Is My Dog a Daycare Dog?

The offerings from daycares range widely from indoor/outdoor play options, to swimming pools, to nature walks, to agility equipment, and more! With this wealth and breadth of options, you’d think doggy daycare would be Disneyland for dogs, right?

Well, what does your dog say?

Having come from a dog daycare background myself, I have seen quite the range of dogs walk into daycare. I’ve seen excited new puppies who can’t wait for their first day of “school” to senior dogs who have been routinely going to daycare for years and trot the hallowed halls like they personally lugged each brick to build the foundation of the place. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen the dogs who feel overwhelmed, overstimulated, fearful, or who have sadly been on the receiving end of mishandling by even the most well intentioned staff.

You may have heard that dogs often become more dog selective as they age. I have seen many instances in daycares where a dog who started coming when they were a young puppy, and had an absolute blast romping around with their besties, decides a few years in that they no longer have the same level of enjoyment that they did previously. This usually presents itself as the dog choosing to stay nearer to handlers, sitting off to the sides for lengthy stretches, and often showing distance increasing behaviors such as freezing, growling, and air snapping. My pup, Olivia, was a classic example of this. 

Olivia had been partaking in daycare since she was about 4 months old. At around a year and a half, I started to notice that when Olivia went onto the playfloors, she no longer was tippy-tapping her paws, trying to slip out of her harness so she could bullet straight to her buds already playing. Instead, she would cling to the handlers on the playfloors, and often stick by the exits, sniffing under the crack of the door anytime someone went by. Play solicited by other dogs was met with her turning and walking away. If the dog persisted, Olivia would sometimes air snap and run to another corner to try and add distance. She was clearly no longer enjoying herself!


There are many clues your dog can give you to let you know how they feel about daycare. Here are some things to think about:

  1. When your dog hops out of the car or rounds the corner onto the block where the daycare entrance is, how do they react? Are they excited, perhaps even pulling you towards the front doors? Or do they give off signals that they’d rather not go there?
  2. How does your dog greet staff when they come into the building? Do they pull towards them for a greeting or do they show discomfort by backing away and possibly refusing to move?
  3. When a staff member tries to take your dog back to play, are they willingly going with the handler or digging in their heels?
  4. If your daycare doesn’t have cameras, ask the staff for a recap on how your dog did that day. Ask specific questions about your dog’s behavior to get a more informative answer: Did they spend time with any specific doggy friends? Or did they stay by the sidelines the entire day, and were the first to bolt out the playfloor door when it was opened? If they get separated into crates or kennels, are they able to relax and sleep? Or are they frequently barking, crying, or even soiling their rest area?
  5. When a staff member brings your dog out to you, how does your dog react? Are they bouncing up and down, tail wagging, and maybe some playful barks? Or are they desperate to get to the exit and get home?
  6. How is your dog when they get home and the next day? Are they able to settle and put themselves to sleep with their usual nesting routine, or do they seem overtired–which can look like either just immediately collapsing into a deep sleep with no pre-rest ritual or acting wired and irritable, like a toddler who didn’t get a nap? 


If you see any of the signs above, it may mean that daycare isn’t a good option for your dog, or it may just mean that you haven’t found the right daycare for them.

There are many things to consider when selecting the correct daycare for your pup, but here are just a few that I discuss with clients often:

  1. Consider the number of dogs at the facility. Some dogs love hanging out with a big group, while others (most dogs I work with, actually) do better in a smaller group rather than a large one.
  2. How long does your dog enjoy being there? Sometimes half days are plenty and many daycares offer that as a discounted option.
  3. What type of rest area do they use? Some facilities use crates or kennels, while some use stalls, and others are cageless! Some dogs are perfectly fine in a crate, while others need the room of a stall to be able to settle and take a nap.


The good news is that your dog doesn’t need daycare! It can be a major help for those who work long hours, don’t have access to or feel safe using dog parks, or have high-energy, very social dogs, but dogs don’t need daycare to be happy and healthy. One on one playdates with dog friends or sniffaris with one of their favorite humans are a couple of great ways to meet some of the same fulfillment your dog gets from daycare. You can also utilize dog walkers if that works for your pup on your longer days.

Whether you can’t find a daycare that works for you, or your dog used to enjoy daycare and you started noticing some of the signs listed above, it’s okay for your dog not to be a daycare dog.

Now What?

It’s important to note that you might need to try out a few different daycares to find one that suits your dog. If it turns out that your dog just isn’t a daycare dog, that’s okay too! There are lots of fun activities you can use to supplement their physical exercise and socialization with other pups like one on one playdates with other dogs, sniffari walks, and flirt pole sessions to name a few.


Happy Training,