Dear Bark: I have a new dog and want to ready her for staying at a doggie daycare facility from time to time, plus for being walked by a dog walker. What steps should I take?
It’s so wonderful that you’re being proactive about preparing your dog for daycare and for being taken out by a dog walker. Thinking ahead like this greatly enhances the likelihood that your dog will have successful experiences and that the professionals caring for her will enjoy her. It’s such a great gift to your dog to help her get ready, both so that these experiences will be fun for her and you have the option of making use of these services.
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To enjoy doggie daycare, a dog must be used to playing with other dogs, both individually and in groups. If your dog is a social butterfly who wants to play with every dog she meets and enjoys play sessions even when multiple dogs are involved, she will probably find daycare a positive experience. If she is not experienced in multidog play, it’s wise to give her opportunities to play in a group setting, starting with small groups and moving on to larger groups, assuming she enjoys the experience.
Work on her recall so she will come when the daycare staff call her; this is important because they may need to call her away from potentially problematic situations. Dogs with better recalls can be afforded more freedom. I also recommend teaching her to sit when she greets people so the staff enjoy their interactions with your dog. Her good training will endear her to the people at the daycare.
Teach her 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 dog is used to a crate already, being placed in one will be easy for her.
Before your dog attends doggie daycare without you, familiarize her 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 her the first time you leave her there. When you do take her there for her first day, only leave her for just an hour or so, even if you have to pay for the whole day. It’s far better to leave her wanting more than for her to become overwhelmed and exhausted by being active—and awake, quite frankly—for so long. If that experience is a good one for her and she seems happy (based on what you observe and the what staff tells you), the next step is for her to spend a whole day at daycare.
Keep in mind that not every dog is right for or enjoys doggie daycare. 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 her part; it’s all about the dog and her particular personality and needs.
Dog Walking Service
To prepare your dog to be walked by a professional dog walker, make sure she is accustomed to the equipment that will be used. It’s important that she is walked using familiar, safe, and comfortable gear that also works for the dog walker.
Dog walkers generally appreciate it if their charges have been taught to remain calm while the harness is put on and/or leash is being attached, whether that means dog sits or simply stands still. If she has a tendency to pull, teach her to walk nicely on a leash, making it make it more likely that she and the dog walker 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—you’re all set! If that’s not the case and you feel your dog may be uncomfortable with a stranger walking in when she’s home alone, set up situations in which people come over and toss treats or toys to her to help her 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.
Your dog is very lucky that you’re thinking ahead about how to prepare her for these new experiences!