It goes without saying that a dog displaying aggressive tendencies is likely to be excused from daycare, after all, our first and most important role as purveyors of dog care is to keep our charges – the dogs – safe; however, aggression is not the only cause for expulsion. While dogs that exhibit aggressive tendencies towards other dogs or staff tend to be excused most often, there are a number of other behaviors that may prevent a dog from attending daycare, at least temporarily.
We have talked about overstimulation, and its effects, in a number of previous posts. Dogs who become overstimulated by the energy and the volume of dogs at a large daycare like ours present a safety hazard in their own right and that is because their overstimulated state can lead to aggression, even in a dog that is not typically aggressive. A dog in an overstimulated state does not have the capacity to receive social cues from other dogs, nor will she have the ability to temper her play style appropriately. The heightened energy level and lack of sensory awareness in an overstimulated dog will likely lead to a dog fight if the dog is not redirected by her human handlers. This is why it is pivotally important that the dogs that we oversee, especially the ones with a tendency to become overstimulated, have some basic recall skills so that we can call them off a situation that has the potential to become dangerous. Dogs who become overstimulated and do not know or respond to their name consistently may need additional training with one of our certified trainers. The dogs who can apply what they have learned with our trainers in their solo sessions while they are in “group” (i.e. with distractions), can successfully transition back into the pack.
Issues with Leads
Thanks to our training with Pack Pro, the most important tool we now use for behavioral modification in our pack is our leads. A lead functions as a leash but can be used without a collar – which is important because our dogs play “naked”. Like a lasso, the noose end of a lead slips around a dog’s neck and tightens when the end is pulled. Dogs that pull excessively or flail wildly in a lead can cause injury to their necks and present a choke hazard. Similarly, dogs who will obsessively pull at a lead while it is on another dog can cause harm to the dog on the lead. Like toddlers who are curious about new or novel objects, many dogs will attempt to pull or yank at our leads initially. The command we use to stop a dog from grabbing at our leads is simply, “[Dog Name], leave it!”. Most dogs will release once they learn this command or lose interest in their manufactured game eventually. Unfortunately, we have had a couple instances wherein a dog in our care became hyper focused on our leads and would pull at them when they were on another dog, or when they were hanging draped around our handlers’ shoulders, causing unintentional but real injury to our handlers. Most dogs can learn to ignore our leads or “leave [it]” them alone when asked; however, some dogs may need to take a “paws” from daycare for some Lead Training 101.
Any dog who attempts to bite a human handler is excused expeditiously due to the safety hazard this behavior poses. However, a “nip”, defined as a less intense bite – one not intended to break skin – is categorically different then a bite. While a nip is more benign, excessive and untampered nipping can cause pain and bruising to our handlers. We will attempt to work with dogs who nip for attention but if the nipping is excessive and the dog is not responding to our attempts to quell the habit then we may ask the owners to give their dog a break from daycare in order to engage in some additional training to replace the behavior. Some dogs will naturally outgrow this habit in which case a “break” from daycare, with the intent to reintroduce the dog again after he/she has matured, would be prudent.
Believe it or not, dogs will not tire of barking. Ever. And yes, it is normal for dogs to bark. But dogs who bark excessively and not in reaction to a stimulus would be classified as “nuisance barkers”. According to Matt Lapinsky of Beverly Animal Control, “nuisance barking” is defined as “barking in excess of fifteen minutes not in response to a stimulus.” For the health and well-being of our neighbors, the staff, and the dogs in our pack, extreme nuisance barkers may be asked to minimize their time at daycare, for example to switch from full days to half days or take a “paws” to try and remove the setting in order to reset the behavior. Naturally calming remedies, such as canine cbd, may be helpful for dogs who bark excessively due to anxiety.
Many dogs who remain intact will begin excessively mounting other dogs beginning around 6 months of age. Unfortunately, most dogs do not like to be mounted. Therefore, a dog who is compulsive about mounting, and fails to respond to “corrections” from other dogs, has the potential to cause an altercation. In-tact dogs who mount excessively and cannot be redirected will be asked to refrain from daycare until after they have been neutered.
Large dogs who jump up on staff obsessively and frequently prevent a safety hazard. Last year one of my employees lost a front tooth after a very sweet, but overly zealous dog launched himself into her face. Of course, the dog did not intend to harm this staff member, and in fact, this dog’s jumping had not been problematic prior to this particular dental emergency. That said, dogs who consistently jump up into the faces of staff, especially if it’s without warning or unpredictable, will be asked to undergo some additional training before returning to the high energy environment of our daycare.
Gate Guarding/Gate Aggression
Some dogs will choose to plant themselves by our gates and snap, growl or lunge at any dog coming into the yard. These dogs are not typically aggressive but their innate predisposition to guard their space kicks up a reflective and reactive response that is anything but welcoming to the dog entering the yard. We do attempt to move the “gate guarders” among the pack away from our gates with our leads, as well as engage them in other threshold training exercises, but if a dog’s gate guarding becomes overzealous, we may ask the dog’s owner to invest in some additional threshold training with one of our certified trainers. Sometimes these dogs will need to take a break from daycare in order to better master their ability to regulate during high transition times.
A Poop Obsession
Let’s face it: some dogs like to eat poop. Some dogs also like to roll in poop. And while we make every effort to remove feces from the yard as quickly as possible, we have had dogs at our daycare who have become compulsive in the manner in which they seek out poop. These dogs are so obsessive that there may be an underlying health condition fueling the behavior. Because we do not offer grooming services, dogs who continually roll in dog waste at our daycare create a sanitary issue. And dogs who obsessively eat poop are more likely to contract a parasite. We may ask owners of these dogs to consult with their veterinarian before bringing their dog back to daycare.
Dogs who continually attempt to chew or rip up our turf, walls or wooden fencing and canont be redirected for any lengthy period of time without reinitiating the habit may be asked to take a break from and retry daycare after they have matured further as this behavior is often associated with younger and adolescent dogs.
It should be noted that all of the previously aforementioned behaviors are benign enough if/when they are compartmentalized or reduced to a single dog, but because we are responsible for sixty plus dogs per day in addition to fifteen human staff members, there are some general “codes of conduct” that we must enforce in order to maintain a safe and copacetic pack.
My job as the owner of a doggie daycare is to create conditions that allow dogs to have fun whilst at the same time ensuring a safe work environment for my staff. At times, this can be a difficult balancing act, because let’s face it, all rules and no fun = BORING! But all fun and no rules = ANARCHY! Perhaps, then, at the intersection of fun and rules is where you’ll find us. At this intersection it won’t be quiet, but it won’t be deafening. Dogs will be playing but their play will be tempered. It may smell a little, but not too bad. Dogs may correct each other but they don’t “overcorrect”. The gate-guarders may “squawk”, but they don’t snap. The mounting and jumping are minimal. The wags are frequent. The barking is sparse. It is at this intersection that we all #wagmoreandbarkless.