Daycare during adolescence: Good energy outlet or place to practice bad behavior?

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Our 5 month old Mini American Shepherd, Pixel, is a lover of all people and dogs. When he was very young, we took him regularly to a puppy play group for a few hours for socialization and play. When he aged out at 18 weeks, we just let him play with friends’ dogs, instead. But we all live in apartments, and it looked like our little ball of energy could use some more space to run during play.

We’ve avoided the dog park thus far, because his tween brain has been making his recall less consistent and the last behavior we want him to practice is running away and ignoring us off-leash. We’re working consistently on recall (inside, outside, on a long line, with and without distractions), and he’s pretty good with returning but sometimes he’s just too distracted. We’re working on it.

Anyway, we occasionally bring him to daycare for an hour or two to go play, burn off some energy and give us some puppy-free time. Today when we went to pick him up, he got a “bad report card”. He wasn’t kicked out but they were pretty unhappy about his behavior. They said he ignored their recall, ran away when they tried to catch him, and if they did catch him, he tried to wriggle free. And apparently his running around was riling up the other dogs that were being calm. My response was kind of “we actively work on all of that, but he’s a butthead teenager”. They also recall to catch him when he’s being “bad”, so like…why would he come back when running away is way more fun? Anyway, we’re not planning on bringing him back until we’ve got a better handle on these things, but I’m wondering if this is normal for daycares? Is this specific place setting him up for failure or are daycares in general a bad idea for stubborn teen pups?

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