Preparing Your Dog for Dog Daycare
Vivian Leven, CPDT-KSA  

It is nice to see a dog attend daycare and really enjoy it. However, most dogs can benefit from some prep work to help the process along so they do well in this environment. The daycare environment can be a challenging place. The more prepared your dog is, they better he will be able to meet the expectations of this environment and have a really good time.

These are the main points you should be able to "check off" on your list and if your dog has great challenges in one of these areas - work on them first. The Fur-Get Me Not dog training team can help you get on the right track.

Handleability
The daycare dog is handled a lot. They may get examined by staff during the day. They need to accept staff putting them in crates, putting on leashes and collars, being moved from one enclosure to another, collar grabs, be redirected with body blocks and sometimes physical touch to prevent further access to another dog. A dog that has an issue with any of these things will be harder to manage in a daycare setting and can potentially pose a risk to staff.

What you can do: Handle your dog's body a lot and make it a pleasant experience, associate it with massage and treats. Check ears and treat. Check paws and treat. Check mouth and treat. Rub your dog all over as a friendly and pleasant interaction. A lot of things are forced on our dogs. Grab the collar and offer a treat. This is "a handle" on our dogs we often use. Make sure it has plenty of positive connotations to your dog and not just negative ones. Make sure your dog enjoys these things at home and it will make it a lot easier for the staff to do the same in the daycare.

Crate trained
The crate is a management tool, not a place to keep your dog for long hours at a time. Having said that, if your dog goes to daycare, being crate trained and learning to enjoy being in a crate for brief periods of time is a very helpful learning experience to make daycare a pleasant stay for your dog. We don't want any daycare dog to stress out because he is being confined. We crate dogs for nap time, to enforce calming breaks for dogs getting very wound up during play and as an overall management tool when switching dogs around, planning for walk times, etc.

What you can do: Whether you crate your dog or not. If you want your dog to attend daycare, get a crate and make it a comfortable and pleasant place for your dog. You do this by putting your dog in the crate for brief moments and gradually increase the time. Begin first when people are around and later with no company. You can feed your dog in the crate, offer Kongs and bones in the crate. It is also recommended to hide treats in the crate when your dog is not looking to build incentive to go in there even when there is no need to. Many dogs learn to just go into their crate to sleep if there is comfortable bedding.

Comfortable with people
Your dog will meet many different people, both men and women, in a daycare setting. In addition, when shifts change new people enter, when staff is on vacation, when people quit and new people join the team, etc. A dog that has issues with strangers is a much bigger concern to handle for the staff. It would be a big reason to dismiss a dog if the staff does not feel comfortable around him.

What you can do: With a puppy early socialization around new people is key. With an adult the same applies but the process needs to be a bit slower. If the dog is fearful, there needs to be lots of planned interactions where the new person will ignore your dog while the dog receives lots of treats. You will see the increase in comfort level when the dog relaxes and maybe even seeks interaction with the stranger. This is not something that can be rushed. Note: We offer people reactive classes if you need assistance with this particular issue.

Well socialized with other dogs
The dog daycare is a place for dogs who enjoy spending time with other dogs. And with emphasis on not just certain dogs, but dogs in general. In dog daycare there will be lots of different dogs of all shapes and sizes, and who is coming each day will vary, so there is a big circulation of "new faces." Does your dog enjoy this? Most dog daycares will have certain dogs they know not to put together because they don't like each other. We also separate out small and big dogs for safety reasons. The ideal dog has a high threshold for rude behavior and will tolerate a lot before reacting.

What you can do: Socialize your puppy with other dogs from early on. This socialization includes moderate amount of play INCLUDING just chilling out in the presence of other dogs. The latter being a very important skill. With an older dog the socialization process has to be more planned and at a slower pace to properly assess the new dogs comfort level since we often know very little about their past.  You can do this with friend's and neighbor's friendly dogs and after some time visit the dog park if you only see friendly signs and if that goes well and your dog really enjoys it try daycare. You can also skip the dog park and go to daycare. This can in some ways be a safer approach, but understand that the space is smaller, which creates a more intense experience. Make sure when you bring your dog to daycare initially, it is for short periods before you leave your dog in daycare all day. The key is to build lots of pleasant experiences of other dogs that your dog can be shaped by. AVOID leash greetings on the street. It can easily backfire. Note: We have free puppy socials on Saturday mornings and dog reactive classes for the older dogs who need a more targeted approach in this area.

Stress- resistant
Stress can easily lead to a short fuse and aggressive behavior which is something we don't want to see in daycare. Sometimes this is a result of an overload of stress. The daycare dog that is comfortable and relaxed is going to be much safer and pleasant to deal with in the daycare environment.

What you can do? Some dogs are more stress resilient than others by nature. However, you can greatly impact this in your dog by making sure your dog has built lots of positive experience around people, other dogs, new places, experiencing novel sounds and visuals and has learned a variety of tasks (problem-solving skills) by the guidance of people. These experiences will prepare your dog tobe much better equipped to deal with the daycare environment.