Canine Behavior/submission urination and doggie daycare
Thank you so much for your time. I have a 2 year old golden retriever, black lab mix. Bruno is a great family dog. He gets along well with our female chihuahua and neighbors dogs. We are going out of town for a few days and need to board him. He went a few times to a doggie daycare last year and some dog obedience. He hasn't been to a daycare setting in over a year, so I am a little nervous about him going now. He is neutered and not aggressive with other dogs (unless they are in our yard). He is if anything submissive. The other day at the vet when getting his annual shots and exam, he urinated on the floor. For a dog like this, would it be better to board him with our vet or would a doggie daycare be worth trying out? I know it is hard to access the situation well without having met the dog yourself but in general do dogs with urination submission do well in daycares? Thank you so much.
Thank you for your question and for putting Bruno's emotional comfort at the top of your list of priorities as you prepare to travel.
His urination at the vet is not unusual. Vet's offices are high stress environments. Most dogs are nervous to downright petrified when at the vet and every other animal there can feel/sense that anxiety and stress from the other animals. If Bruno senses the stress of another dog at the vet then this could easily increase his own anxiety about being there - "so there is a good reason to be scared because that other dog is clearly scared too!!"
It's important, though, that we not take a stress reaction in a high-stress environment as a "tell" for how Bruno might respond in a more relaxed and social environment.
If I were getting ready to go out of town and wanted to board my dogs, I would first make plans for my dogs (I have two) to be evaluated at a local dog daycare/boarding facility that I trust** to see if my dogs are a good fit in that environment. Do they get on with the current clientele. I would have my dogs spend a couple half-day sessions at day care in the week or two before going out of town so they can acclimate to that environment and I have time to make other arrangements if they're not enjoying the stay.
The other arrangements I would make would be to find a pet sitter to stay in my home while I'm gone. In fact, this is my first choice and the one I've made most often. Sometimes it's been a friend who just stays over, other times I've paid a professional to take care of my dogs. In the past, I've paid for someone to just come over for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening to feed and love my dogs for a while. I have a dog door and a fenced back yard, so my dogs have ready access to potty. This choice worked for me years ago when my older dog was a very confident and comfortable dog. She has since passed away. The younger dog (now the oldest) and his little "brother" are a little less confident, so now I would pay to have someone stay overnight so they're not alone all night long.
My going away is stressful enough for my dogs. Keeping them in their familiar environment (home) and having a friend (actual friend or paid pet sitter) stay with them is my first choice for keeping my dogs comfortable while I'm out of town. I've done some pet sitting for some of my clients as well. Sometimes their dog stays with me at my house, others work out better when I stay at their house - that's mostly an issue of their dogs and my dogs getting along.
I would choose the vet for boarding only as a last resort because the vet, by nature, is a much higher stress environment. And at the vet, the dog will stay all day in a kennel, with 2 or 3 potty breaks per day and little opportunity to run around, play or de-stress.
**Choosing a good dog daycare/boarding facility can be a bit challenging. I encourage you to do some drop-in visits at one or two local facilities (or more if you have the time). Any legitimate operation should have no problem with you watching for a half hour or longer so you can see how the dogs behave, and more importantly, how the employees interact with the dogs. There should always be at least 2 humans in the space where the dogs play. The humans should be watching the dogs, not chatting with each other. If they are chatting, their eyes should still be on the dogs. They should be moving around the space periodically, disrupting and redirecting dogs whose play is getting a little too intense or going on for too long without self-imposed time-outs. They should be able to tell you how they break up fights if they occur. They should NOT be throwing dogs around, yanking, keeping dogs on leash in a leash-free area, etc. They should have quiet spaces where dogs can be put for rests if they need a break. There should be a schedule to the day. It should NOT just be 8 hours of play. Dogs will get overly tired and this can trigger aggressive outbursts. Instead, play time should be for 1-2 hours followed by snack and nap time for 1-2 hours. They can rotate this kind of schedule simply by pulling dogs that have been there for 2 hours into another, quiet space for nap time, then rotate those dogs back to play while other dogs are pulled for a break. They should be doing temperament assessments to properly place dogs of similar play style with each other, in different groupings and in different physical spaces. You don't want a dog who is overbearing and bully-ish hanging out with a group of fearful dogs. You don't want a tiny chihuahua hanging with a group of sight hounds with high prey drive who may see the little pup as a rodent worthy of chasing, etc.
The facility should be able to answer any questions you have about routines and safety protocols and should be comfortable with unannounced drop-ins for observation (without your dog). If you feel comfortable with what you see, then arrange an assessment for your dog (have his most recent shot records available as they'll require them for admittance). Then do a couple of half-day sessions or a half day followed by a whole day a few days later.
Ask about how they manage boarding dogs. They should NOT be in the play group all day long - as mentioned before, dogs normally rest about 17 hours of every 24. To be in a high-stimulation environment for 8-12 hours straight can lead to behavioral issues which may linger after he's back home.
I hope this proves helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance. Have a nice trip!
Los Angeles Behaviorist