An excerpt from the Chapter on Stress in the forthcoming books, Essential Skills for your Growly but Brilliant Family Dog This article was first published on positively.com and is reprinted here with permission.
You’re invited to a family wedding for the weekend - great! But what will you do with your dog?
There’s always going to be a time when you need your dog to be minded for a period. Maybe you have some days when you can’t get away from work in the middle of the day to tend to her, perhaps you have to go away for a day for work or family reasons, or maybe you yearn for a holiday abroad.
(You may be missing a trick here! Holidaying with your dog, exploring your own country’s wonderful forests, moors, and beaches with your dog is an absolute delight. You need some preparatory training in place, then you’re away!)
But having a back-up minder who you’ve already checked out and approved is a good move, in case of an urgent absence from home.
The first place people tend to think of is a Doggy Daycare, or Boarding Kennels as they used to be known. They are assured by non-dog-owning friends - and the kennels - that their dog will be “fine!” and that they’re worrying too much.
In my experience, people don’t worry nearly enough! So anxious are they to solve their problem that they’ll buy into anything they’re told by the kennels.
Daycare or a dogwalker?
I am not going to tar all daycares and dogwalkers with the same brush. There are some excellent ones with committed, dedicated, and educated staff. But I will say that it’s very hard to find one convenient to you which is truly a safe place for your dog to learn and develop.
Think of the skills you need as a parent to prevent open warfare in your own household! Then picture a gang of dogs being thrown together for a walk - or all day in a confined area - in the care of people who frequently have no dog training or behaviour qualifications whatever.
“I love dogs” may help, but it’s not a qualification.
And given how long it takes us to learn how to care for our own species - and that a lot of what people think about dogs is wrong - you’re going to be lucky to find somewhere safe for your dog.
I was recently shown a promotional video for a daycare by someone who’s been sending her very reactive German Shepherd pup there for months. Even in this 30-second video - meant to show how wonderful the place was - I could see bullying and intimidation of this pup by other dogs, and no-one going to her aid. Imagine what this sensitive puppy is subjected to for ten hours a day, five days a week! No wonder her reactivity is already extreme at only six months of age.
What the owner thought of as being “perfectly happy at daycare” was in fact a dog that spent all day trying to avoid the other dogs (quite impossible with those numbers of loose dogs) - shut down, in other words. Not fine at all.
Keep in mind also that it seems to be common practice in many establishments for dogs to be dished out aversive “corrections” - from lead-snaps to water sprays, rough handling, and much shouting.
A holiday camp?
For me, being transported to a holiday camp would be a nightmare! For many dogs, daycare is viewed with the same suspicion I view that holiday camp. A very perceptive reader sent me this query recently: “My question is, what do you think of daycare for dogs? Are the dogs actually happy about it, or do dog owners just like to imagine they are?”
My personal solution to an enforced absence from home is to have someone I trust to come in to let the dogs out in the garden and play with them for a while during the day. If I were leaving them for a longer time, I’d look into booking a house-sitter with the necessary knowledge to deal with reactive dogs - and that would be hard to find. I would not have my reactive dog walked out of the house - no harm in her getting her exercise in garden play for a short while.
If anything goes wrong in a daycare or with a dogwalker, you will be paying for that for years - possibly the rest of your dog’s life. It may or may not have been their fault, but it happened.
Think hard, and do a lot of homework, before going for that option.