How to Prepare Your Dog for Daycare and Dog Walkers
Make sure your pup’s ready.
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Whether you have a new pup or you’re in a new neighborhood, trusting your dog in the hands of other humans can feel daunting — for both of you. But there are a few steps you can take to ensure that you both are ready for daycare and dog walkers:
Thinking ahead like this greatly enhances the likelihood that your dog will have successful experiences and that the professionals caring for them will enjoy them. It’s such a great gift to your dog to help them too.
How to Prepare for Doggie Daycare
To enjoy doggie daycare, a dog must be used to playing with other dogs, both individually and in groups. If your pup is a social butterfly who wants to play with every dog they meet and enjoys play sessions even when multiple dogs are involved, they will probably find daycare a positive experience. If they are not experienced in multi dog play, it’s wise to give them opportunities to play in a group setting, starting with small groups and moving on to larger groups, assuming they enjoy the experience.
Work on your dog’s recall so they will come when the daycare staff call them; this is important because they may need to call your pup away from potentially problematic situations. Dogs with better recalls can be afforded more freedom. I also recommend teaching them to sit when they greet people so the staff enjoy their interactions with your dog. Good training will endear your pup to the people at the daycare.
Teach your dog to be comfortable in a crate if the daycare facility uses them. Many daycares have dogs spend some time playing in groups and some time on breaks, resting in crates. If your pup is used to a crate already, being placed in one will be easy.
Before your dog attends doggie daycare without you, familiarize them with the actual facility. Pop in for a quick meet-and-greet with the staff and a walk-around so the sights, sounds and smells are not a shock to them the first time you leave them there. When you do take your dog there for their first day, only leave them for just an hour or so, even if you have to pay for the whole day. It’s far better to leave them wanting more than for them to become overwhelmed and exhausted by being active — and awake, quite frankly — for so long. If that experience is a good one and your dog seems happy (based on what you observe and what the staff tells you), the next step is for to spend a whole day there.
Keep in mind that not every dog enjoys doggie daycare — and that’s okay. Some dogs find it overwhelming — more like a gladiator pit than a party. Other dogs exhibit such high levels of arousal that they are incapable of being their best selves amidst all the excitement. Dogs can sometimes be trained to handle the situation better, but often, if they’re scared or get too revved up, they may simply not be good candidates for spending all day with a large group of dogs. If this proves to be the case with your dog, understand that it’s not a failing on their part; it’s all about the dog and their particular personality and needs.
How to Prepare for a Dog Walking Service
To prepare your dog to be walked by a professional dog walker, make sure they are accustomed to the gear that will be used. It’s important that they’re walked using a familiar, safe, and comfortable leash (and collar or harness) that also works for the dog walker.
Dog walkers generally appreciate it if pups have been taught to remain calm while the harness is put on and/or leash is being attached, whether that means a dog sits or simply stands still. If your dog has a tendency to pull, teach them to walk nicely on a leash, which will make it more likely that they will have positive experiences on their outings together.
Finally, it’s important to make sure that your dog will be comfortable with a dog walker entering your home. Many dogs are happy when anybody comes over at any time. If this describes your dog, great! If that’s not the case and you feel your dog may be uncomfortable with a stranger walking in when they’re home alone, set up situations in which people come over and toss treats or toys to your dog feel happy about visitors. If you’re concerned that your dog might act aggressively to a visitor, or be really nervous about them, consult with a canine behaviorist who can help you with this.
Not every dog is a good match for a dog walker. If your dog is fearful of strangers or highly reactive to other dogs, I advise contacting a professional behaviorist or trainer who is qualified to address these issues. Such a professional will be able to help improve the situation and let you know if and when your dog is ready to go on walks with a dog walker.
Karen B. London, PhD
Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.