Have you seen the trend “dog shaming”? It’s when owners post photos of their dogs with a sign telling everyone what naughty thing their doggy has done. They can be so funny because, really, dogs are dogs, and they have no shame thankyouverymuch. It’s part of their charm.
But this one hit home and made me very sad.
If you can’t read it, it says: “I got kicked out of doggie daycare because I’m a jerk!” The other says: “I’m her blind brother and I am awesome at daycare!”
I’m not criticizing this person at all. I think this was something very lighthearted and I’m sure he/she loves these dogs very much. It just ignited my thoughts about something I’ve been dealing with for a while now that I think is worth exploring.
Because I work at a dog daycare facility, I’m often in the position of having to tell owners that their dogs can’t come back to play. I hate having this conversation. Unfailingly – despite how carefully I choose my words and how clearly I try to communicate – what they hear when I tell them their dog isn’t working out in the daycare is that “your dog is bad.”
Can I just say for the record right now? There ARE NO BAD DOGS.
Dogs are individuals, just like us, with likes and dislikes. They have experiences that shape their reactions. And the simple truth is that not all dogs like being put in a group with a bunch of other dogs.
Some like to play with just a few besties.
Or cuddle with a close friend.
Or sometimes, sit on each other for no apparent reason. (Get off Maggie, Posey!)
Others just want to play with a ball. (And if another dog tries to take that ball, all hell will break loose.)
Others might be having a bad day and just want to be babied a little.
There are a few things that we just can’t get around in the daycare setting. First off, they have to be okay being surrounded by other dogs. That’s just what a dog daycare is like. And second, they have to be able to have their own brand of fun in this setting. All of this has to be done safely, so that no one gets hurt.
Many times, I’ve talked to owners who need their dog to come to daycare because they work all day. Unfortunately, these owners don’t always have dogs that enjoy group play.
They want us to socialize their dogs better, so that they will start to like daycare. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. And while we’re figuring that out, we have to make sure nobody gets seriously hurt.
Whatever your theory on dog training (and there are many!) I have one truth I believe about dogs. They are individuals, just like us. And just like you can’t train a person to be an extrovert when they are an introvert, you can’t always convince dogs to enjoy something that they just don’t.
I’m not an expert, but I can say that I’ve owned dogs since I can remember and have worked with them going on 20 years. I’ve worked with the most carefully bred labs and goldens in the Guide Dog program and helped treat street dogs who wanted to tear my face off. And I can honestly say I loved them all, and I could understand where each one was coming from.
An angry dog is just an angel who’s had her wings messed with one too many times. The angel is still in there – you just have to gain her trust.
Having said all that, I think it’s an understandable misconception that all dogs like to play with other dogs. And that if they don’t – if they snap at dogs at the dog park, or lunge at other dogs while on leash – well, they’re BAD DOGS with BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS.
But I say no to that. No, they are not bad dogs! They are just dogs who prefer doing other things for fun.
It’s asking a lot to expect every dog, who are all individuals with their own experiences and reactions, to love being surrounded by other dogs in a play group. Some dogs are understandably overwhelmed and lash out in fear. Others pick up on the frenetic energy of the group and think it’s a free-for-all for ransacking and bullying. And yet others panic because their personal space is constantly invaded and they feel they have no place to be.
I read an article,”My Dog Got Kicked Out of Daycare Today” by Robin Bennett, a behaviorist from The Dog Gurus,,” who I think got it just right:
“When a dog doesn’t do well in off-leash play, it is not necessarily a symptom of a problem… This might be the case, but more often than not, it’s just a dog who prefers people…”
“… It’s a dog who would love a hike in the woods but doesn’t enjoy off-leash play with a group of other dogs. This doesn’t make the dog bad.”
Bennett goes on to say that many of her clients still don’t accept this situation – they have dogs who don’t seem to enjoy dog parks or doggy daycares and they want to know why.
“Don’t all dogs want to play with other dogs?” they ask. “Shouldn’t I socialize him so he gets used to it? The truth is, there are far more dogs who do not enjoy off-leash play, than there are dogs who love it.”
And this was my favorite part:
“When a pet care professional dismisses your dog from daycare or recommends you don’t go to the dog park, you should thank them. Thank them for caring more about your pet, than about making a buck … Thank them for seeing your dog as a unique animal with individual temperament traits. Thank them for trying to look out for the well-being of your pet and putting your dog’s safety and comfort first.”
Thank you, Robin!
So to all those folks out there who think there is something wrong with their dog when I call them to say WOOF is not right for them, this blog post is for you.
I don’t think you have a bad dog. I think you have a lovely dog who just doesn’t like daycare.