Is daycare right for your dog?

Is daycare right for your dog?
Photo/Kim Gilliam Traditional dog daycare works for social pups, but it can also cause anxiety for dogs who do not enjoy large group play.

By Kim Gilliam

Assess your pup’s preferences to find the best care option BY KIM GILLIAM Pandemic puppies and rescue dogs filled an important need last year, providing companionship, joy and stress relief during a very uncertain and challenging time. Now that our days are starting to return to normal – with schools resuming in-person instruction and folks heading back to the workplace – what will these dogs do all day? They are used to having people at home to play with, or annoy while on work calls. They aren’t prepared to be crated for more than a few hours at a time or left home alone. Without playtime or regular walks, energetic dogs may become difficult to manage and even destructive.

With this in mind, many are turning to dog daycares as the answer. They are filling up quickly in our area, with some maintaining a long waitlist and others set to open soon to help meet the spike in demand. But the truth is that not every dog thrives in the typical openplay daycare environment.

If you’re considering dog daycare, start by answering these questions about your dog:

  • Are they comfortable in big groups of dogs?
  • What is their activity level? Do they tire easily or get over excited by too many stimuli?
  • Do they have special behavioral or medical needs that require one-on-one attention?

If your dog is very social, tends to get along with everyone they meet and loves to play all day, a traditional doggie daycare is likely a great option. Your pup will get to socialize in a supervised environment and will get lots of playtime, exercise and stimulation ensuring they return home happy and tired.

If your dog is easily overwhelmed, tends to bully other dogs or get picked on by them, or needs frequent play breaks or personal attention in order to be well-behaved, then daycare may not be the right fit. While your intentions are good, putting a dog who doesn’t truly enjoy group play into a traditional daycare environment can cause fear, anxiety and stress.

So what options do you have if your dog wouldn’t pass the temperament test or would become anxious in a chaotic playroom? You could look for an in-home daycare that hosts a smaller number of dogs to provide a more personalized experience via services such as Rover or Wag. This option offers a more comfortable, homey setting where your pup can form a pack as well as a close relationship with their caretaker.

Another option is finding a dog walker for a mid-day jaunt, or even multiple visits a day for those needing frequent potty breaks. Walks are good exercise and stimulate your dog’s mind as they explore the neighborhood, sniffing all the smells and spending time with someone who isn’t you. Demand for walkers and sitters nationally is 5.4 times higher now than it was one year ago. Another staggering statistic is that in New York, the number of people looking for pet care has increased sevenfold in that timeframe. Be prepared for it to take you some time to find a walker or sitter that is a good fit.

One more possibility is to consider setting work hours that maximize the time you and your spouse, partner or roommate are able to spend at home with your pup. Shifting your work day earlier or later as makes sense may help ensure your dog only needs to be home alone for a portion of the day.

Educating yourself on the different options available for your pup and considering what matches their energy level and social preferences is the best place to start. If your dog already attends daycare, see how they react when you arrive. If they get excited, your dog loves it. If they are scared or nervous, they may be uncomfortable, so you’ll want to consider alternatives.

The writer co-owns Frolick Dogs, an indoor dog gym in Alexandria, with her husband, Kevin Gilliam.