Dog Daycare Is Not Enough!

Most of my daycare clients come to daycare for two main reasons: exercise and socialization. We all understand that dogs need exercise, just like we do. However, sometimes owners are confused about what socialization really means when we're talking about our dogs.

The simplest definition of socialization that I've come up with is to experience something in a manner that builds positive reactions or feelings to similar future experiences. At least, our intention is for it to be a positive experience. So, owners take their dogs to daycare so that they can have experiences with other people, places and dogs that will build a positive association with meeting new people, places and dogs. While dog daycare is one opportunity for this kind of socialization, it is certainly not enough to ensure that other future experiences outside of the daycare environment will be pleasant.

Imagine (some don't have to) that you only have five friends. Now imagine that you work with those five friends. You see them every week. Other than seeing those friends at the same work place, you spend all of the rest of your time at home with your family...except for short trips to the grocery store or gas station. Would this be considered a rich social life? Would you say that this would be enough to build strong social skills that would allow you to easily handle meeting new people or being in new places? Probably not.

So it is with dog daycare. Many times, a dog will know at least half of the dogs that are coming to daycare on her scheduled day. That means that the dog is not always meeting new friends there, but hanging out with good ol' buddies that she's known for quite some time. Is this important? Absolutely! It’s fun, it's comforting and it's healthy! Plus, every now and then there is a new dog, or the group is different.

There's no doubt that dog daycare (done well) is a great thing, it just isn't the only thing. A dog needs to be meeting other dogs outside of daycare. She also needs to be meeting new people of all ages, sizes, shapes, genders and colors. A dog needs to be going to new places, seeing new things and smelling new smells. All of these experiences are part of socialization, and socialization is a life-long process.

Just as man cannot live on bread alone...dogs cannot socialize at daycare alone. So, get those dogs out and about! Take them to dog friendly public places to see all kinds of people and to practice basic manners. Take them to the park, to a softball game, to the vet's office just to say hi, hiking, camping, to the beach, to the neighbor's backyard. And don't forget to reverse the socialization experience, too! That means have lots of people come to the house, play in the backyard, and bring their dogs for play dates.

Then, when it's time go back to work, she can go back to daycare to relax and kick back with some of her best friends. You don't want her to be the only one with no stories to tell around the water bowl, do you?

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