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Day care will not fix your dog's socialisation problems

Day care is becoming an increasingly popular part of our pet dogs’ lives, and can contribute greatly towards meeting their social and emotional needs. However, day care should not be used as a substitute for proper socialisation and training.

The common advice that puppies should meet absolutely every dog they come across is well-intentioned, but fundamentally flawed. Puppies should be learning calm, measured behaviour around other dogs, and benefit far more from careful, well-constructed socialisation than being thrown in at the deep end with multiple other dogs. It is common for puppies to be sent to day care for socialisation, but this carries with it the risk of longer term issues developing if the owner is not attending suitable puppy classes or practicing appropriate socialisation at home.

Unfortunately, there is a limit to how much time can be dedicated to each individual dog in a day care environment, and while dogs are monitored, it is not always possible for puppies to receive the intense input they often need. As a result, some puppies can develop poor manners around other dogs, or become fearful. This fear can manifest in them hiding or snapping when other dogs approach them. It is important to understand that while day care is a fantastic place for maintenance of social behaviour in well-rounded dogs, it is not the place to be building those behaviours.

Likewise, day care will not fix existing social issues in adult dogs. A dog that is fearful of other dogs will not recover by being placed in a novel environment with multiple others. As dog guardians, we must remember that day care is an incredibly intense experience for dogs: from the vast quantity of new scents to the noisy barking, to the movement of multiple other dogs and people – there is a lot to take in. For an individual predisposed to fearfulness this can be overwhelming and frightening.

There is an alarming trend of trainers sending dogs with severe socialisation deficits to day cares, to rectify the situation. This is not socialisation, nor is it training – it is essentially flooding, where we expose the dog to the triggering stimulus without a break or get-out, until the dog stops reacting in the way that we perceive to be ‘bad’. A frightened dog can go one of three ways. They may go into flight mode, in which they attempt to run away and hide. They may freeze and appear to have ‘shut down’. Lastly, they may go into fight mode, and may bite. A dog in fight mode is dangerous to itself, the other dogs, and the day care staff.

Day care is not an appropriate place for these dogs. I recommend that socialisation issues are worked through in private sessions with a qualified, force-free behaviourist. In the past, I have integrated clients’ dogs into the day care environment at VIPPIES – but this has been for the purpose of maintaining their newly created social behaviours that were built during structured training sessions, not to overcome the original issue. For the safety of the dogs, and the people caring for them, we must start understanding that training and maintenance are distinctly different.

If you need care for your dog but a busy day care is not appropriate, you can also consider 1-2-1 care. VIPPIES have several carers available to offer individual care for your dog in their own homes, as well as options for your dog to stay with just one or two dogs at a time. This can be a much more suitable option for dogs that may find the day care environment overwhelming.

If you would like advice on socialisation, finding a suitable day care facility, or training, contact

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