The Doggy Daycare Story

I will start out by saying, it didn’t go well.

On Friday last week, we booked Shiva in for a half-day at a doggy daycare centre. Until that day, we had never left her alone with someone else, not even for five minutes. The closest we came was the three minutes of angst during the Canine Good Neighbour test. Given that our family lives on the other side of the country, we may have to put her in a kennel one day. Emergencies happen. It would be great if we didn’t have to worry about our dog’s sanity in such an event. Since we were off work, I thought it would be a good chance to experiment. Start off small with a half-day, and then if that went well, maybe next time try a full day, and then maybe an overnight stay. Maybe.

As far as I know, most dogs love doggy daycare. What’s not to enjoy? They get to hang out with a bunch of cool people with new toys and a whole pack of other dogs that like to play.  It sounds like a blast to me and I am not even a dog. One would think it would beat staying at home in one’s crate. Most dogs would be thrilled at the opportunity.

Unfortunately, Shiva is not most dogs.

We did everything we could to set her up for success. We chose to take her to a more expensive daycare just because the building is the same one in which we attend agility classes. After two years, Shiva is as comfortable there as a Shiva can be comfortable anywhere. The woman who owns the business is warm and ultra laidback. She understands our situation and was willing to be flexible. When we explained the basics of Shiva’s issues, she agreed to call us immediately if there were any problems. Shiva has met her before and likes her as much as she can like a stranger.

That morning I kept her routine the same. We went for a long off-leash walk in the forest at the usual time. She ate her breakfast, lazed around on the couch, and chased the cat. We brought along a bag of familiar treats for the I made sure my attitude was relaxed and optimistic. What was the worst that could happen?

I won’t lie. I was a little nervous when we dropped her off. My PH and I both felt a little like parents taking their child to her first day of kindergarten. It was a little intimidating. For the first time, Shiva was going to be with other people. We weren’t going to be able to control the situation or her reactions. We were opening up ourselves to the judgment of others. It was time to see if all of our hard work had made a difference.

The worst part was when we walked away. Shiva seemed fine. She was running around the front room, sniffing and bugging a cranky dog in his crate. Crossing our fingers, we slipped out the door. And then I looked back.

Never look back.

Through the glass I could see her little white nose peeking over the gate inside. Her ears were forward and her brown eyes looked back at me somberly.

That’s when I ran back inside screaming and beating my chest.

Okay, I didn’t do that, but I felt like I could. Instead, we walked to the car and drove away, leaving our baby behind. We drove a few blocks down to get coffee at a local place we’ve always meant to check out. Sitting down inside, my PH put his phone on the table and we waited. And waited. When our coffee was finished and we still hadn’t received a call, we went to the Registry of Motor Vehicles to complete some boring business. And waited.

Still no call.

We decided to get some lunch at a burrito place downtown. I’d never been there before but had heard really good things. It was kind of fun, being out and not having to worry about leaving the dog at home or in the car. We could both go inside the take-out place. One of us didn’t have to hang outside with the puppy. It was a novelty. After we placed our orders, we sat down to wait for our food, joking about how weird it all felt.

That’s when the phone rang. I looked over and my PH’s expression confirmed my suspicion. It was the daycare. Shiva wanted to come home.

The good news is, Shiva did really well with the daycare workers and with the other dogs. She was polite and obedient, willing to work for treats. The owner couldn’t say enough good things about how smart she is and how sweet. The last was kind of a shock to me.

The bad news is, her separation anxiety was making her miserable. The whole two and a half hours she was there, she stood by the door and whined. It was obvious she did not want to be there. They did all they could to help her relax but her anxiety just kept building. The owner didn’t want to call us but she also couldn’t stand to see a dog looking so unhappy. She refused to accept any form of payment. I was grateful to her for trying and even more grateful she had called. We picked her up immediately.

Fortunately, once back with us, she was okay. Her anxiety faded as soon as she saw us. We even went back to the daycare the next day for our usual agility class and she was happy to be there. I have no doubt she would have had a terrific time at daycare had we not left the building.

Which kind of defeats the purpose.

Life with a Shiva is never simple, is it?

32 thoughts on “The Doggy Daycare Story

  1. Sorry it didn’t work out! I tried letting the girls go to daycare in case I had to board them too. Daisy did fine but Bella didn’t really like it.

    Now, we have a petsitter that comes. She comes and walks the girls when I work during the week (which is now 12 hour shifts) and will come several times a day if I need to go out of town.


  2. It is too bad that you can’t try again, but for a shorter time and built it longer. It might take many times of short duration. It sounds like Shiva just is not convinced that you will come back. Dogs understand here and now and sometimes think what they have is all it is ever going to be. Especially a rescue who may have already had a bad experience with being left. She is so used to being there with you, but this time you left her. She might not understand that you will come back.

    Maybe a different daycare where she is not so used to being there with you?


  3. I tried doggie daycare once with Jasper. He was still in his puppy phase at a year old and I thought it might be a good experience for him to interact with other dogs. (Most daycares here will do a 4 hour test to see how your dog does in a doggie daycare environment.)
    He didn’t do well either. I don’t know what happened exactly. Maybe it was separation anxiety, or maybe something else, but when I went to pick him up he had this look in his face that look like someone who had been shell-shocked. His eyes looked spacey and unfocused. It was really odd and I didn’t like it at all. Daisy didn’t either. She missed him the whole time he was gone.
    I’ve seen a lot of dogs go to doggie daycares and not do well. In my opinion, a dog should not go more than 2-3 times a week anyways because the environment (the barking, the craziness, the over-stimulation) is way too overwhelming for a dog every day of the week. It’s too close to an animal shelter in terms of overstimulation.
    (Okay. Enough pontificating.)
    I’m really sorry that it didn’t work out the first time with Shiva. It can be stressful thinking about what you would do in an emergency and knowing that she wouldn’t do well being boarded. 😦


  4. If you ever have days off again, you may try doing a really slow separation (something i did a lot of when i was teaching toddlers who were in school for the first time). Start out spending the first few half days WITH her but slowly taking yourself out of the action… see if you can start with her playing with the other dogs where she can see you then spend part of the time sitting outof her sight then spend the whole time out of her sight if she was successful… and slowly working your way out of the building as she builds confidence and comfort in that space.

    but it’s great she was good with all the people and dogs and even listened to the dog wranglers! yay!


  5. If you think it’s really important to see if Shiva can adjust to being left with someone else, BrownDawg’s and Teena’s suggestions are right on the money. It’s the same thing you do when you’re working with separation anxiety at home, as I’m sure you know.

    But I’m a big believer in in-home care. I figure that if a dog has to get used to missing her people, at least she’s in a familiar environment.

    It hasn’t been often that I’ve left dogs at home in someone else’s care–probably once or twice in each dog’s life. But I’ve had good experiences with it and find it’s worth the money. It’s best if you can have someone stay overnight in the house.

    Of course, the first time I left Agatha and Christie at home in the care of a friend, I was sobbing for the first half hour after we pulled off our street. I’d much rather just have them with me in the first place.

    Now who has the separation anxiety?

    BTW, it sounds like you picked a great day care facility. No everyone would call you if your dog was anxious because they wouldn’t want to look bad for not getting the dog comfortable.


  6. I don’t know what the difference in cost is and if that’s one of the major issues but if it’s feasible, why don’t you try a pet sitter? Frankie doesn’t have separation anxiety but I discovered early on that he was miserable with other dogs in a strange place. He’s less happy with a stranger at home than he is with me — and everyone who is not me is a stranger to Frankie — but he does fine, especially after a few days. Home itself serves as a kind of security. Shiva’s anxiety might be very different but it could be worth a try.


  7. I agree with others that if this is something you would really like to have as an outlet for her to try again… and keep trying if you see any progress. And honstly the fact that she took treats and worked for them is a HUGE good sign for a smart girl like her, and it tells me that she might eventually be able to get over this given the right people and circumstances. Having run both a dog daycare and boarding facility I know what you’re dealing with, and it must be a trusted and structured place.

    And it is a GREAT asset to have someone who can watch her, or a place you can leave her knowing they are doing their best to make her comfortable. One of my peeves is when people bring in 5 + year old dogs who have never boarded let alone have had to stay home alone for their first kennel stay. I am glad they chose us as we are a small kennel and we all live on property but I simply feel bad that they waited so long to have the dog go through something like boarding. It is never easy the first time for you or her, a daycare or kennel is never home. But it’s about finding people that understand dogs, and somewhere you are as comfortable as you can be with them. As nice as it is to have people come in your home it is hard to find a truly trustworthy person that won’t knickle and dime you for the 15 minutes of real interaction your dog might be getting. Looking for such takes research and a sort of interview process which will have complications of it’s own. I am not opposed to it by any means, but most I have talked to really have a hard time letting someone come into their house.

    Maybe if they took her on walks which would refocus her in concerns to worrying about where you are, the bonds with her and the walker might grow which would allow for better interaction and relaxation when the time came for her to be inside with other dogs and people. It does sound like you have found a good place to try, don’t let this first experience defeat you. Every dog is different and you gotta focus on the pluses (taking treats, working, not pitching a fit the moment you left the place, not starting fights from anxiety, and lasting more than 2 hours!) To me it all shows progress and hope.


  8. Sorry that Shiva did not enjoy her time at daycare. It is great to hear that she behaved so well though. I can’t imagine that our pups would like it, but I can always dream 🙂


  9. I started my children in daycare at 2 days/week, and gradually built it up. I think everyone is telling you it’s the same for dogs. Take her back for an hour. An hour and a half. Two hours.

    The real problem for me is that these things cost money, something I just don’t have. So yeah, if we ever have an emergency, our poor dog will suffer trauma too.


  10. I think 2Brown, Tena, and Pamela are right on the money. If you really want Shiva to try again, take the time when you can go with her.

    The place Sampson and Delilah go to daycare has drop in play groups that run for about 45 minutes. While the dogs are playing, the adults are chatting. It is very similar to a dog park, except we pay for it and it’s indoors. 🙂 The point is that we stay with them and watch them.

    Once you see the Shivster playing step out of the room for a few seconds and then step back in. You know how to deal with Separation Anxiety, and you need to apply the same techniques here.

    Pamela is so right, whenever I have to leave them for overnight I have terrible separation anxiety. I cry when I leave the house and worry about them the entire time. I need meds.


  11. Getting a dog used to going to day care can take time. I own a dog daycare in NE Minneapolis. Although most dogs come in the door and blend right in, it is certainly a process for others to get comfortable. One trick to help with emergency drop offs, when you don’t have time to make multiple visits to a facility is to bring a blanket of something else that has the familiar sent of home.
    Daycare can be a bit overwhelming for unsure dogs but having something that is a connection to home is helpful.
    The other thing our daycare offers for our dogs is an in home boarding option. This means we pick up your dog at your home. The dog comes to play with us for the day and then is dropped off back at your home to sleep in their own bed. It causes much less stress on the dogs. It’s more labor intensive for us as a business but our clients have really responded to this service.
    Best Luck
    Charles Johnson
    Ruff Love Dogs


  12. I have never tried doggie daycare, but I think that Sherman would have a similar reaction to Shiva’s, some dogs just don’t seem to do well in those types of settings, which I know that you know. At least you gave it a try!


  13. I don’t think Elka would much like daycare either. Apparently yesterday she whined and whistled for an hour after I went to work, leaving her home (where she’s been since she was 8 weeks old) with my fiance (who picked her up when she was eight weeks old and who she spends every day with).

    There have been a lot of great suggestions here for you! And I’m proud of Shiva for how well behaved she was anyway! Grace under pressure.


  14. Dog memory is so marvelous and totally unpredictable.

    I’ve never used doggie daycare, but I’m sure Misty would just take over the place.


  15. I think you need to keep trying with Shiva – this is selfishness on my part as it would be really nice if you guys could come home for a visit. The offer to pay for tickets still stands.
    With having Kita – and with Nick before hand – the first time they went to the kennel it was iffy. Not very happy. Nick never did like it much – but the daycare owner was great with him – let him stay in the house etc. With Kita now, she is better each time. I take her bed and a couple of her favorite toys – I always take her in – and pick her up – we keep the routine the same each time. She does still bark when I leave – but the owner says within half and hour she fits right in and plays really well. She sometines goes to her bed – but the time she hides out so to speak has gotten shorter each visit. I think the Shiva needs to learn you will always come back for her. Unless she is seperated from you guys she will never learn you will be coming back.


  16. Well it sounds like there is some excellent advice posted already, and we’ve never actually used a doggie daycare, so I can’t empathize. Through our ‘dog club’ (same one that does annual Olympics), there is a pretty great dog-sitting support system among members and staff. It’s how we dog sit so often, but the arrangements are also reciprocal, and we’re able to leave Moses (and now Alma, too) with friends who have dogs he knows. It’s a great set-up.


  17. YOu know it could have gone much worse. Lots of dogs can’t go to doggy daycare for a variety of reasons. I have been missing for a while b/c of our vacation, so forgive me for not knowing the background — are you looking for a way to leave town without Shiva? Or do you want another way to get her energy spent? Our Chick does ok at a kennel but hates doggy daycare (he hates being around more than 3 other dogs at the same time, it becomes overwhelming and intimidating for him). But what he loves best is having a dogsitter. He is so comfortable in our home that having a new person come stay at the house with him and maintain his routine is much better for us and for him than shipping him off. Just a thought.


  18. Hi, thanks for visiting my blog. I think that you’re on the right track with Shiva. The trick is to condition her so her anxiety lessens each time you go away. For example, when you come home in the evening from work, take her out of her kennel. Do all the usual things then put her back in her crate and go for coffee. Then come back. Do this often so she gets used to you both leaving and coming back. Then transition this sort of thing to the daycare. Leave her and then come back. It’ll take some time but conditioning her will take some time. A good dose of patience and determination will get her and you over this.


  19. Maybe it would be a good idea to try it again sometime. But, instead of leaving her there, stay with her at first. Then, next time, stay there but occasionally walk outside and back in, so she sees you are going to return soon. Maybe, by doing that, you could build up to her being able to stay there to have fun even if you leave.


  20. You got so lucky with the place you chose — they really cared about Shiva, it seems. It says a lot that they didn’t charge you a thing. You don’t find that often, trust me.

    Elli stayed in my room alone not long ago (my parents were home, but not in the same room as her) and had no problems, and I think she’d tolerate being in a facility — but certainly not for an extended amount of time, the way some people leave their dogs.


  21. I agree that the daycare that you chose is AWESOME! I’m glad they recognized that Shiva wasn’t adjusting and things weren’t going to improve. I am a strong believer that every dog isn’t cut out for daycare – Cali doesn’t like the dog park, or doggie day care – she loves other dogs, but in small numbers.

    We have always had someone stay at our house, or Cali stays with our neighbors when we are away – but it would be GREAT if she could go to one of the “doggie camps” when we are away. We keep saying that next time, we will start out right away with boarding, but you never know if your dog is going to be the type of dog that enjoys it. What makes me sad is seeing dogs at daycare that are visibly miserable 😦 Good for you for testing the waters and taking your time.


  22. at this point, we have left desmond at a few places other than home alone while we are at work: the groomer, my parents’ house, in-laws’ house, our own house with a friend watching him, and at a dog sitter’s house.

    every time, i feel worried and nervous and sad and wish i could just take him with me, but i’m getting better. and so is desmond. he definitely was not happy about these things at first, but now he seems less upset. we actually now schedule the groomer appointments when we have errands to run that we both need to be present for. like you, we don’t both get to go into any variety of establishments at the same time very often at all, so it’s kind of freeing. but the first time we did it, it was SO WEIRD.

    i have no advice for you–and everyone else has given out some good stuff–but i wish you luck and hope it gets easier for all of you.


  23. Mickey hated daycare at first. He was a sucky pup so he would sulk, mope and cower the whole time at first.

    Kayloo was fine with daycare, but she would gladly go home with any old stranger as long as they fed her.

    Now Mickey is quite happy to go to daycare, sometimes he doesn’t feel like it, but he’s always fine once he gets settled. We don’t really have anyone to leave our dogs with so they really had no choice but to embrace it and they did!

    Not sure if that helps at all! Sorry it didn’t go well!


  24. I’m so sorry it didn’t work out – separation anxiety is so stressful for dog and owner, it can be heartbreaking. And sorry you looked back. 😦
    I didn’t have time to read through all of the comments, so I’m sorry if someone already suggested this….I know you were trying to do this in case you ever need to leave her in an emergency, and when you said “I have no doubt she would have had a terrific time at daycare had we not left the building.” I wonder if that is your answer, if you do decide to try it again.

    Maybe, since the owner is so willing to work with you, she wouldn’t mind if you did stay with Shiva? An hour here, an hour there, (if your work schedule allows) – to get her used to it with you ARE there, and then try leaving her once she is really comfortable there….? Just an idea. I know how hard sep anx is, and I know not everything works, but it might be worth a try.


  25. I agree with what everyone says. If you can take time to do it slowly. Maybe even just sitting in the corner or something and slowly work your way to the door. I don’t know. I can’t go anywhere long term with our dogs. But I know if I absolutely had to leave, they could stay at our vet’s boarding place.

    Sorry it didn’t work out, but glad Shiva did well. 🙂 Big Plus.


  26. Frankie loves daycare, Beryl hated it the one time she was there and I was there too, although she couldn’t see me. Luckily I have friends who could look after Beryl for a few days, although she wouldn’t be happy their either. I don’t suppose you have a friend who could look after Shiva in an emergency? Otherwise, you’ve had so much good advice here it’s just a matter of choosing which is your next course of action. If I was you I would persevere with something though. In an emergency you don’t need to be worrying about Shiva too!


  27. Tena is spot on! We had to do that with Felix. I am a proud graduate in the “Paws to Play Doggy Daycare University” -a crash course in learning to let go. The trainer at our local daycare specializes in separation anxiety.I spent several Saturday mornings hanging out at daycare, first playing and having fun, then slowly getting less and less involved, leaving to room more frequently and staying away longer. It’s a long and frustrating experience, but you’re right. Who knows if you might need it someday!

    Poor little Shivster. I prefer to look at it like she knows she has a good thing going on and she doesn’t want to lose it. It’s like love…only more traumatic.


  28. Aww, poor Shiva. And poor you guys – it sounds like you had a nice, relax-ish morning of waiting on the edge of your seat for the dreaded phone call. I know I was freaking out over finding a place I felt comfortable leaving gwynn to get his haircut – stranger with full control fo my dog, and with scissors! terrifying. I’m considering trying out a doggy daycare, but the advantage of the one i’d likely try is that its owner was our vet tech until she opened her business, and definitely one of Gwynn’s favourite people. Maybe you guys coudl try hanging out there while she’s in daycare (but not interacting wiht her… letting her be in and playing but with you nearby) a few times and work your way up to her being so excited about being there that she tunes out the fact that you left for a few hours?


  29. Pingback: Starting Your Own Home Daycare Business | Dynamic Marketing Enterprise

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