This is a guest post, from The Doggie Den in Northborough, MA. If you’ve adopted a dog in need of a forever home, CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve done a wonderful thing. Adopted dogs come from all kinds of backgrounds, sometimes with limited “social skills” development. Foster homes may have provided the opportunity to play with a permanent canine family member, your new pet may have occasionally romped in a dog park, or your pup may have been crated or caged a good percentage of the time. None of those situations allows a pup to meet other dogs and new people under the skilled supervision of dog professionals.
In fact, dogs often acquire dangerous habits when left to play unsupervised, like getting what they want through dominance or aggression. It’s a bit like a school yard: if there are no adults around some kids turn into bullies. Similarly, dogs with limited social skills tend to jump up when meeting a new person and to try to monopolize that person for themselves.
The role of a dog play attendant is to interrupt behaviors that aren’t acceptable, just like on a kids’ playground. With dogs, though, the line between excitement and aggression is quite thin. Rambunctious play easily explodes into a fight – it’s just the nature of the beast. In the wild, dogs use play to practice their hunting skills, and there’s some of that predatory instinct left in pet dogs. But trained dog attendants know when to step in between pups who are overly excited before any aggression shows up. The pups get affectionate praise for turning down the intensity of their play, and are separated (and possibly temporarily crated) if they insist on being rough with each other.
The best environment for your dog to play safely with other dogs and to meet new people is a doggie daycare. Good doggie daycares hire and train employees with a view to creating just the right environment for maximum fun and minimum risk. There are rules for meeting a new person, like not jumping up on him or her. Dogs learn to say hello by wagging their tail and looking at the new person with a doggie “smile”. Pushing or scaring other dogs away in order to be first in line for attention leads to a “time out” rather than to affectionate attention; as does mounting another dog, excessive barking or trying to monopolize all of the available toys (this is called “resource guarding”). Appropriate play leads to praise and cuddles and games of fetch with the human supervisor.
So taking your adopted pet to a good daycare a couple of times a week has the benefit of improving his or her social skills, which makes him/ her lots of fun to have around. Because the dog has a life outside your home, he/ she will also acquire self confidence. Pup will feel fine about being away from family for the day; and even better about being picked up at night! And the big plus for us owners is that after a hard day at work, we have an exhausted pup who just wants to curl up next to you in the evening. Of course, it’s important to check out a daycare before leaving your dog there. Get references from people who are or have been longtime customers. Ask around to see if dog owners have heard of the establishment. Your vet may also be a good source of information about local daycares. Look for one where the employees have lots of dog experience, and the canine guests get to play, and not be crated for much of the day.
For an example of a good daycare, check out The Doggie Den!