Chances are, at one time or another you will need to turn to someone else to care for your dog. Perhaps you’ve accepted a work assignment that will keep you out of town for a month. Maybe you’re finally going on that long awaited cruise. Whatever the reason, you find yourself in need of someone dependable and trustworthy to care for Rover. Although some dogs do best at home with a pet sitter, other dogs do better in a boarding kennel. Consider your dog’s personality and needs before making a decision.
Things to know up front: For kennels, pet boarding is a business. Their success depends on volume as much as quality care. Kennels care for many animals at the same time and your pet will probably be kept in a cage or run. Don’t expect a kennel to give your pet the same kind of attention and affection that you do; it just won’t happen. But good kennels employee people with a natural love of dogs that will be kind and gentle and care for your pet to the best of their ability.
Kennel choices: Most vet offices offer boarding services. While vet office care may be limited, with smaller cages and limited exercise opportunities, many people, especially those whose animals have medical needs, feel more secure leaving their pets with a trusted vet. Other owners turn to private boarding kennels that can range from bare-bones to luxurious. Sparse facilities do not differ much from vet offices. Cages are usually small and exercise is limited to two walks a day. More expensive facilities offer mixed playtime for dogs that are socialized, outdoor exercise areas, larger runs rather than cages, and grooming services (all of which may be at an extra charge). Upscale doggie hotels are all the rage in some areas. Your dog may receive a massage, bath and haircut, obedience training, soothing music and luxurious bedding while you’re gone.
Where to start: Whatever level of care you decide on, there are some basic things to know and do before making a final decision on where to board your pet. Price, comfort, health and safety are all valid concerns. After all, you’re entrusting someone else with one of the most emotionally valuable things in your life.
Ask friends, neighbors, family, and your vet or dog trainer for recommendations. Then do a little background investigation. If your state requires licensing and inspections, make sure the kennels you are considering are in good standing. Also ask whether the prospective kennel belongs to the American Boarding Kennels Association. This trade association promotes professional standards, requires members subscribe to a code of ethics, and offers accreditation for professionalism, safety and quality of care. If you’re satisfied that a kennel meets basic requirements, schedule a visit.
What to look for: First impressions are important. Sniff the air as soon as you walk in. There should be no strong antiseptic smell or odor of urine or feces. Some antiseptic odor is understandable in concrete areas, but if odors assail your nose as you walk in the door, you may want to consider another kennel.
Look for a pleasant atmosphere. Do the current boarded dogs look happy? Do they come to the front of the kennel to greet you? Dogs that lie to the back and do not interact are a bad sign. Is the staff competent, confident, friendly and caring or do they seem harassed and irritable? Are there a sufficient number of workers or are they short-handed and overworked? Is the kennel owner ready and willing to show you where your dog will be housed and exercise areas? If not, cross this one off your list.
Make mental notes as you tour the facilities. Are dog beds clean? Look for clean food bowls and water bowls without scum or floating objects. Are the runs clean or is there feces lying around? It’s impossible to keep all runs clean 100% of the time, but you’ll be able to tell the difference between filth and recent deposits. Is the kennel yard full of debris? Is the building in need of serious repair? Is there good ventilation and a comfortable temperature? If possible, take a look at the kitchen. A clean kitchen is a good indicator of a clean pet area. Get a tour of outdoor exercise areas and runs. Are they protected from the elements? Is the noise level overwhelming? Although it is impossible to prevent dogs from barking, especially while someone is walking through the facility, the kennel should not be overcrowded to the point where dogs are constantly barking. Observe any activities offered. Note especially how aggressive dogs are handled.
Brass tacks: If your first impressions are favorable, then get down to details. You need to know if pets are required to be current on vaccinations. Some kennels now require that your dog be vaccinated against Bordetella, canine kennel cough. Many kennels will allow you to bring your dog’s regular food. It not only cuts down on their costs, but helps your dog adjust to kennel life. If it is important that your pet stay on his regular diet, ask; don’t just assume. What veterinary services are available? Does the kennel have a vet on call? You may prefer that the kennel call your vet if there is a need. Make this information readily available and let your vet know that your pet will be staying at a kennel while you are gone. Ask questions about feeding schedules. If your pet needs regular doses of medication, make sure this service is offered. Find out how much exercise your dog will be getting and how often they are allowed to potty. Can you bring your dog’s bedding from home and his favorite toy? Is it important to you that a staff member be on the property around the clock? If so, make sure this is the case at your chosen facility. Be sure to get a breakdown of charges. Some services are included in basic daily rates, some are not. If price is an issue, get the details worked out up front so you won’t be surprised when you get home. And last, but not least, trust your instincts. If you just don’t feel good about a particular kennel, go somewhere else.
Prepare your pet: So, you’ve taken all the preliminary measures and selected a kennel for your pet. Now you need to prepare Rover for his stay. If the facility offers doggy day care services in addition to longer term care, give your pet the chance to try it out. Take him once or twice for just the day. Take special note of his first impressions and reactions. Quiz the staff on his behavior and interaction with the other animals.
Be sure your pet knows basic commands. Make sure he is current on vaccinations and is flea-free (most kennels require it). If your pet is going to be at the kennel for an extended time, you may consider a trial run of a weekend excursion. This allows you to work out any kinks before the longer stay. If necessary, teach your dog to sit before being petted or fed and to walk quietly on a leash. Socialize him to strangers, especially if medication or grooming will be provided at the kennel. Make sure he is accustomed to a crate if he will be in one at the kennel. It will make the stay less stressful and fearful for your pet.
Prepare the kennel staff: No one likes surprises, not even kennel staff who are accustomed to working with all animal personalities. If your dog has any unusual fears, aggression triggers or other idiosyncrasies, be honest for the safety and well-being of all involved. Let them know if Rover is not reliably housetrained, hates men or eats things he’s not supposed to.
On kennel day: Exercise Rover before you turn him over to the kennel staff. Leave the kids at home. Walk in the kennel door, give Rover a gentle pat, tell him you’ll see him soon and let him go. Long goodbyes, hugs and tears will only stress out your pet (and you). He’s not going to hate you for leaving. Go have fun.
Coming home: One last thing, don’t be surprised or alarmed if your dog segregates himself and sleeps a lot upon coming home. He is not upset with you or had a miserable time. Dogs in kennels are awake from the crack of dawn until nighttime. They are excited by barking dogs, meal times and visitors walking past them. He may simply be exhausted.
Boarding kennels can be a good solution for those times when your pet has to be left behind. Do your homework and find the best facility for you and your pet. It is well worth the time. Your peace of mind and your pet’s health are your reward.