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Variety Is the Spice of Life

By Danette Johnston

Day care is not for every dog © Danette Johnston

When I opened a dog day care 19 years ago, I did so because I had been working a shelter and noticed that the majority of the dogs in the shelter were there because they were not getting enough stimulation, both physical and mental. I thought a dog coming to day care five days a week would be swell. “A tired dog is a well behaved dog” right? Well, what I found in reality is that five days a week of day care is actually quite stressful for a dog, and an over-tired dog is not relaxed, but stressed.

I believe the worst part of a dog attending day care everyday was that the dog was not doing OTHER things or going other places. Unfortunately, we (myself and the dog’s guardians) thought we were doing the best thing for the dog by having them active five days a week but what really happened is that the guardians did not do other things with the dog or take him other places because he was so “tired” from day care. So, the dog ended up “well-socialized” in the day care setting but not at all comfortable in new circumstances. In fact, now we do not allow dogs to come to my day care everyday and recommend maybe 2-3 days of day care with alternating days going elsewhere doing walks and various indoor and outdoor activities (off leash, tricks, games, nose work etc.).

What changed? I blame scientific research! People started studying dog’s brains in more depth. Studies started around the world including, in the United States, with Dr. Gregory Berns doing a MRI on an awakedog at Emory University in 2012 and Brian Hare working on Dognition at Duke University. In Hungary, the Family Dog Project continues to study our pet dogs’ brains and behaviors. We were and are, getting much more information on the canine brain.

So what do we know now? Respect The Nose! We now know a dog’s walk is much more about his nose than about his legs and lungs and that, for some dogs, 10 minutes of mental enrichment can be the equivalent of 30 minutes of physical activity.

What can you do to enrich your dog’s life?

  • Give your dog variety– take him to lots of different places! Don’t forget your reactive dog or senior dog who too often get isolated but who will benefit greatly from being able to sniff and explore different places. Sniffspot is a great resource to find new, safe spaces for your dog – young, old, reactive or social!
  • With puppies always be sure to socialize correctly by pairing the new spaces and activities with great stuff (food and fun!).
  • Change the way you walk. Ditch the perfect “heel” and instead, let him sniff. A lot!
  • Increase your dog’s mental enrichment by playing games and teaching tricks.


McMillan, F. (2002). Development of a mental wellness program for animals:

McConnell, P. (2011). All Exercise is Equal, but is Some More Equal Than Others?:

About the Author

Danette Johnston owns Dog’s Day Out in Seattle, Washington and has been a licensed veterinary technician in the state of Washington and is a certified professional dog trainer (CPDT-KA). She has published articles on dog day care and dog-dog interactions and lectured on dog behavior to veterinary technicians and students at the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians conference. She is also a licensed Canine Good Citizen evaluator for the American Kennel Club and worked as a Delta Society Pet Partners (animal assisted therapy) instructor and team with her dear departed dog Georgia. She is a “Be A Tree” presenter and the North West coordinator for Doggone Safe, an organization dedicated to education on the prevention of dog bites, and has also created a comprehensive Shelter Training Program working with shelter and rescue organizations. Along with her obedience classes and private lessons at Dogs Day Out, she teaches seminars including: Difficult Dogs, Leash Walking/Recall, Pittie Party and Barks & Babes, a class for expectant parents.

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