Doggie daycare saved my life, thanks to a chance meeting in an unofficial off-leash field.
Last fall, a beautiful, crazy, strong willed, energetic little Sprocker recently came into my life with some big paws to fill. Two months after I lost my heart dog and inspiration for a life-time of dog travels, I couldn’t imagine living without a dog. (My cats could, however).
Circumstances collided and in November 2020 an eight-week-old Sprocker walked through my front door. A Sprocker is half Springer, half Cocker Spaniel and all tightly wound ball of energy.
Another energic dog, I thought: “No problem. I got this!”
Turned out I didn’t have this.
Months of working at home and trying to focus on the computer hour after hour, interrupted by four full-on runs per day and a seemingly nuclear-powered fur-covered guided missile ricocheting off my furniture took its toll. Fast. Oh, and that missile had three unwilling cats to chase around too. My new puppy had more energy than I bargain for – plus, socializing during a pandemic was limited.
Puppies need to learn social skills – some experts say before they’re six months old. Otherwise, a non-socialized dog can be scared and nervous in new situations resulting in undesirable fear-based aggressive reactions. Missing some critical dog socialization time might lead to issues later, and I plan to take Victoria out and about globetrotting with me – as soon as we can.
What is dog socialization?
Getting your dog used to other dogs and people, or dog socialization, helps your pup behave well in a variety of situations such as pet festivals where there’ll be plenty of people, pooches and children. Fortunately, my dog spent the first eight weeks of her life cuddled by kids, both toddlers living in the house and daycare clients, so she responds positively to little people when we encounter them.
Dogs are pack animals and raising a confident balanced dog who’s comfortable running, rolling, leaping and wrestling with a group of all sizes is important. My previous dog could be reactive with certain dogs, and I want to avoid that again.
Other dogs, however, are challenging to find right now. And there’s no off-leash park in the backward-thinking rural town I live in. Thanks to a chance meet up with a very friendly labradoodle (also running leash-free in an undisclosed area we were enjoying), I learned about The Canine Bond Socialization Centre, a seven-minute drive from my home.
Not only can I drive to the Canine Bond Socialization Centre easily, they come to me. Thanks to a pick-up service.
Doggie daycare here we come.
Does Dog Daycare Help Socialize a Dog?
The Canine Bond Socialization Centre in Caledonia, Ontario, is open Monday to Friday, 10 am to 1 pm. Dogs are dropped off, or for an extra fee staff will pick up dogs within Caledonia only. Of course, all dogs must be vaccinated and have no history of aggressive behaviour. There’s 15,600 square feet of fenced running space, along with a large barn heated in the winter and cooled in the summer.
Dogs need variety, according the Canine Bond owner and dog trainer Carrie Rottaris, and that’s an important part of doggie daycare. Even if your dog plays with a friend or another dog at home, they might still tug towards or react to a new dog across the street. Dog daycare should be about more than just running and playing; it should be about versatility.
According to Rottaris, a dog should be able to play with all sizes, ages and breeds. “We teach the dogs that like to ‘bully’ other dogs that they are not allowed to do this. We teach the dogs that lack confidence by introducing them slowly and making sure they are comfortable.”
Dogs at the Canine Bond Socialization Centre are monitored by trained dog behaviorists – at least three staff members per 12 to 15 dogs. Reading dog reactions and body language is important to avoid issues and conflicts between dogs. Socializing successfully is the goal.
What to Consider when Selecting a Dog Daycare?
- Space – Where will the dogs be spending a few hours, or the entire day? If it’s indoors, is the space large enough and can they separate dogs into smaller groups if necessary. If it’s a large outdoor space – like the Canine Bond Socialization Centre – be prepared for weather to cancel a few days of puppy playtime. Yet, fresh air is an asset especially in 2021.
- Staff – Both quantity and quality are important. What is the ratio of staff members to dogs and are the staff trained well to identify or ‘read’ dog body language to mitigate confrontations between dogs?
- Price – Obviously, you can afford what you can afford. But sometimes daycares are cheaper because they allow more dogs into the space and cut staffing costs. Brand name doesn’t always guarantee reliability – often smaller individually-run local operations are more invested in the safety of your dog, than a corporate quarterly expectation.
- Overnight Boarding – A perk of an operation that offers over-night boarding services is clearly when you do have to board your dog, they are already familiar with the environment and have a positive (hopefully) association with being there.
Is it every too late to socialize a dog?
Most dog experts and owners will tell you no, it’s never too late but introduce your older dog to a new dog slowly – and one at a time. Neutral locations are important too. For instance, when I first got (took) my previous dog, he was about eight-years-old. I was told, ‘he can NOT be near other dogs.’
Turned out that wasn’t true. What he couldn’t – or shouldn’t – be near was an unfamiliar, unfixed male dog dropped in his backyard – his territory. That move did not go well, and his reaction to that experience solidified the insolation belief at his previous home.
Once with me, he gradually warmed up to other dogs primarily because my dog would soon spend a lot of time with a puppy of a then friend.
At first, the puppy was probably not the best choice as his first companion – it was a rocky start. But as the puppy grew, eventually much larger than my dog, they became awesome play pals. My dog taught the puppy how to be a dog; the puppy taught my dog how to be a friend.
If I had it to do again, I’d keep the play dates shorter, wait until the puppy was slightly older, and introduce them in neutral territory like a park.
That wasn’t to say my late-to-the-socialization-party previous pup was perfect: he could be reactive at times and I grew very good at reading his body language, removing him from situations when necessary. He also never – never – liked unfixed male dogs. Pheromones from unfixed animals are often problematic, especially at dog parks.
What happens if a dog is not socialized?
Like people, an unsocialized dog lacks confidence in social situations and because they are uncomfortable around the unknown. Serious behavior issues can arise such as aggression toward people, kids or other dogs and remember, fear can result in biting. In a dog’s mind, what they don’t know can hurt them.
In the case of my previous dog, standing stone still facing forward was a precursor to trouble. Likely, someone had discouraged him from growling, which isn’t good. Growling can be a warning to try and avoid escalating conflict.
Signs of fear – and lack of socialization – include backing up or raised fur (sometimes) when someone or thing approaches. Hence the expression, ‘he gets my hackles up.’ Shy and nervous pacing or even overly excited and jumping. That last one I have to still work on with my new puppy. Coming up soon…. Puppy Training Class Results!