Working as a doggie daycare employee can be a rewarding job, but it can also be a bit overwhelming for those who have never interacted with dogs in a large group before. Without proper knowledge about how to act around a group of dogs and what to watch out for, doggie daycare employees may miss crucial signs that can prevent a dogfight or other problems in the kennel.
Being a doggie daycare employee involves reading dog body language, knowing how to provide enriching play, knowing how to redirect negative dog behaviors, knowing how to sanitize properly, and knowing how to work around a pack of dogs safely. Being a doggie daycare employee is easier if you understand dog behavior.
Being a doggie daycare employee is much easier once you know some basics about what the job entails. Keep reading to learn more about being a doggie daycare employee and how to do it well.
Doggie Daycare and Taking Care of New Dogs
One of the most important tasks that a doggie daycare employee has to undertake is introducing new dogs to an established group at the daycare. Dogs come into doggie daycare with varying levels of socialization, and this can lead to tension during introductions.
Thankfully, the sheer number of dogs at the daycare will usually prevent most dogs from acting out aggressively out of social uncertainty. Once they see that there is nothing to fear and that attitudes are relaxed, most dogs are okay with the prospect of daycare. But new dogs may end up getting attacked or picked on if they are unfamiliar with other dogs’ body language, and it’s up to doggie daycare employees to make sure that new dogs don’t have a negative experience that can cause them trauma.
Helping to act as a buddy to new dogs and engaging them in group activities with treats and toys can help ease a dog’s transition into the daycare environment. Once a new dog has had a little time to settle in, they need a lot less direct supervision when they are around the rest of the dogs in the daycare.
Doggie Daycare and Dog Language
Being a good doggie daycare employee means being good at reading dog language—not only dog body language but also dog vocalizations. Dogs use a wide range of gestures and noises to communicate both with each other and with people.
Here are some basic tips for reading dog body language:
- Ears: A dog’s ears can tell a person a lot about the dog’s current attitude and where its attention is. A dog with ears perked forward is attentive and watching whatever its ears are pointing at, while a dog with ears flattened feels threatened. Dogs may also flatten their ears when assuming a posture of aggression, and in this case, flat ears are usually accompanied by snarled lips, growling, or snapping.
- Tail: A dog’s tail can also give away a lot of information about its attitude. A tail that is relaxed and wagging gently from side to side is usually an indication of contentment. In contrast, a tail that is whipping around like a helicopter is indicative of playful excitement. Dogs tuck their tail between their legs when they are afraid or shy and will stiffly wag their tail when showing aggression towards other dogs or people.
- Body: A dog that is anxious or fearful will shy away from interaction and will almost seem to curl in on itself, while an assertive dog will almost seem to project charging energy with their head pointed and their chest projected forward. Aggressive dogs may either withdraw or advance, depending on whether their aggression is based on fear or dominance. Dogs that roll over to show their belly are showing friendly submission.
- Face: A dog’s face is very expressive, and it’s often easy to tell their general mood through their eyes and facial expressions. A dog that shows its teeth in a snarl is showing aggression, and this display is usually shown during resource guarding behavior or in fear aggression. Dogs that are friendly and calm will have a panting, open mouth with a relaxed tongue.
(Source: Whole Dog Journal)
Along with dog body language, it’s also important for doggie daycare employees to understand dog vocalizations. Here are a few dog vocalizations and what they usually can be interpreted to mean:
- Growling: Growling is not always overtly aggressive behavior, and non-aggressive dogs will often growl at each other to contest ownership of an object, such as a toy or treat. However, growling should not be tolerated toward people. All dogs should be taught to relinquish treats, toys, or any other objects to a human handler at any time. Growling is usually an indication of displeasure, but growling can also be playful when dogs are roughhousing or play fighting.
- Snarling: Snarling is a more severe indicator of displeasure in dogs than growling, and a snarl is usually a “final warning” sort of vocal signal before a dog snaps or tries to bite.
- Howling: Howling can be in response to environmental stimuli (some types of music and sirens will cause dogs to howl), but dogs will also how as a sign of separation anxiety when they are left alone. This type of howling is not as common in daycare, however. Some breeds, such as hunting hounds, are also predisposed to a type of vocalization similar to howling called
- Barking: Dog barks can have a wide variety of meanings. Dogs can bark playfully when they are running around together. They can bark to alert their owners of intruders on the property or as an aggressive or reactive action towards a person or other animal. In doggie daycare, it’s pretty much up to the employee to carefully observe the dogs and learn the nuanced differences between how these barks sound.
Many doggie daycare employees quickly pick up on the finer points of dog body language and vocalizations once they’ve spent several weeks in the company of a bunch of dogs all day. Dogs are so expressive it’s almost impossible not to pick up how they’re feeling based on their behavior.
Types of Dog Behavior
Along with the different aspects of dog language that a doggie daycare employee should be aware of, there are also general types of dog behavior that they should also know. Here are some types of behavior to be on the lookout for when monitoring a large pack of dogs:
- Anxious: Many dogs will exhibit anxious behavior when they’re new to doggie daycare, and some dogs are naturally more inclined to nervousness. These dogs may need more solitary time than others to calm themselves. In dogs, signs of anxiety include excessive panting, shaking or trembling, avoidance, frenzied barking, a tucked tail, and timid or fearful body language.
- Aggressive: Aggressive dogs may act out of dominance, fear, or resource guarding behaviors, but aggression should not be tolerated in a doggie daycare environment since it can quickly lead to injuries or dogs that end up becoming reactive in a doggie daycare environment from past dog fights. Signs of aggression in dogs include growling, raised hackles (the hair on the back of the neck), lifting the lip or snarling, snapping or biting, and angry barking.
- Reactive: Some dogs are naturally more reactive than others and may approach other dogs with lunging and loud barking behaviors that can accidentally set off dog fights. Reactive dogs may not do well in group situations and may eventually need to be removed from a group doggie daycare if their reactivity consistently leads to aggression. In dogs, signs of reactivity include frenzied barking at the object they are reacting to and lunging towards the object.
- Separation-related: Separation-related behaviors include pining, whining, licking or biting at the feet, howling, digging, and other signs of anxiety or nerves. Dogs with separation anxiety may need to be redirected by a doggie daycare employee with some enrichment activities to take their mind off their wayward owner.
- Playful: Playful dogs will bow to each other, play tag, and generally run around roughhousing and visibly having a good time. Once dogs become used to doggie daycare, most of the interactions in the daycare group will be playful ones. Dog play must be monitored carefully to ensure that stronger or larger dogs don’t get too rough or overpower smaller and more passive dogs.
- Humping: Humping is a behavior that many dominant or un-neutered male dogs indulge in, especially as adolescents. This behavior is generally seen as rude or threatening to other dogs. It can trigger a dog fight, so this behavior should be discouraged whenever it’s seen by redirecting the behavior into a game or some other activity.
“Reading the room” while monitoring a pack of dogs is the best way to prevent a small spat from escalating into a huge fight. When it comes to dog fights in a daycare, two dogs fighting can turn into twenty dogs fighting in a hurry, so it’s better to prevent a fight than break one up.
Doggie Daycare and Play
One of the best ways to help encourage good behavior in dogs staying at a doggie daycare is for employees to engage in lots of directed play. This can range from chasing games to games like fetch or swimming.
Enrichment objects such as toys can also be a good way to help direct play, but doggie daycare employees need to be mindful of resource guarding behaviors. Resource guarding is when one dog tries to keep an object or possession away from other dogs, which can lead to confrontations between two aggressive, assertive, or dominant dogs. In some cases, resource guarding can lead to a challenge, and a challenge can lead to a fight.
Enrichment objects like fetch toys and chew toys aren’t just good ways for dogs to work off pent-up energy and keep themselves entertained. These toys can also act as a good motivator for redirecting negative behaviors into positive ones. Since doggie daycare employees can’t constantly reward dogs with treats, play and verbal praise must come into play as training motivators.
A doggie daycare employee should always be aware of where all enrichment objects in the run are at all times, which dogs have them, and whether friendly give-and-take behaviors are occurring. If a dog begins to resource guard too heavily with a toy or ball, then they should give that ball up for a treat or some other reward to prevent a fight.
How to Redirect Dog Behavior
As a doggie daycare employee, it is sometimes necessary to redirect a dog’s negative behavior to prevent it from escalating to reactive or aggressive behavior. Here are some methods that doggie daycare employees can use to redirect a dog out of behavior that it shouldn’t be doing:
- Body blocking: Body blocking involves standing between a dog and the thing it is interacting negatively with, such as humping another dog. Body blocking is using overt body language to tell the dog to stop engaging in a behavior. (Source: Patricia McConnell)
- Verbal reprimands: Verbal reprimands or corrections (words like “No!” or “Leave it!”) can help get a dog’s attention and also tells the dog that whatever behavior it’s doing is not acceptable behavior. Verbal reprimands are a good warning signal before taking stronger action.
- Verbal commands: Using verbal commands such as “Sit” or “Look at me” rather than corrections can be a positive way to redirect a dog’s behavior without resorting to scolding it. Using these verbal commands consistently can make them more effective.
- Kenneling: In the case of aggressive or reactive dogs, kenneling is sometimes necessary once the dog has become over-stimulated to prevent the dog from snowballing its interactions with other dogs into a dog fight. Often dogs only need to be kenneled periodically to calm them down before they can be returned to the general population.
- Whistles/clapping: Loud, sharp noises such as whistles and clapping can sometimes be more effective than verbal redirects in a loud doggie daycare environment. These methods are also useful for getting the attention of many dogs at one time.
As a person becomes more accustomed to working in doggie daycare, they will learn which dogs respond best to which redirection methods, and how to predict when a dog will need to be redirected before it becomes necessary.
Doggie Daycare and Sanitation
While it’s arguably not the most glorious aspect of the job, keeping a doggie daycare clean and relatively odor-free is a large part of a doggie daycare employee’s job. Daily duties in a doggie daycare include hours of just cleaning up dog pee, poop, and vomit, then sanitizing and deodorizing the area afterward. (Source: Pet Boarding and Daycare)
In most cases, all cleaning supplies will be supplied by the daycare, but doggie daycare employees who are in it for the long haul might want to invest in some tiger balm or other strong-smelling balm to dab under the nose to make the smells less oppressive to work in. It’s also wise to invest in some gloves, either disposable gloves or a long pair of rubber gloves.
It’s a good idea for doggie daycare employees to check at the end of each day shift to ensure that there are plenty of cleaning supplies ready to go for the next day. Staying on top of inventory for things like paper towels, doggie bags, and other sanitation supplies can help prevent a major mess if the daycare runs out of something crucial. Many dogs in one place make a huge mess.
Doggie daycare employees may feel tempted to cut corners on sanitation when cleaning up after so many dogs since it seems like an endless task, but constantly disinfecting the areas where dogs have used the bathroom is a vital part of the job. This not only prevents the daycare from stinking, but it also helps prevent the spread of disease.
Doggie Daycare and Safety
When working at a doggie daycare as an employee, there are two major things that employees need to be on the lookout for regarding dog safety: illness and fighting.
Illness at doggie daycare can arise from any number of reasons:
- A dog may come in with an undiagnosed illness that worsens while they’re at the daycare
- A dog may get into something poisonous before being dropped off at daycare
- A dog may develop a bowel impaction, torsion, or another medical emergency
Doggie daycare employees should be aware of any medical conditions or chronic health problems that the dogs at the daycare have and be prepared with proper medications or emergency medical supplies in case they’re needed (such as medications given to an epileptic dog post-seizure).
Another potential safety issue that may come up in doggie daycare are dog fights. While most dog fights are relatively minor, some dog fights can escalate to deadly levels, especially if one dog in the fight is significantly stronger or larger than the other dog.
Dog fights should be broken up immediately, but it is dangerous to grab dogs at their heads when trying to separate them during a fight. Dogs that are fighting are in a fully reactive mode, and many people have been severely bitten by trying to grab a dog at the neck and drag it away during a fight.
Instead, if you need to break up a dog fight, you should try the following methods:
- Shout at the dogs and clap your hands sharply as you loom over them and intimidate them with your body.
- If that doesn’t work, spraying the dogs with a water hose or dousing them with a bucket of water will usually break up the fight.
- If the dogs still don’t stop fighting, one person should grab the rear legs of one dog, and another should grab the rear legs of the other dog, and the two people should pull in opposite directions while also lifting on the legs like the dog is a wheelbarrow. This allows the dogs to be separated with less risk of a bite. (Source: Pet Sitters International)
Breaking up a dog fight in a doggie daycare can be more difficult because other dogs may be inclined to jump into the fray and brawl. Ever heard the term “dog-piling?” It’s about this behavior. So, doggie daycare employees need to recognize the signs of escalating tension before a fight breaks out to keep the peace in the daycare and prevent injury to any of the dogs.
It’s also important for doggie daycare employees to know where the dog first aid kit is located and how to use the supplies inside it. Unfortunately, dog fights will break out, and accidents will happen, so an employee may need to jump into action and treat a wound on the scene before the dog is taken to a veterinarian for further assessment.
It’s also important to report all dog fights and aggressive behaviors to management at the doggie daycare, since dogs that habitually show aggressive behavior may need to be banned from the daycare for the safety of the other dogs. It is up to doggie daycare employees to monitor for the precursors of aggressive behavior before they escalate into serious fighting.
Tips for Working at a Doggie Daycare
Doggie daycare work can be a lot of fun, especially if you enjoy the company of dogs. But there are a few things that you can do to make your life a little easier if you pursue this kind of job as a career.
Here are some tips for easier work at a doggie daycare:
- Buy a special set of clothes for working at the daycare, and keep these clothes separated in an airtight container away from other laundry between washings. Your clothes from doggie daycare will stink to high heaven, and you don’t want that funk infiltrating the rest of your laundry. Medical scrubs are a good option for doggie daycare clothes since they are easily washed, come in loads of bright colors, and are comfortable for all-day wear.
- Keep a separate pair of shoes for the daycare, and don’t bring them inside. The soles of your shoes should be bleached after each shift to prevent the proliferation of any diseases that you might bring home from the daycare with you. While most doggie daycare centers require vaccination records, you don’t want to take a chance on bringing home parvo or some other disease to your animals at home.
- Invest in some earplugs. Piercing dog barks all day can eventually damage your hearing over time if you are continually exposed to it for hours and hours, so you’ll want to get some hearing protection if you’re going to be around that kind of noise for extended periods.
- Make a point to observe individual dogs. Being a good doggie daycare employee is largely about knowing your client animals and how they interact best with each other, and the only way to do that is to get to know them better. It’s a good practice to take notes on the behavior of a few different dogs each day to get a feel for their different behavioral patterns as well as triggers for bad behavior.
- Invest in a ball launcher or three. These plastic fetch toys can take a lot of the pain out of stooping over to pick up a ball and throwing the ball, plus they let you avoid touching doggie slobber. If your doggie daycare doesn’t already have ball launchers available, it’s wise to bring a few of your own.
- Taking the time to train regulars can make a big difference. If you’re going to be interacting with the same dogs day in and day out, it can be useful to teach them a handful of verbal commands that makes it easier to communicate with them. While these commands may not see much use at home, just using them to guide the dog at daycare can make the doggie daycare employee’s life a lot easier.
- Doggie daycare work is physically demanding. Be sure to stretch before and after every work shift to help avoid movement-based injuries. Soaking in Epsom salts can help doggie daycare workers deal with some of the bruises, scratches, and bumps that come with working in a pack of high-energy dogs all day long. Wear long sleeves since many dogs will accidentally scratch when jumping up in excitement.
If you take a few practical steps toward making your doggie daycare job easier, you’ll be amazed at how much fun you can have working with dogs all day.
Working at a Doggie Daycare Isn’t All Fun and Games, but It Can Be a Great Time
Many people have a romanticized view of what it’s like working at a doggie daycare without considering all the hard work that goes into the job. But as long as you have a strong understanding of dog behavior and you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty, working as a doggie daycare employee can be some of the most fun you’ve ever had on the job.
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