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Dog Day Care for Service Dogs?

While well-run daycares can be a super way to help your adolescent dog to learn and maintain dog social skills, learn to be calm in the presence of other dogs, call away from other dogs and to provide mental and physical stimulation, poorly-run day cares can create problems that didn’t exist before. These can be tough to change once they have become established patterns.  

Three of the most common problem behavior changes we have seen with service dogs are:
  1. Dog becomes overly interested in other dogs. Wants to play or interact in public.
  2. Dog arousal level increases and they start to pull on leash, especially in confined areas like gates.
  3. Dogs become dog-reactive. Seeing a single dog in the distance triggers an over reaction (from fear to aggression).
 
Since your dog is a member of your family (you would screen a daycare for your child!) and you are having to use many resources to properly socialize, train and generalize behaviors in your future service dog, you will want to take care in the daycare (or dog sitter) that you choose. This also applies to general boarding and board-and-train situations too. 
 

Some Things to Look for in a Well-run Dog Daycare

Note: It is unlikely that any one daycare will met all of the but the list gives you things to look for and you can evaluate if they meet you and your dog's specific needs. For example, small numbers of dogs in a home setting would be my preference to a larger facility with more dogs and larger staff, but that's just me.

 
Pre-screening:
  • dogs are health-screened
  • behavioural screening ( with live interview) to meet the dog alone, then introduce her to at least one other dog from the daycare in a separate space to observe interactions
  • Dog groups are pre-matched for confidence, size, play style, tolerance, and energy levels.
  • will explain what will be done in case of emergency
  • you get to meet the staff
  • get references from the daycare and find out what their expectations and experiences have been, any new behaviours in their dogs?
 
Physical space:
  • floors and walls sanitized on a regular basis
  • separate entrances for entries and exits and “airlocks” so the dogs don’t meet face to face and have a chance to calm down before coming in or going out.
  • enough space and dividers in the facilities as needed to comfortably house a small number of dogs.
  • non-slip surfaces
  • access to outdoors for part of the day or walked with one or two other suitable dogs
  • high floor space per dog is desirable
  • air conditioning and/or heating (depending on your local weather)
  • live web cam feed desirable
 
Staff: 
  • are educated in seeing the early signs of stress in dogs (dog body language)
  • respond appropriately to the signs they see
  • are proactive to prevent unwanted situations from arising 
  • know when to intervene to prevent escalation
  • knowledge and appropriate tools of how to safely break up a scuffle
  • will not use punishment or aversive tools to manage the dogs (spray bottles, shaker cans, e-collars, prong-collars etc)
  • ideally, staff are members of professional organizations that have ethical statements for members to use positive reinforcement and low stress interactions.
  • high staff to dog ratios (1:4 for example)
  • regular reporting of health and behavior issues
 
Schedule:
  • rotational play with other dogs
  • planned down time during each four hour period of a day (crates or X-pen)
 
Dogs:
  • small numbers of dogs at one time such as in a home setting
  • dogs are constantly supervised (staff in the same room and eyes on dogs at all times-not just watching a live feed from other room)
  • are taught basic behaviors that are needed the dog’s to manage behaviour entering, exiting and being in the facility and yard
  • use current ethical teaching approaches