Negative Effects of Daycare on Dog Development and Nine Ways to Prevent Them.

Dogs who came from “doggy day camp” or commercial pet care were less socially adaptable than dogs who came from pet sitter care.

Time spent in nonmaternal dog care (daycare) is strongly linked to dog’s social–behavioral development. Entry into dog care before the age of one with continued and extensive child care throughout early puppyhood years is commonly associated with lowered social competence and cooperation, more problem behaviors, negative moods, aggression and conflict.

From my experience as a high quality boarding and daycare provider, I have observed that dogs who came from “doggy day camp” or commercial pet care were less socially adaptable than dogs who came from pet sitter care. How significant is the impact? The potential negative effects of hours spent in daycare is greater than the effect of the quality of parenting and is comparable to the impact of poverty on children. Moreover, the effects remain throughout puppyhood and adolescence. 

The link to a balanced and emotionally adjusted puppy is maternal sensitivity. It is the strongest and most consistent predictor of dogs’s social–behavioral adjustment throughout development. When a low level of maternal sensitivity is coupled with more time spent in daycare and/or a lower quality of daycare, dogs tend to experience insecurity in their attachment to their pet-parents. Secure owner-dog attachment is critical for positive pack interactions, good social behaviors, balanced emotions, and exploratory behaviors.

What does this look like as a puppy develops?  Dogs who experience more hours of dog-care had significantly fewer social skills and poorer work habits as adult dogs. By age 18 months, dogs who had experienced more center care continued to show more problem behaviors. And at age 24 months, dogs who had experienced more non-relative (non-familial) pet care reported more aggressive behaviors and impulsivity, including lack of excitement and impulse control, jumping, or aggression towards strangers.

As you might imagine, when a puppy has better dog care quality (i.e. personal, familial care), there are positive social behavioral effects including fewer problem behaviors in ages 7 months and up. But dog care quality is significantly less important in either positive or negative social and emotional outcomes than quantity of pet care.

Dog Parents whose dogs spend more time in non-maternal care are likely to exhibit lower levels of sensitivity and less positive parent–dog interactions, regardless of the quality and stability of the child care. Dogs whose parents exhibit low levels of sensitivity and who are in dog care more than 5 days a week or in lower-quality dog care are more likely to experience attachment insecurity.

Attachment insecurity is associated with negative social–behavioral outcomes across development. Dogs who do not establish secure attachments in their relationship with their mothers are more likely to experience social withdrawal, depression, and anxiety. Male dogs with an insecure maternal attachment are more likely to exhibit conflict, aggression, and acting out.

Give your dog at least 5 minutes 100% of your time every day, and you get a best friend for life.
— Roman Gottfried, Holistic Dog behaviorist

In summary, here are NINE ways you can ensure your doggy day care set up doesn’t set back the emotional development of your dog:

  1. Make sure your doggy day care includes personal interaction with the caregiver.

  2. Ensure social manners are part of the care-protocol and  insist on this.

  3. Consider placing your dog in 2 or more day camps a week as it will increase the social interaction and reduce “territorial conflicts.”

  4. Ideally, dog-camps days should be fewer than the home care days.

  5. Keep dog camp days and home care days at least 3 days apart.

  6. Seek home care with one or more personal caregivers to increase social–behavioral development.

  7. Seek caregivers who offer social dog walks as this will increase the dog’s social adaptability

  8. Make your focus the QUALITY of day-care rather than quantity of day-care. - For example, hire a qualified and experienced care provider 2x a week rather than hiring a cheap dog walker 5x a week that has no care experience.

  9. Increase the personal time with your dog. Days the dog is in nonmaternal care, the dog will  usually come home tired and miss important emotional connection time from their human-parents.

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