Did you get a new puppy or have a high energy dog? Thinking about doggy daycare? Even when your puppy has met all of the daycare requirements, starting daycare too soon can be detrimental for young dogs, especially puppies under the age of 6 months.
Here are the top reasons people rush into doggy daycare, why you want to wait, and puppy-friendly alternatives.
One of the common reasons people bring their dogs to daycare is because they want their dog to be socialized. The critical socialization period is 8 weeks to 6 months old, but typically daycare and dog parks are not the way to go.
Why you should wait
For a young puppy, daycare can be overwhelming and intense. According to our Partner Trainer Sylvia, “Puppies have keen observational skills and if confronted with bullying behavior or inappropriate social behavior during their imprint phase (up to 6 months), they can develop unhealthy habits and even PTSD.” No one wants that!
For pups under six months old, we recommend Puppy Preschool or socializing your dog in a small, well behaved pack during hikes or group classes. Puppy Preschool trains and socializes puppies with other age appropriate puppies in a positive, trainer-led environment. Pack outings, like hikes and classes, are also led by dog professionals and offer a controlled form of socialization.
Related Article: Puppy Socialization: What it is and why you should care
People love the idea of wearing their dog out at daycare. Since puppies seemingly have a lot of energy, it’s the perfect solution. Your dog will have tons of play pals to choose from to keep them busy and tired.
Why you should wait:
Puppies need around 12 to 14 hours of sleep per day. Daycare offers so much stimulation that puppies have a hard time self-regulating for naps and downtime. When puppies become overtired, they are more susceptible to getting sick and injured.
In general, for energetic or working breeds, daycare does not offer the type of high intensity exercise your dog needs. Dogs may be tired when they come home, but it’s more like how you’re tired after spending a day traveling. You didn’t do much physically, but you’re just worn out.
Engaging your dog’s mind is just as tiring as playing in daycare. For puppies, we recommend signing up for a puppy training program. Training provides a more holistic approach and the proper amount of exercise and engagement. So your dog will still be tired, but also healthy.
If daycare is something you have to do because of work, make sure your daycare provides naps throughout the day.
For working breeds, particularly hunting or herding breeds, daycare is an option, but it can’t be their everyday. Instead, consider switching to outdoor excursions and sports classes. Outings and sports classes, like scent works or hikes, give dogs a way to use their smarts and get the physical workout they need.
Frequently people use daycare as a means to combat behavioral issues such as separation anxiety, excessive barking or destructive behavior. And it’s true, daycare will prevent your dog from annoying your neighbors or destroying your furniture simply because your dog is not home.
Why you should wait:
Besides creating a pattern where your dog can never be home alone (forcing you to use daycare every time you run an errand), the source of the problems and the behavior will continue. The daycare format is also not designed to work on or improve mental health.
Find a certified trainer to address the issue. For dogs with separation anxiety, Sylvia recommends “creating a program to prepare your dog for longer periods of alone time. Often times, dogs are just experiencing extreme boredom and the behavioral problems are not related to anxiety.” However, if a dog is continually forced to adapt to long periods of isolation, it could eventually turn into anxiety or depression.
So make sure you mix up your pups weekly schedule. Unfortunately a 30 minute walk in the middle of a 9 hour day does not cut it. A mix of daycare, classes, training, walks, and exercise goes a long way to improving mental and physical wellbeing.
At Fitdog, we would love to see your pup come to doggy daycare. But let’s wait until they have a solid foundation and can really enjoy it. Also we believe in a well rounded schedule to maintain optimal health. So if we only see you once or twice a week at daycare, we know it’s for the best.
Originally published on January 6, 2017. Updated on July 10, 2020.