Since graduating from CATCH Canine Trainers Academy I have had the opportunity to work with a number of our clients much more closely than I had previously; whilst so doing I have also had the opportunity to gain some deeper insight into what transpires with those same clients outside of our daycare. As a dog trainer, and the manager of Dingo’s Dogsitting, it is helpful to have an understanding of how a dog behaves at home, or at off-leash areas with other dogs; however, this space specific behavior is not always an indicator of how a dog will behave within the very specific structure of a doggy daycare.
Ironically, many of my official training sessions are precipitated by an email from me detailing some issues we are having at daycare with a client’s dog. These issues can range from jumping up on staff, an inability to be redirected when needed, lack of social skills or “manners”, excessive barking/mounting, “gate guarding”, or excessive anxiety that has the potential to manifest into aggression. Reporting behavioral issues to owners is an important practice – a way to maintain transparency and troubleshoot potential solutions – but it’s never fun and it’s certainly not easy. As expected, responses from owners vary from empathetic understanding to incredulous skepticism. Those in the latter camp will undoubtedly counter with some form of the following:
“I have never seen that behavior in my dog before!”, or
“I bring my dog to the beach and let him run around off leash with a number of other dogs and we’ve never had an issue there; why would it be different at daycare?”
Well, the answer is simple: context. In almost every situation we see, the reason why a dog acts differently at daycare than in any other setting is because he/she is getting overstimulated. And this specific sort of overstimulation can only be replicated at daycare, which is an enclosed space (unlike a beach), with a large number of dogs (far more than at the beach or at your “friend’s house”), and a lower human to dog ratio than any other situation in which you or your dog have been. Also, you – their best friend, their “security blanket”, their reason for being – are not there with them. For a dog, there is no other environment like a doggy daycare.
Although doggy daycares are not the same as a children’s daycare, there are many similarities. While I don’t have kids of my own, I am a proud Aunt, and the sister of an elementary school teacher , and I often find myself comparing my work to that of my sister’s in some regards. I have heard countless stories of parents leaving a Parent/Teacher conference surprised that the child that they know of at home as loud and boisterous is shy and reserved in school (or vice versa). That a child will act differently depending on context – set and setting – is obvious to most people. Believe it or not, the same tenet is true of dogs (who I like to think of as having about the same intelligence level and sentience of a small child).
Now for a real life example of how this setting-specific-behavioral issue has played out in my personal life with my own dog, Nova, a Pittbull mix. I adopted Nova from Cape Ann Animal Shelter when she was 3 months old. She is now 4 years old and extremely well trained. She listens to all commands, she is very gentle with her 19 pound sister, she is house trained, leash trained, and loves both children and adults. Nova was a staple at Dingo’s daycare throughout her puppyhood and into her adolescence. She started off in our Small Dog Section and then easily transitioned to the Large Dog Section as she grew. She loved daycare and socialized appropriately and well. Unfortunately, about a year ago, the floor staff started mentioning to me that Nova was exhibiting some maladaptive behaviors. They would often ask if she could go upstairs with me as she began needing frequent “breaks” or “timeouts”. Not only was I surprised to hear this, I was also disappointed. How could my dog who had been coming to daycare successfully for three years be causing issues in the yard? I decided to go downstairs to try and witness some of the behaviors staff described to me myself. I also wondered if my presence and my corrections may help curb the bad behavior. The short answer is that it did not. As Nova had grown, so had our daycare. The additional attendance numbers began causing an overly confident Nova to become overstimulated. This combination of factors – dominance and overstimulation – began causing her to gate guard and snap at other dogs as they entered what she had now deemed “her yard”. To be clear, this was a behavior I have NEVER seen at home, and still have not seen anywhere else. Even though I was upset that my own dog was causing issues in the yard, I knew that some work had to be done.
I would like to say that after working with Nova I was able to eventually transition her back to daycare. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Even with professional training, not every dog has the temperament for a large group doggy daycare. And that’s okay. Nova now stays home when I go to work with my other dog, a French Bulldog named Luna. And while I was disappointed about having to give up what was once an excellent outlet for Nova, I also understand the importance of evolving with your dog – working with and not against them.
As a trainer, I’m here to help you tailor your life around your dog’s best interest; sometimes, that may actually include away from our daycare.
For additional information about my training philosophies and practices, or to set up a consultation, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.