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The Do’s and Don’ts of Dog Daycare Behavior Management

Hello, readers! Welcome to my first blog post. I tend to be pretty busy with the daily management here at Uptown, but sometimes I see and experience things and just have to share some thoughts. I’d love to hear yours in the comments!

I was recently watching a TV show that featured a facility very similar to ours. They offered daycare, luxury boarding, and training. Naturally, I was interested; we love to see how other places operate to get new ideas and see if there’s anything we can improve upon.

At one point the manager being interviewed said, “We have to make sure all the dogs are getting along, and teach them what is and is not acceptable.” Sure. Seems fair. Cut to a clip of one small dog chasing another up onto a bench. The dog being chased jumps up, turns around, bares its teeth, and snaps at the dog who was chasing it. An employee was right there with them, and corrected one of the dogs for inappropriate behavior.

Which one do you think she corrected? The snapping dog, or the chasing dog? Which one would YOU choose to correct? And what correction do you think is necessary?

 

The employee corrected the SNAPPING dog, by clamping her hand around its muzzle.

Is that what you would have done? It is an excellent way to get bitten if you fancy a trip to Urgent Care.

Now, we don’t know how these dogs had been interacting throughout their time in the daycare room together, but no matter what – the snapping dog does NOT need correction.

Surprised?

Yes, one dog snapping at another should not be ignored. The daycare environment may not be appropriate for that dog, but it is very appropriate communication in dog language. Choosing to snap and bare teeth at his playmate communicates several things:

-He is uncomfortable with what is currently going on.

-He wants space from his playmate.

-He is sending a warning that if he doesn’t get the space he needs, he may escalate to a bite.

This little dude is saying, “I NEED SPACE.”

A snap is a quick, harmless way for dogs to tell each other, “Please stop.” Punishing that behavior makes it less likely to occur in the future, but it doesn’t make the dog have a better daycare experience. Punishing dogs for communicating appropriately only increases the likelihood of WORSE behavior occurring in the future; meaning, if the dog learns that it isn’t allowed to growl or snap, then it may stop that behavior, but when it feels overwhelmed again it may escalate straight to a bite with “no warning.”

The next steps after observing this type of interaction in daycare depend on several things:

Has the dog snapped at this dog earlier in the day, or at any other dogs today? If the dog repeatedly displays this behavior to multiple dogs, he should be removed from the group. He is communicating that he is generally uncomfortable and overwhelmed in that environment, and he is not having a good time.

If he is a regular daycare attendee who does not usually behave this way, he should be removed from the group and a vet visit should be advised – sudden changes in behavior can frequently indicate a health issue, even something as simple as an ear infection, upset stomach, or UTI.

If he repeatedly displays this behavior to only one dog, they should probably play separately for the rest of the day, and be observed carefully the next time they play together. Dogs can read each other’s body language better than we can ever hope to, so we don’t always know why two dogs just aren’t getting along.

If he had been playing nicely with that dog before, and quickly returns to play, it’s likely he just needed a moment to rest and regroup, but is still having a good time overall. Continue to monitor his comfort level.

If the chasing dog does not heed his warning and continues to pursue him, that dog should first be “redirected” – the employee should walk in the other direction while calling him to her, or try to engage him by throwing a ball or calling a more appropriate playmate over. Anything that will put distance between the two dogs.

If that dog remains focused on the snapping dog despite these efforts – we call it “fixating”. In this case he may need to be removed from the group, at least for a time, to help him settle. The snapping dog could be removed instead, but dogs that tend to often fixate on one dog at a time will just find a new favorite if their old target leaves the group.

None of these scenarios involve punishing or correcting either of the dogs involved, but you can see that there are many nuances to every canine interaction and behavior. Additionally, there are usually more subtle signs that occur before a dog decides to snap at another – lip licking, head turns, whale eyes, heavy panting, drooling, and stiff posture or laying down “submissively” on their back. When we see this behavior, we keep a close eye on everyone’s comfort level, and sometimes opt to give the stressed dog a break before it feels the need to snap.

Our philosophy at Uptown Pup is to let dogs communicate with each other in their own language as much as possible, to foster the best understanding of what is and is not appropriate. Our job is to interpret that communication, and intervene when a dog consistently communicates that it is not enjoying its interactions with the others. We want each dog to leave our facility happy, healthy, and contented!

 

Thanks for reading,

Kathleen

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