It should be noted that not all dogs do well in a daycare setting. Some are aggressive, some have impulse control issues, and others are too anxious to be comfortable in an enclosed area with a large pack of dogs. None of these problems mean your dog is a bad dog or that you are a bad dog owner. Just because your dog isn’t a good fit at daycare doesn’t mean he can’t be a great family dog and/or get along well with a smaller group of dogs in a different setting.
The most common reason dogs are excused from daycare is due to some sort of aggressive tendency/tendencies. Often, owners are unaware that this particular character trait is present in their dog and many are surprised when confronted with the news. It’s important to note that at daycare, many dogs will exhibit behaviors that they don’t express when they at home or out with their owners; this is due to set (mindset) and setting – being in a different environment with people other than their owner(s) will alter how a dog thinks and behaves. Many owners will remark that their dog gets along well with other dogs at the beach, or out hiking in the woods, but you can not necessarily assume that because your dog interacts in a copacetic manner with other dogs in an open and neutral setting, like a beach, that he will do the same in an enclosed, personal space like a daycare.
Root Causes of Aggression
Industry professionals have learned that dog aggression is sparked by a variety of motivators, some of which are much more easily modifiable than others. Here are eight common motivations as outlined in The Dog Trainer’s Resource, “The APDT Chronicle of the Dog Collection”:
Fear of abandonment: Life can be frightening for a dog who thinks he’s abandoned or helpless. Dogs are social, with an overriding need to be with other dogs or people. If a dog has been abandoned in the past, he may lash out due to fear when the owner or primary care giver is not around.
Fear of physical harm: One of the more common causes of fear-based aggression is a traumatic episode in early life—such as being jumped by another dog. Occasionally, the victim will tend to attack all other dogs who look like the original attacker.
Dogs who tend to lunge at the end of a leash, race up and down a fence line, or pull frantically from a tie-out (e.g., a leash wrapped around a tree) are very frustrated. They are probably also afraid, or they were — sometime in the past — before they learned to scare away anyone or anything that appeared threatening to them.
Because dogs are social, they tend to protect and defend other members of their group. They may place themselves between a threatening individual and their owner, and they may often rely on other pack members to defend or back them up. However, we sometimes think dogs are protecting us when they’re really counting on us to protect them.
Most dogs are intrinsically attached to a territory. Dogs defending their territory can be extremely dangerous; it is instinctive for them to chase away intruders, and it is also instinctive for the intruders to allow themselves to be evicted. The territory owner (the dog) has a built-in predilection for success. Success then builds upon success, and dog bites are often the result.
Dogs of higher status believe they have certain rights, such as first access to food, sleeping places, and territory. A high-status dog who feels that a low status pack mate (human or canine) is acting out of its rank might attack. This behavior is usually a quick disciplinary move. In a family, the dogs most likely to fight are lower-status animals. Major disputes within a household are often extremely difficult to reconcile or diffuse.
6. Redirected aggression
This is a common phenomenon in which a dog wants to bite one thing, but, when that thing is unavailable, he or she attacks the nearest object, dog, or person. For example, two dogs are fence fighting and one of them suddenly bites another dog that just happened to get within close proximity.
7. Bully behavior
This phenomenon has surfaced with the popularity of the dog park, in which dogs learn that they can overpower other dogs by physically running into them, mounting them, and otherwise terrorizing them.
8. Predatory behavior
This is instinctive hunting and feeding behavior, not typical “aggression”. It is usually distinguished by its speed and lack of warning.
Additional Issues that May Arise in a Daycare Setting
Play Style Compatibility
Dog play styles can be radically different, and sometimes they are not compatible with each other’s. This can cause misunderstandings, or even fights, and it can also exacerbate certain play styles. Dogs that tend to be very physical in play often overwhelm other dogs. No one is inhibiting their play style. In fact, owners often laugh at concerns with “don’t worry, he’s only playing.” Playing he may be, but he is also learning, and what he’s learning is not necessarily what we want to be teaching. When bully type dogs play with similar dogs, the only unwanted outcome is that they don’t learn how to be polite with other dogs. If they bully weaker dogs—which often happens—they learn that they can overpower other dogs, and they tend to repeat the behavior.
Resource guarding can become very problematic depending on the setting (this is one of the reasons we do not typically keep toys out at Dingo’s Dogsitting). Some dogs will guard their own toys, some will try to take items from other dogs. Some keep the items, others just want to taunt the dog who “owns” the toy. Squabbles over resources, including humans sitting at a picnic table or on a bench, can easily erupt into nasty fights.
While many dogs enjoy playing with others throughout their life, a substantial number do not, especially once they reach “senior citizen status”. These dogs will slowly lose interest in other dogs and may signal them to go away. Some elderly dogs become very reluctant to go into dog parks, or into a daycare setting. Others will snarl or snap to indicate their displeasure.
Dogs playing in large groups are sometimes unable to calm down voluntarily and a state of sustained arousal can easily erupt into a fight. A dog that has been involved in an incident in which the excitement level is very high, might inappropriately and inadvertently start other incidents, often with unwanted outcomes.
Finally, a traumatic experience can make an impact on a young dog that cannot be fully understood nor erased. A puppy or adolescent who is attacked may well show aggressive behaviors that begin after that incident. Sometimes a young dog can be traumatized by what the owners think are minor events. I liken that kind of trauma to that suffered by a child who is traumatized, perhaps by getting stuck in an elevator. After the first experience, all elevators are bad—even though she knows intellectually that all elevators are not bad. Pity the poor puppy, who doesn’t have the reasoning to know that what occurred once does not always happen again.
Training can play an important role in a dog’s ability to be comfortable in a doggy daycare environment Training a dog gives it confidence in itself and in its handler. Whether the dog is being handled by the owner or a doggy daycare attendant, a confident dog will be comfortable and happy in an environment where they have known boundaries and structure. A dog doesn’t need to be an obedience extraordinaire, but he should know that resource guarding, aggression, nonstop vocalization, and asserting dominance over other dogs and/or people is not okay. These are all things that will cause fights and discomfort in your dog and the rest of the pack in a daycare environment.
If your dog has been excused from daycare, there are a other outlets available to him/her. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may want to consult a professional trainer. Often spaying or neutering an in-tact dog will assuage some of the issues your dog may be experiencing. If your dog has simply aged out of daycare, scheduling a 15 to 30 minute walk instead of daycare would likely behoove him/her. Finally, seeking out a smaller play group may also be prudent.
I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: if your dog is excused from our daycare, it in no way means that he is a bad dog or you are a bad owner. All it means is that our daycare is not a good fit for him or her. Now repeat that to yourself five times so you know it and believe it!
*Note, most of the contents contained herein were taken from a handout from a Veronica Sala, founder and owner of Sharon’s Perfect Pet Care in Portland, Oregon, with marginal edits, not affecting the content, made by Nancy Beaurpere, owner of Dingo’s Dogsitting.