Doggy daycare dropout?
January 16, 2013 3:30 PM   Subscribe

My puppy does not want to go through the door at doggy day care. Is there any likely explanation other than she just doesn't want to go there?

In July, an adorable foundling appeared on my doorstep late at night. She was about eight weeks old at the time. She's now eight months, and full of puppy energy. My older dog doesn't want to wrestle, have his head jumped on, or play with her in any way, and the cat gets tired of it after a while. So I tried taking her to a doggy day care one day a week, and she's now been there four times. The first couple of times she went, she seemed okay with it. The last two times, though, she has tried to refuse to go through the door from the lobby into the hallway back to the area she'll be staying (and she didn't really seem all that enthusiastic about going in the lobby last time, either, she just didn't put up much of a fuss about it). She actually dug her heels in the last time. I could only see her a few seconds after she got in the hallway with the owner, but once she did, she seemed to perk up. The last time, I asked to go in the back later that day to see her with the other dogs, and while she seemed a little wary of one larger dog, she didn't seem to have any real problems with them. Of course none of them were playing or interacting with each other when there was a stranger to look (and maybe bark) at, so I got limited information from that.

I don't think she's being mistreated there, because she seems okay about the owners when I come to pick her up. She isn't usually shy with other dogs (or cats, or humans) that I've ever seen. My initial reaction is to assume that she just does not like doggy day care. I suppose it's possible that she doesn't like being taken away from me. I don't want to make her go if she doesn't enjoy it, but are there any possibilities I could have overlooked? How likely is it that she just doesn't want to go there? Is there anything else I should look into that might be causing this? I had really wanted this to work, because she has so much energy. (This week the weather has been horrible, so she has been very limited in her activities and no one gets any peace in the evening).
posted by dilettante to Pets & Animals (19 answers total)
It could be any number of factors. It could be intimidating, or she might equate going there with you leaving, or it might smell like macho alpha dogs.

My 3 year old dog digs in his heels when I try to take him outdoors on a cold morning. He's not scared or abused out there, he just doesn't like the cold.

I wouldn't worry about it too much. You could spend a few minutes to see how other dogs react to being dropped off, or even ask other owners if they're happy with doggie daycare.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:36 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Does the daycare have a mix of young and old dogs? If there are older dogs around they can often react negatively to puppy bounciness and put the younger dog in its place. It's really how puppies learn their manners around other dogs but the process could have scared yours.
posted by merocet at 3:36 PM on January 16, 2013

What does the day care staff say? I have a limited sample on this because we don't use one - but my friend does and the staff has a lot of interaction with the customers. People get mailed pictures of their dogs doing cute things, behavior is discussed, and the dogs get a report card each week.

Talk to the staff and see if they can give you a clear accounting of her behavior while there. Does she play? Does she mope? Does she have any special doggy friends? Have they noticed her having problems with other dogs?

if they can't answer these questions, or they have observed problems but haven't told you until now, or they don't have solutions to suggest if she's having problems with dogs there, perhaps find another day care to try before you give up entirely.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:58 PM on January 16, 2013

That's a cute dog, who happens to look a lot like my very energetic 1 1/2 year old mutt (take a look at my previous post.)

There are so many reasons your dog may not like going there. What is the set up like? Are big and small dogs separated? Do they get breaks/naps? Do they crate the dogs? Is there an indoor and an outdoor space? It's hard to say without more information, but if your dog doesn't seem excited to go there I wouldn't force her to go.

Try doing an obedience/training class and getting more exercise. Getting her to learn tricks is a good way to use up some of that mental and physical energy and keep her occupied.

Other tips:

Make her work for dinner. There are all sorts of toys you can get that you can stuff with kibble and other treats so she's occupied for a good half hour doing something stimulating.

Play a game of tug with her. It won't take much energy from you to hold one end but she'll probably poop herself out tugging.

Long walks.

Dog walker.
posted by Sal and Richard at 3:59 PM on January 16, 2013

Just one specific door, not the lobby itself or the hallway past the door?

Something probably spooked her when she went through the door. Try changing something about the going through the door routine and see if it helps.
posted by yohko at 4:08 PM on January 16, 2013

Doggy daycares are SO variable, and especially with a high-strung dog like a border collie, if it doesn't work, you might end up with weird dog-related neuroses. I might try a different daycare. That being said, your border collie needs a JOB. Or three. Get thyself some clickers and a clicker training book, and start teaching her stupid pet tricks. That was the only way that my friend with a border collie get any work done- plus agility, plus nosework, plus herding... anyways, learning tricks wears them right out. Have fun!
posted by rockindata at 4:19 PM on January 16, 2013

I work at a doggy daycare, not your doggy daycare.

There are lots of dogs who don't particularly want to come in the door at daycare because they know that their humans are about to leave them. People leaving them is stressful! Many of them are immediately thrilled to be at daycare once they actually get into the play space. Nearly all of them are stressed at the end of the day because other dogs start getting picked up and they remember, oh right, I want my humans! And dogs will often act much differently at home and with their families than they do at daycare--it's a very, very different environment.

So all that's just to say that her behavior at the beginning of the day is not really enough by itself to determine whether or not she's enjoying herself--I second Squeak Attack's suggestion to talk to the daycare staff (and if there are separate staff for the front desk and for the play area, talk to people in the play area--they will have spent lots more time with her). Four times going to daycare is honestly not that much, though, especially since she's still a puppy--daycare does take some getting used to for most dogs. And if she does keep digging in her heels at the door, it's totally reasonable to try other things instead to get her tired. We really like it at my work when people pay attention to their dogs' feelings about daycare--sad dogs make us sad!

Feel free to message me if you have any questions--it's true that doggy daycares are super variable but I at least have lots of experience with large groups of dogs so I can tell you about that :) And your dogs are both adorable.
posted by cheesegrater at 4:29 PM on January 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

Do you leave right after dropping her off? Can you stay with her in daycare and play with her awhile? Another option would be to back up and start taking her there for an hour at a time, then leaving her there for longer and longer amounts of time.
posted by Vaike at 4:32 PM on January 16, 2013

Thanks for the answers so far!

To respond to a couple of things above:

- she does get long walks when possible. The weather has not allowed this the past couple of days, but even when it's good she still has lots of energy.

- we do play tug! She loves to, and her tug toy is pretty beat up.

- I've done some training tricks and obedience with her. We'vebene trying to work on "find it", which she really just does not get. (The older dog is over 7 now and never got into that so hadn't played it since he was 6 months but he still remembered how when he saw her trying).

- the dogs aren't separated by age or size, but there are rarely more than 10 or so on any given day and they won't take more than 20.

- the daycare owners (it's a family business) say that she's an ideal day care dog, and talked about one or two dogs in particular she seemed to like to play with. However, it's not necessarily in their interests to say otherwise.

- she did a half day her first visit, but full days after. I may try a half day again soon. I can't go see her when she goes in with the other dogs, because the owners tell me that would be pretty disruptive and no one would behave normally with a ne wand interesting human right there.

- it's always been the same door, but I've been there every time she's gone through it and I never saw any particular incident there or any reaction until she started trying to refuse.
posted by dilettante at 5:10 PM on January 16, 2013

I think that she is associating that door with being separated from you. Maybe you could try having the staff bribe her to come through the door with a treat? That could turn into getting a treat once she stops avoiding it (instead of showing her the treat).

If bribing her to go through the door isn't working, maybe you could walk her through the door for a while and then give her a treat right after she clears the doorway, then hand her off to the staff (who will also give her a treat) and be on your way.

I made one of these after seeing the suggestion in another thread. My dog is a little big (75Lbs and not done growing) so I made mine out of a broomstick. It's her favorite game by a long shot. 20 minutes in the back yard and she is wiped out for a couple of hours. Two sessions per day is plenty of exercise plus she gets some good training out of the deal (though "drop it" is still an issue).
posted by VTX at 7:03 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Some years ago we dropped our dog off at a place to be boarded for the weekend, and she freaked out at the front door just like your dog did. She could occasionally be kind of stubborn, but she had never really acted like that before. It was definitely out of the ordinary. But we dragged her in there anyway and left her for the weekend, and as far as we know, everything went OK.

But a couple of months later there was an "investigative report" on the local news where they did an undercover thing on the place and found out that some of the staff mistreated the dogs very harshly. Community outrage ensued, protests and all that, and they were shut down shortly after the story aired. We felt terrible for having ignored what our dog was trying to tell us. Still do, actually.

So I'm just saying, listen to your dog. Maybe someone mistreated him, or maybe there's a mean dog there that he doesn't get along with. At the very least, I'd say try another doggie day care and see if he acts the same way.
posted by spilon at 7:28 PM on January 16, 2013

Her reaction would be a red flag to me as a dog owner, and I wouldn't be inclined to make her go back if it's clearly upsetting to her. Have you checked this place out as thoroughly as you can? When I take my dog to day care, he can't wait to get in the door, and every other dog I see arriving is pretty much the same way.

Are there other day cares in the area? I would try one or two other places and see how she reacts there. And try to find places with webcams so you can see the dogs at play. It doesn't sound like your current place has them, which to me is another red flag. Webcams make me feel more comfortable because not only can you see how your dog interacts with the other dogs, but you can see how the employees interact with the dogs.
posted by boomchicka at 8:34 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can't go see her when she goes in with the other dogs, because the owners tell me that would be pretty disruptive and no one would behave normally with a new and interesting human right there.

I feel about dog daycare the way I feel about baby daycare: I would be deeply reluctant to leave my dog (or human) at a daycare that did not have one-way observation glass and an open door "come by and check on FiFi any time with no warning" policy.

That does not mean anything bad at all is happening to your dog. But to me it indicates something less than the highest standards of daycare management and given that the do doesn't seem thrilled, I would not be comfortable with that. Do you have an option for another daycare?
posted by DarlingBri at 11:24 PM on January 16, 2013

All the doggie day-cares around here have webcams. (As my co-workers can attest, "HEY, check out how cute Cricket is playing with Rocky!")

Perhaps you'd feel more comfortable going to a daycare with webcams, where you can check in on your adorable puppy.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:37 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Could it be an issue with the way that the flooring changes as your dog walks through to daycare? We fostered a number of dogs and one really didn't like our hardwood and would try to avoid it, preferring to walk on carpets or rugs. He also didn't like the shadows that were on the flooring as well.
posted by KathyK at 7:18 AM on January 17, 2013

Try to have your game-face on when you go through the door, if you worry about things it will just sort of snowball because she will just pick up on your anxiety. Try not to be fumbling with tons of crap when you go through the door, be as lean and mean as possible and don't hesitate. An immediate treat after making it through the door might be good but if they are really freaking out they might not be receptive to that yet. I took care of a foster dog that had some door issues and it took some time but he got a million times better better, it just took some time.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 7:58 AM on January 17, 2013

Your dog has bonded with you and doesn't wanted to be separated from you. She doesn't have the same conception of time as a human. You can tell her you're going to be picking her up at 4pm, but as far as she knows you're abandoning her. Maybe she'd get used to it over time, but some dogs dislike the daycare experience a lot, and never get over it.

When we first moved to Seattle, my hubby and I noticed a little dog wandering around on a very busy street downtown. He seemed confused and nobody was paying any attention. We watched him for a while, and he nearly got hit by a car. So we followed him, lured him behind a building with some food, and got close enough to check his collar. He had no tags and we were baffled.

We spent the WHOLE DAY with that dog! He didn't trust us at first, and why would he? We figured he was anxious and still looking for his owner. We took him to a nearby veterinarian and they checked him for a chip, but he didn't have one.

Later on the street, the little guy took a big dump on the sidewalk. A woman walked by and offered us a bag to clean it with. We told her he was lost and we were flummoxed. She said something called the Dog Lounge was nearby, and suggested he might have come from there.

I held the dog while my hubby checked out the Dog Lounge. It was a strange place - dogs of every size just roaming around free and barking like crazy. The receptionist said she recognized the dog, whose name was Ciccaroni (it means tour guide in Italian, and he had definitely given us a tour that day). The lady said she'd call the owner and tell him he was safe.

We both fell in love with that dog, and we were crying on the way home (yeah, we're both big pussies) after giving him back. But SO relieved he found his owner again! The poor thing could have gotten crushed in traffic. About a jillion times I've thought of him watching his dad leave through the door of that daycare, and wanting to follow him. Which is what he did!

The daycare must have received complaints, because it vanished about a month later. I guess my advice would be to try more than one daycare before settling on something. I think your pup will get used to it eventually - but of course it's vital that they're safe and contained while inside.

What's funny is we recently moved to a new apartment, and couldn't believe it when we saw Ciccaroni in the window of the bike shop next door to us! His owners have something to do with the shop, so they let him wander around in there during the day. There's another dog in there too - they sleep and occasionally crap on the sidewalk, and seem happy. So nice to know he's finally home!
posted by cartoonella at 9:36 AM on January 17, 2013

Just a quick followup:

- I've seen a couple of other dogs arrive, but I was out in the parking lot at the time. They didn't seem reluctant to go in the building at all.

- there are several doggy daycares around here, but as far as I can find out (and I looked into it when choosing one), not one of them has a webcam, even the plush and pricey ones. No windows inside to the play areas at the other one or two I've been in, either, including one of the pricey kind.

- she did an obedience class at Petsmart this fall, and was always overwhelmed and anxious in the main store outside the training enclosure, although she is usually quite outgoing with other dogs and people she meets individually when we walk. She also refused to go through the door there and had to be carried, but I was pretty sure that was the automatic sliding doors as much as or more than anything else.

- I did drop in unexpectedly when I looked this one over before I ever brought my pup. And when I went in back to see how she was with the other dogs again the time I mentioned above, the owners were right: the dogs all crowded up at the edge of the fence and watched me, and didn't really interact with each other the entire ten or fifteen minutes I was there.

We did go back for a half day today. She acted kind of anxious during the drive over and while walking across the parking lot, and was again reluctant to go through the door (we bribed her). Once she couldn't see me, she was all over the owner, extremely affectionate as she usually is with people. I discussed this with the owner again, and she says she thinks it's just being separated from me (but then, that's in her interest, too). When I picked her up and asked how she was doing, the owner again mentioned a particular dog she had been playing with the most (one of their fosters - they foster for a well-known local rescue). When I went to pick her up, she was, as usual, very happy to see me, but when we walked out into the parking lot she acted like she was thinking of turning and going back in. Although things aren't ideal now, I guess we'll try a few more half days (unless things get worse), and see how she adjusts.
posted by dilettante at 2:00 PM on January 17, 2013

Another thing that might help is anytime she moves towards the door or even looks at it, give her a little treat (little crumbs like you probably used for training class). Basically, anytime she chooses to do something that she doesn't normally like to do, she gets a reward.

Eventually, she figures out that being brave and doing that thing I don't like = reward! It's kind of a PITA but if looks back at the door, give her a treat, if she starts moving towards it, give her a treat every time she moves a little closer. It might mean taking some extra time picking her up and dropping her off but it WAY easier do do this kind of training now while she is still a puppy than in a few months when that socialization window is basically closed.
posted by VTX at 8:33 AM on January 20, 2013

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