What is going on with my dog's daycare?
October 17, 2018 4:10 PM   Subscribe

My energetic 9-year-old mutt has always loved doggie daycare and has been suddenly 'dumped' by her daycare, coincidentally right as the ownership changed. What could be going on and how, or can I, get some better answers from them about what happened?

My energetic 9 year old NakedMoleMutt has gone to 3 different doggy daycares in 3 different states over 7 years. These are places with large indoor/outdoor play yards and the dogs can all run around off leash. We've never received any feedback about her behavior, except that she is a little shy/aloof when we first took her to new ones. She also has boarded at the daycares for multiple days while we were on vacation.

Our most recent move was July 2017 and she's been attending the same daycare about once a week from then without incident. The previous owner was no longer living locally, and a few months ago (July 2018, I think) a new owner came in who is now on site every day. I believe some, but not all, of the daily care staff are the same.

In August, we got a call that she was having behavioral issues with a specific dog there (mainly, she was tracking/focusing/'correcting' one dog's behavior in a way that concerned them.) They asked if we could switch daycare days to keep the dogs apart. We had a very busy September anyway, and decided we'd take a month off and re-start in October.

Her first week back, all seemed well - we saw her playing and happy on their webcam, and they reported no issues. Yesterday, we took her for her second week 'back' and I called because I didn't see her out playing. They told me that they'd had to separate her out and ultimately remove her from play entirely, because she was doing the same behaviors, this time with more than one dog, and their standard attempts to calm dogs down (a solo walk with a handler, some time-out in a calmer area away from the dogs) didn't work.

So let me be very clear I am NOT the person who says "my dog is a perfect angel”. I believe them that there is some behavioral issue they are concerned about. HOWEVER, I find it extremely weird that these issues started right when the ownership changed, and suddenly our dog who’s gone to daycare for 7 years is now totally unsuitable? I spoke with the new owner and she alluded that she believes the issues were probably happening before, but since Previous Owner was no longer local, they just told the staff to deal with any problems on their own.

I am finding this a little hard to believe, because a) if her behavior is/was truly dismissal-worthy, I have a hard time swallowing that the staff wouldn't tell us for months and b) we used to see her on the webcam playing happily, so if she has shown this behavior before....clearly the staff were doing something right to keep it from escalating?

I guess I have 2 questions:

1) Has anyone else experienced this, with a dog who seemingly loved and did well in a daycare environment and suddenly had behavior issues crop up? What was the cause and were you able to do anything to fix it?

2) I asked for a longer 'debrief' in a few days with the new owner and any of the trainers. Even if (it sounds like) they're not willing to take care of our dog anymore, I am a little frustrated by the answers I've gotten, and I'm trying to figure out what I can ask to take away from this situation. If there are staff who worked with her before the turnover, I want to know if she showed these behaviors earlier. I want to know if/how the style of supervision or intervention with the dogs changed when the new owner came. I want to know more specifically what behaviors and any type of dog/dog behavior she targeted.

Please go easy on the "your dog sucks/ your dog is aggressive" type answers. I'm not disputing their right to make their own call to keep other dogs safe. I don't doubt that something is happening, but I’m not really satisfied with the explanation they've given me so far, and if I need to work on aggressive behavior - I need to understand what it is and what caused it more than they're telling me.
posted by nakedmolerats to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do they save the footage from the webcam? Could they show you the problematic behaviors? Then you could figure out if it’s really a problem or maybe something they’re doing?
posted by Weeping_angel at 4:17 PM on October 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

I came here to say this. Tell them you’d like the webcam footage so you can give it to your trainer to help them correct the behaviour. They should happily hand it over and if they don’t, there’s something else clearly going on.
posted by Jubey at 4:20 PM on October 17, 2018 [9 favorites]

Popping in: I'll ask if they have webcam footage, it's a live stream so I doubt they save it. I am aware she does roughhouse with other dogs, but I haven't seen anything on-camera that I thought was out of normal play behavior. I am happy to believe I haven't seen everything, but still: I am trying to get down to the details of, did their way of interacting/disciplining the dogs change recently? Are they "overreacting" to behaviors that the previous staff just let the dogs sort out for themselves, which as far as we know had always turned out fine?
posted by nakedmolerats at 4:25 PM on October 17, 2018

It seems very plausible that the behaviors have not changed, but the new owner has different standards than the old one or whoever was making decisions before. The behavior could have been close to borderline for the old level of caution, and now it's on the other side of the new owner's line.

If you go in with an approach suggesting you think they have done something wrong, you will get less useful information about your dog. Ask for whatever information and suggestions they can give you about your dog. If you're interested in having your dog go to that daycare again, you could ask how they might see that happening. If not, then focus on what you can learn about your dog.
posted by whatnotever at 4:25 PM on October 17, 2018 [9 favorites]

I'll stop threadsitting, I put "overreacting" in quotes and again, I acknowledge that this is a judgment call, I"m just wondering how plausible it is that behavior can go from "old staff never even mentioned it" to "new staff dumped her almost immediately."
posted by nakedmolerats at 4:28 PM on October 17, 2018

It would be much easier to answer this question if I could see a picture of your dog, ideally a picture of her doing something cute, but OK…

My guess is basically the same as whatnotever's, which not coincidentally is consistent with the new owner's explanation of events. Your dog has been doing something for a while that the older, absentee owner didn't care enough to do anything about, but which the new, more-involved owner is not OK with. It's probably something that is kinda borderline, something that reasonable people could disagree about how much of a problem it was. Something like following other dogs around and "correcting" them, which is not a big deal in and of itself but which could, just maybe be a precursor to sudden, unexpected dog violence.

Old Owner didn't think it was that big a deal, but New Owner is more conservative and doesn't want to run even a small risk of experiencing the bad publicity, lawsuits, etc. that could follow a serious dog fight. Maybe New Owner, being new, is on the more cautious end of the spectrum of doggie daycare owners. Maybe they're even overreacting—who can say?

Do ask them if they have footage of course, but don't take it personally. I kind of doubt anything serious changed in terms of your dog when the new owner took over. I think it's just that the new owner has new ideas about how to run the daycare. Maybe better ideas, maybe worse ones, whatever. It might be helpful, in addition to asking for the footage, if you could ask them for tips on how to train the behavior out of your dog. After all, even if it isn't a big deal at all it's still a problem behavior, and you might want to work on it with your dog to avoid the chance of having another doggie daycare take issue with it.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:45 PM on October 17, 2018 [14 favorites]

If there's new staff and she's not good with change/new environments, could that be throwing her off and making her act out? (Do dogs act out? I generally think of them as four-legged non-verbal toddlers.)
posted by basalganglia at 4:50 PM on October 17, 2018

It may be that the dogs she is targeting are at doggy daycare a lot more and thus the staff have had a chance to work with them (as well as the dogs representing more revenue) versus your dog goes once a week (with a month-long break) so the staff can’t effectively train her. It may be the concern that her behaviour may eventually cause the other dog owners (who are creating more revenue) to leave. It may also be that another owner complained/threatened to leave already. It may not necessarily be your dog but just how the group of dogs work as a team - with sporadic attendance she may not be picking up how the team “works”.
posted by saucysault at 5:22 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Its possible that the make up of the group has changed and your dog is now in with more timid dogs and intimidating them or getting too rough or aggressive. It does happen. It's also possible the new owner doesn't know what the are doing.

A lot of people working at doggy daycares and so on don't know much about dogs. They spend too much time watching training videos of extremely dubious merits and get all caught up in these "systems" that are often crap and always non-transferable. That dog whisperer show is a good example. So it's likely your dog is just being a dog and this new person is obsessing over a behavior that is fairly normal. Whatever, you're not going to change their mind. Just find a new place. Happens ALL the time, for some reason animal related professions attract the craziest people.

As far as fights, if someone is so freaked out a fight might happen they're in for a tough time running a daycare or kennel. If you can't manage dogs and deal with it head off the occasional scuffle without losing clients you go bankrupt. My dog walker has no problems at all with my dog who can be a bit of a bitch if allowed to be. He is a pro and I'd expect no less.
posted by fshgrl at 5:46 PM on October 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

It's probably something that is kinda borderline, something that reasonable people could disagree about how much of a problem it was.

This is more likely than not, but she may also be unusually conservative or even misinterpreting/overreacting to totally normal behavior. But regardless, you'll definitely get more info if you ACT like they're in the right here.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:47 PM on October 17, 2018

It also may just be coincidence. Has she been to the vet lately? It might be some kind of pain showing up, and she’s reacting. Just mentioning it, as it’s always something to check on and rule out.
posted by MountainDaisy at 5:52 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

If there are staff who worked with her before the turnover, I want to know if she showed these behaviors earlier. I want to know if/how the style of supervision or intervention with the dogs changed when the new owner came. I want to know more specifically what behaviors and any type of dog/dog behavior she targeted.

Unless you are skilled at holding your questions in your head even when people are being evasive or trying to dismiss you, write all these questions and any more you have before you go to the "debriefing." Bring it with you and go down the list question by question. It sounds like they want to get rid of you with you knowing as little as possible. The way around this, or at least to find out from them as much as you can, is to be very organized in your preparations.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 6:07 PM on October 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

So I worked at a doggy daycare for a couple years out of college and I think I can offer some insight into what might be going on here. Emphasis on might - I haven't worked at this doggy daycare, I haven't met your dog, etc, standard disclaimers apply.

At the daycare I worked at it was extremely difficult for staff to give customers negative feedback about a dog's behavior. We were supposed to only talk to owners about how much fun their dog had and how much we loved their dog and enjoyed having them - after all, our entire business model was predicated on people continuing to think that our daycare was basically the equivalent of Doggie Heaven and therefore continuing to bring their dogs and pay for our services.

Even better, the front desk staff had very little contact with the dogs, so basically if a handler had concerns about a dog's behavior, they had to talk one of the front desk staffers into getting a manager's signoff and having A Conversation with the customer. Which nobody wanted to do, and so behavior issues generally did not get raised to the customer until they were causing serious problems. So that may be why the staff made it sound like everything was fine until suddenly it wasn't.

Does this daycare have a max number of dogs it can handle or max number of dogs to a playgroup? Another thing that could be going on is that old owner was ok with staffers turning away customers due to capacity issues, and new owner thinks that turning away paying customers is unacceptable and is pressuring staff to allow unsafe numbers of dogs. Hyper-focusing/herding behavior like that would be a mild annoyance in a group of 10 or 15 dogs but quickly becomes a dealbreaker in a group of 25+.

Now, none of that will be particularly useful in your debrief, because new owner or old staffers probably aren't going to be particularly receptive to speculation about their internal politics. Your questions are good ones, but it's very likely that you won't get good answers. Doggy daycare workers are not behaviorists, they make minimum wage or just above it and are focused on getting through the day without getting bitten or having to break up any major fights.

Your best bet on getting some actual insight into her behavior is to take her to a dog park, watch her play, and see if you can see any of these issues first-hand.
posted by Basil Stag Hare at 6:36 PM on October 17, 2018 [18 favorites]

I"m just wondering how plausible it is that behavior can go from "old staff never even mentioned it" to "new staff dumped her almost immediately."

Entirely plausible.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:44 PM on October 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

I suspect it depends on how risk averse the new owner is. What one owner might put down as high spirits & be willing to take the chance of a behaviour escalating, might be something the new owner isn't willing to risk for numerous reasons. Including being sued or hell just watching one dog attack another dog can be pretty traumatic, never the less the danger to the staff. I suspect it's more a reflection on the new owners limits than your dogs behaviour changing.
posted by wwax at 6:51 PM on October 17, 2018

Something similar has happened to us. We send our dog on pack walks twice a week and have done for almost 2 years. We get reports from each walk afterwards, directly from the walker and did not have any indication of any issues. He was young when these started and as an "only dog" we were explicit with them that we knew he could be a handful and we were looking for socialization as well as the exercise. It all seemed good and we could see he matured a lot by being part of these packs. Then, about a year into it, the business was sold to new owners. The walkers stayed the same but the new owner worked to expand the business and was, of course, very hands on in the early days, going on a lot of the walks to get to know all the dogs. We started to get reports that our dog was getting, uh, "humpy" with some of the other dogs. Our dog is a 19lb Boston Terrier and he's not fixed because he's being bred (they knew this was the case when they first brought him on board). He's definitely an alpha-dog and these are definitely his way of establishing dominance. He's one of only about 2-3 small dogs they walk - most have at least 10, sometimes 20 or 30 pounds on ours and he doesn't care. He's telling the big dogs what's what.

The new owner was alarmed and we've had to work with them to have him stay. The walkers LOVE our dog, but from the owner's perspective we understand this is a potential liability issue. Not necessarily with the larger dogs (ours is not bitey or trying to fight) but he has concerns we'll freak out if our dog comes home having been on the rough end of a dog who isn't into being dominated. Packs are very hard to manage and as new dogs are being added because of the business expansion the dynamics are challenging to balance. We've worked with the walkers on strategies for managing him, been flexible on which days/times they take him based on what other dogs he'll be with (he's a total angel with packs of all female dogs) and been explicit that if our dog is causing trouble they should feel free to correct that as they see fit and we accept he might get roughed up. If they feel he's truly in danger they need to be explicit about that and we'll pull him but if this is just regular dog stuff we're okay with it.

Changes in ownership really do bring these kinds of things and your situation sounds very familiar to us. We're lucky we had the chance to work it out with them but it's an ongoing discussion. We've also learned that one dog he gets into it the most with has other problems but since that dog uses many more of their services compared to us there's likely some business cost/benefit analysis going on too. If you're just using them one day a week and the other dogs are there 5 days it's smart business to eliminate the less profitable problem?
posted by marylynn at 8:17 PM on October 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

I"m just wondering how plausible it is that behavior can go from "old staff never even mentioned it" to "new staff dumped her almost immediately."

I'll second that's entirely plausible. I don't know much more about dogs than golden retrievers are wonderful idiots, but I've seen this kind of change in a number of settings - all good under the old managers but when new come in it's mutual WTF for everyone. It happens with safety systems, administrative systems, people management etc etc.
posted by deadwax at 10:27 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's absolutely possible that the new owner is both more involved and more risk-averse. She may be wary of behavior that the staff just wasn't concerned about.

I say that because I am that person in a lot of ways. I've had some special needs dogs, lived through fights, fear aggression, serious injuries, you name it. I currently have a dog who has major anxiety, and while meds and training are definitely helping, I don't think she will ever get to the point there isn't a situation that will scare her enough to snap.

This makes me ridiculously cautious. For example, there is a woman who walks her dog past our house, and will just stop in a place where my dogs can see her and they will stand at the fence and bark. She even asked once if her dog could come and say hello. She probably thinks I'm rude because I say no, and ask her to keep moving every time. But that's because I've seen displaced aggression at a fence cause serious injury between dogs who normally get along. Especially when you throw my anxious dog into the mix, it stresses me the fuck out every time they are at the fence, even though we haven't had a problem with this pack.

I am wary of behaviors and situations that other dog owners don't even notice, and I know that I often overreact to things because of my experience.

So who knows - maybe this owner has had a bad experience with similar behaviors in the past, and is being overly cautious.
posted by thejanna at 6:41 AM on October 18, 2018

I wouldn't find it hard to believe that your dog has been doing this behaviour near-forever, and at previous places they didn't consider it problematic enough as to care. New ownership has different thoughts/philosphy on dog behavior and what they see as a possible yellow flag. Assume that a red flag would have been the line with previous owners, and now yellow flags are getting called/noticed.

Also, you mention that much of the staff has changed - perhaps it's because the new owner didn't think they were up to snuff in their knowledge of dog behaviour. It's very easy to see a new business owner being risk adverse.
posted by nobeagle at 7:11 AM on October 18, 2018

The new people could have a lower comfort level with grumpy dog behavior, or could be more perceptive about brewing problems, or your dog may be more easily annoyed by other dogs now that she's older. Or the overall style of group play may have evolved as other dogs came and went and turned into an environment that more easily irritates your dog.
posted by sepviva at 10:02 AM on October 18, 2018

Thanks for the answers, everyone. Well, now I feel like it's kind of overkill but I'm going to have an in person meeting with the new owner next week to ask a few questions.

It makes me feel better to hear that sometimes this is just a difference in style or 'allowed' behavior and not just that my dog has suddenly become an irredeemable jerk.

I am very curious/interested in the idea that she's always possibly had these yellow-flag behaviors but has clearly done daycare for years, so either the dogs or people kept it from ever becoming a full-out fight.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:41 PM on October 18, 2018

It could be any number of things, honestly. Dog group behavior is pretty weird and can turn on a dime sometimes. I recall we had a huge uptick in fights in one specific playroom once after changing from vinyl to aluminum siding in that room - we eventually figured out that the aluminum echoed more than the vinyl and the dogs were getting more stressed out and keyed up in response to the higher noise levels.
posted by Basil Stag Hare at 1:21 PM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Is this place your only option? I love dogs so much... including my rescue baby who needed a LOT of time just to feel safe enough to play/walk forwards. Dogs are the best part of this globe in my estimation. But - the daycare place is a business, not a public school.

I back you in going for the conference and I really hope you find a resolution that is best for your puppygirl.

I’m not in your shoes, but I’m not sure I’d want my girl there. (?) There are dog walking services maybe? Or some other venue for her?

When dogsitting for a friend, I walked Sammy - a goofy, lanky girl: Doberman/greyhound/goofball mix? A lean lab-size... when a very small (unleashed grrr) dog ran to us out of nowhere and nipped at her toes. I intervened and got us out of it, BUT, she could have chomped the little dog and - if she had and injured the puppy, the little dogs owner (lacking judgment for not keeping his puppy safe) May very well have blamed Sammy - and me ! because she was bigger.

Not sure if this is helpful and I know it’s not the same, but fault isn’t the priority, is it? You want a happy healthy place for your sweetie. Maybe this place isn’t it?

Such a tough call. I hope things work out for her! I want a photo too!
posted by misondre at 4:08 AM on October 19, 2018

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