The dog pictured is my dog Jack. He's been one of my lessons on respecting who a dog is and how I need to adjust my expectations and behavior for dogs to thrive. I got Jack when he was an adolescent. He lived mostly outside as his guardian had her hands full with special needs children. For exercise, she used the free intro days at the local dog daycares to get him out when she could. She did her best with a dog who was dropped into her life by one of her foster children. All of his experiences of isolation, screaming kids and random dog daycares helped shape his behaviors and the dog I have today. When I met Jack I made some assumptions, one of those being that he was dog friendly. He was going to daycares on a fairly regular basis, it seemed like a logical assumption. And he is…mostly. He is dog selective like a lot of adult dogs. He’s sensitive and likes his space. Dog daycares and dog parks are not the environments for him. He doesn’t always know how to navigate the space he needs and has low tolerance for young dogs who don’t understand boundaries. I’ve had to adjust how I exercise him. He doesn’t come to work with me like I planned and I’ve had to find other outlets for him. He is a trail dog and getting to watch him navigate a forest is a joy. He likes his walks and he likes his people. I do my best to meet those needs so he can live a full life.
I’ve recently had a few consults with dogs that were removed from their daycares. Two of them now have bite histories and they are perfectly lovely dogs. They are people and dog friendly, sweet and playful. It is upsetting to know that they were pushed to aggression by environments they were not suited for. Any dog can bite and it’s our responsibility to help them learn appropriate behaviors and we need to listen when a dog is telling us that they are stressed. Both these dogs love other dogs but that is not a green flag for a daycare dog. Each of them was experiencing stress for different reasons but the bottomline was their handlers were not “listening” to them. Hopefully no longer being in these environments will be enough for them to live their lives peacefully. Some dogs do not recover from being mishandled, some can be helped with behavior modification. It depends on their temperament, age and how they internally experienced the situation. Daycares will continue to exist, your dog’s spot will be quickly filled with another dog but you will be the one living with your dog and their behavior for the rest of their life. As dog parents or guardians it is important to know and to stay on top of how our dogs are doing if they are in someone else’s care. Are they in an environment where they can thrive? Are their handlers aware of the dog’s personality and needs? What sort of communication do you receive about your dog’s day and behavior?
We take dogs to the dog park. We know it’s not an environment for every dog. If a dog is stressed or not enjoying themselves we don’t take them. There are some dogs that just need help with confidence and then they may enjoy the park. And there are others who will never be well suited. We want the dogs in our care to thrive and live their best lives. Dogs that are thriving are dogs that are fun to live with and fill our lives with joy. There’s no need to feel guilty if your dog doesn’t enjoy the park or isn’t suited for daycare. There are so many ways to connect with our dogs and get them the exercise that they need. We get to enjoy the benefits of meeting our dog’s needs so why not look at the dog in front of you and see if there is a need that should be met. Our dog’s behavior will tell us if there is. Behavior is communication.