Group play doesn't work for your pup? It's OK.


My dog, Aaliyah, failed her group play daycare evaluation last year.

For a long time that was hard for me to say. I’ve now come to understand, however, that simply not all dogs enjoy or are appropriate for group play daycare. If your dog is not successful in group daycare it truly does not mean there is anything ‘wrong’ with them or you. They might just prefer the companionship of humans or be better equipped to enjoy and be successful in interacting with one dog at a time.

The socialization required for a dog to be comfortable in a large group of dogs takes place at a very very young age and many dogs, whether from rescues or breeders, miss that socialization window. And that’s ok. It just means we have to have realistic expectations for them in terms of the situations in which they can be successful.

Even dogs who have been properly socialized may not enjoy or interact in a healthy way in group daycare.

Terriers have a tendency toward over-stimulation and were bred to have strong prey drive.

Shepherds often become overwhelmed in a large group when they are not ‘in control’.

Hunting dogs often feel anxious when they don’t have a job to do.

In my opinion, being a ‘good’ owner doesn’t mean having a dog that can always go anywhere and do anything successfully. It means meeting your dog where they’re at and being their advocate by only putting them in situations where they can be comfortable, safe and happy.

I feel especially strongly about this when it comes to rescue. We often hear that shelter dogs can be perfect pets, but I think that really depends on our definition of perfect. I do believe that you can usually find a perfect companion for you in a shelter. But that does not always mean that they will be well suited to be successful in every situation. Most animals in shelters have had negative experiences in their past so our role as their guardians is to be an understanding advocate for them, that’s why we call it rescue.

It took me a long time to figure all of this out. I initially felt so much shame that my pitbull terrier who was found as a stray as an adolescent often displayed aggression when exposed to unknown dogs. I truly felt like I had failed her as an owner because I couldn’t ‘fix’ her. Letting go of this shame, shedding all unrealistic hopes and unfair expectations I had for her and only putting her in safe situations was actually all I had to do to be her perfect owner. Turns out it was only me who needed to be fixed and it’s incredibly freeing to have forgiven myself for that, too.

Is your dog not well suited for Group Play, but you still have overnight care needs? Please consider our Private Play Boarding Options at Canine To Five Ferndale.

Jesse Miller is Canine to Five’s Employee Development Manager. She joined the Canine To Five team in 2015. Jesse lives in Detroit with her pitbull, Aaliyah.  Jesse is fascinated by and enamored with dogs! Even outside of work she spends a lot of her time learning about canine behavior and psychology, as well as working (and playing!) with her own dog. Though she is an equal opportunity dog-lover, she can’t deny that she has a very special weakness for one particular group: our canine ‘senior citizens’

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