and fairer to give them the skill by incorporating it into their daily lives.
There’s another important reason to set up some management for the new dog. Setting them to have time alone from the get-go will help prevent the dogs from becoming completely reliant on each other. The first dog will probably appreciate some alone time and the new dog will benefit from time away from the other dog.
As a side note, you should also prepare the new dog for being alone at home. This starts with short, daily periods away from you, while you are still in the home.
Stay tuned for more information on bringing your new dog home.
Keeping Comfy in Warmer Weather
So this might not be a training question, but with the sudden onset of the hot weather, I thought I should post some information on keeping our dogs safe and comfortable.
It’s pretty common knowledge that in a matter of minutes a dog can overheat in a car. The number of people I see out walking and even running their dogs on warmer days, leads me to believe many do not understand how they may be putting their dogs at risk.
Pavement should be avoided as radiation from the hot surface can burn pads and increase body temperature. You should seek out grass or dirt paths and have regular access to shade. Ideally, your dog should only be walked in the cool of morning and evening. As your dog will need to pant to try to stay cool, regular access to water when out and at home is essential.
Many dogs will lose their appetite with the heat, so feeding early in the morning or later in the evening is a good idea. It is also beneficial to separate activity and meals so your dog is less likely to be uncomfortable or sick. A 30-45 minute gap works well for most dogs.
A little common sense goes a long way. On hot or muggy days, a dog’s activity should be adjusted to suit their conformation, age and physical condition. Small dogs, puppies, short-nosed dogs, older dogs, overweight dogs or dogs with a heart condition will be more susceptible to overheating .
For more information check out these articles:
Top Tips for Hot Days
Dealing with L i c e – Naturally
Canine lice can be transmitted by dog-to-dog contact and by shared bedding and grooming utensils. Since the lice and nits (the eggs) do not survive off the host for more than a day, managing the environment is relatively straightforward.
As a prevention:
Spray dog items regularly with a dilution of tea tree oil and water.
Spray your dog with a dilution of tea tree oil and water before dog contact.
Massage a few drops of tea tree oil into your dog’s coat before dog contact.
Bathe your dog with shampoo that has tea tree oil added.
Thoroughly comb out your dog after any dog contact.
If you believe your dog has lice:
Using Tea Tree Oil:
Add five to ten drops of pure tea tree oil to a shampoo and wash the dog’s hair, massaging the mixture thoroughly into the skin. Do this at least twice a week along with daily thorough combouts until all the nits have been removed. To help sterilize and prevent further lice infestation, brushes, combs may be soaked in a tea tree oil solution of 1/4 oz. (8 mls) of oil added to a tub of water. Wash bedding with tea tree oil added to wash water. You may also spray a dilution of tea tree oil on any areas the dog lingers (Mix 10 drops Tea Tree oil into a spray bottle with water).
Using Coconut Oil Shampoo:
Follow above protocol, replacing the shampoo mixture with coconut oil shampoo and aromatherapy oil. Coconut oil has been used successfully with our clients and we highly recommend using it for shampooing.
Using Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth:
Lightly rub food grade DE into the dog’s coat. A light, but thorough dusting is recommended. It can be used in bedding or other resting places.
For more info: www.wolfcreekranc.com
Mixing the oil:
You can either mix 10 drops in with your existing shampoo or buy ready-made Tea Tree shampoo.
Mix 10 drops Tea Tree or other essential oil into a spray bottle with water
The following is a ratio for adding essential oils to a carrier oil, shampoo or conditioner.
Essential oil shampoo or conditioner
Note: For households with cats – tea tree cannot be used in the environment / For households with birds – DE cannot be used.
Dogs with lice CANNOT attend daycare. After treatment (which takes 4 weeks), confirmation that your dog is lice-free must be provided before returning to daycare.