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Puppy Day Care’s the Cure

A well-run service can help solve a number of puppy-parenting problems.

Raising a puppy is exhausting, yet rewarding and very important work. The first couple months a puppy spends in your home are pivotal. If you do a good job, you put your pup out on the road to being a well-adjusted, friendly, happy, polite and safe adult dog. If you slip up, you could end up with a dog that chews all the wrong things, soils your carpet beyond repair, (playfully but painfully) nips your kids or even shows all-out aggression towards unfamiliar dogs or people.

One secret to successful puppy-raising is to use management options to prevent your puppy from learning unwanted lessons when you can’t be actively supervising and ready to provide the right feedback for each new puppy experiment. In your home, you might make use of crates, gates, playpens and tethers, to name a few types of popular management tools.

These are all useful, but there’s one more resource now available in our area that you might not have considered: puppy daycare. Rather than leaving your puppy home in a crate all day, and struggling to get someone in every few hours for a puppy potty break—or resorting to the use of puppy wee wee pads, wouldn’t it be nice if your pup could spend your workday at camp, playing with other pups under the watchful eye of responsible, dog-savvy people and getting to go outside for frequent potty breaks?

Beginning on September 4th, Pawwtopia’s Doggie Day Camp on Forest Street in Arlington will begin offering an additional day camp service just for puppies. The company advertises, “A full, fun day of play for your dog,” with drop off as early at 7:00 am and pickup as late as 6:00 pm.

I would imagine that on top of all your other puppy startup expenses, you might hesitate to invest in doggy daycare, but here are a few good reasons that may change your mind.

Provides Safe and Plentiful Socialization with Other Puppies

Puppies are extremely impressionable for the first several months of their life. The emotions they associate with every element in their world during this crucial socialization period become the seeds of their future attitudes towards the people, places, things and other animals around them.

Most dogs (some more than others) are born with a pretty decent repertoire of innate canine social skills, but “use it or lose it” definitely applies. It’s so very important that you provide your puppy with ample opportunities to practice their dog-dog social skills in a supervised setting with friendly dogs so that they can maintain and even improve them.

Your group training course one or two hours a week isn’t nearly enough in terms of socialization around other dogs. Off-leash play at a fenced dog park can be useful, but can also turn into a disaster. One really bad experience can be a big setback for a puppy, and too few dog owners in the general public have adequately learned how to read canine body language so that they can tell when dogs are just playing or when they are seriously asking for space. If a dog asking for space in a polite way doesn’t get the space they need, they may feel it necessary to escalate to outright aggression to emphasize their point. In a well-run puppy daycare, puppy play is monitored carefully by an attendant who knows when to let the play continue and when to intervene.

For more about puppy socialization, read the American Veterinary Behavior Society’s Position Statement on Puppy Socialization.

Prevents Destructive Chewing and Helps with Housetraining

Puppies are continually learning every waking moment of their life. Every little thing they do is an experiment. If they chew on your woodwork and it feels good, the behavior works—and they are likely to chew it again. If they pee on your living room rug and feel relieved, the behavior works—and they are likely pee on rugs again.

You’ve got to make it easy for your pup to do things you approve of, and reward your pup for that good behavior while using management to prevent your puppy from having chances to do behaviors you don’t like—unless you are prepared to provide a consequence that will discourage them from making those choices again.

Of course, keeping your puppy crated or in a playpen while you are away at work is a better option than leaving your puppy free and unsupervised in your home, but sending your puppy to daycare accomplishes the same, with additional benefits. Virginia Gioia, owner of Pawwtopia’s Doggie Day Camp, says all their campers are taken out for potty breaks every one and a half to two hours. That’s a big help towards housetraining a puppy, particularly in the early stages.

Offers an Outlet for Natural Puppy Nipping and Mouthing

Puppies are designed by nature to be exceedingly nippy creatures, ensuring that they get plenty of feedback about bite strength before their jaws fully develop. We also have to keep in mind that this is their way of playing with one another. They don’t have arms and hands to wrestle with, so they use their mouths.

One of the most common complaints students seek my help with is how to teach their pup not to use its teeth when interacting with humans. Part of the solution, I always tell them, is making sure that their puppy has plenty of opportunity to play with others of their own kind, giving them an appropriate outlet for this instinctive behavior and making it easier to resist playing with humans in this way. Two or three days at puppy daycare in addition to a weekly puppy training class and occasional play dates with other safe puppy playmates is a good regimen.

Not many places offer a daycare option specifically geared towards puppies, so I was delighted to hear the news that Pawwtopia’s Doggie Day Camp will be kicking off their puppy day camp right after Labor Day. Sending a pup to a well-run daycare program even just a couple times a week is well worth the investment, in my opinion. It’s a great way to get your pup plenty of dog-dog socialization and prevent your dog from practicing habits you don’t like in your home without having to keep your puppy cooped up all day. Giving your pup an appropriate outlet for its nippy play-style (so that it’s easier to refrain from nipping you) is just icing on the cake.

Sandra Abboud August 28, 2012 at 01:04 PM
Do you know of anyone who could temporarily take care of 2-4 year old cats? They are very cute and loving!
Bette Yip August 29, 2012 at 04:10 AM
Hi Sandra, I don't know or anyone, personally, but perhaps you could post a little more detail about the cats, their situation and what help is needed in hopes that one of our readers might be of assistance in finding help. -Bette
Bette Yip December 24, 2013 at 01:15 AM
Update: While I still feel that a well-run puppy daycare is a good thing, I've recently moved my own dog training company to Burlington, MA and have added a service even more helpful to puppy parents than daycare is: Puppy Day School. Rather than just monitoring play between puppies all day long and sending them home tired, our instructors ("home room teachers) also incorporate basic obedience training and housetraining as well as socialization to humans doing and wearing all sorts of things that sometimes spark reactivity in under-socialized dogs later in life. There's a lot more to our program, but I'll keep it brief here. I'll just say that our Puppy Day School is so much more than a simple daycare, and puppy socialization is about much more than play with other puppies. For a really good overview of what puppy socialization encompasses, search "AVSAB Position Statement on Puppy Socialization." To find out more about our new Puppy Day School, just visit BetteYip.com.

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