As much as you'd prefer to be with your dog 24/7, there will come a time when you'll need a reliable place to board your pup, whether you're heading on a business trip or a long-awaited vacation. Since this process can prompt more than a fair share of anxiety, the experts urge dog owners to scout out the right place for Fido way ahead of time.
"I always suggest doing your research and selecting a facility you're comfortable with way in advance," suggests Arielle Schechtman, a spokesperson for PuppySpot.com, a puppy placement service. "Entrusting your beloved furry child with another caretaker shouldn't be something you do at the last minute."
If you're concerned because you think your dog won't be able to handle being boarded in a traditional "kennel" — meaning many caged animals in close quarters for long time periods — that's a legitimate thing to worry about, but you have plenty of other options.
"If your dog is used to free rein of his home, being in a caged environment can cause high stress and turmoil," Schechtman says. "Yet another reason why you don't want to wait until the last minute to find the right place for your puppy."
Types of boarding
Look around and decide what type of facility might be perfect for your pooch. Because each dog's personality is different, they all thrive in different environments.
Traditional kennels: Typical boarding kennels have runs or crates where the dogs spend a lot of their time. Depending on the amenities offered, they might have indoor and outdoor areas and might include playtime with other canine visitors.
Resort-style facilities: Upscale facilities often offer a step above kennel runs for their guests. Pets may spend the nights in "suites" with doggy furniture that is meant to look more homey and amenities can range from nature walks to swimming or training lessons.
Free-range boarding: Cage-free facilities offer residents the chance to mingle all day, romping with other boarders and then bedding down with them in common areas with lots of dog beds.
In-home care: You might convince a friend or relative to watch your own furry family member for you. But there are also companies like DogVacay that let you search for insured and pre-screened sitters who will watch your pet in their home or even yours.
Questions to ask before you book
Before you consider dropping off your dog, make sure you’ve sussed out the facility, Schechtman says. Here are the 10 questions to ask yourself and the manager of the space before you even bring your dog there:
- Does the facility look and smell clean?
- Is there sufficient ventilation and light?
- Does the staff seem caring and knowledgeable?
- Are pets required to be current on all vaccinations, including the vaccine for kennel cough?
- What is the protocol and schedule for exercise and bathroom breaks — is there an indoor or outdoor dog run?
- Are cats and dogs separated?
- Is there enough space within the kennels for your dog to move around comfortably?
- How often are pets fed?
- Are there veterinary services available?
- What about other services, such as grooming and bathing?
How to prep your pooch for a positive boarding experience
Think vaccines: Since some kennels require all necessary vaccines to have been done at least two weeks in advance, be sure to contact your veterinarian at least a month before you plan to board your dog, says Jena Questen, DVM, a veterinarian in Bailey, Colorado.
Prep your pooch: Before you reserve space for your dog at a particular facility, ask if your dog can spend time at least the morning there to become acclimated to the space. "Let your dog sniff around for a bit," says Ilana Krieger, an animal behaviorist and the owner of PhD Pups Dog Training in Westborough, Massachusetts. "Even dogs feel better the second time they visit a place."
Pack (and pack heavy): Once you've decided upon a place to board your dog, make sure to bring your dog's own food, supplements, toys and a familiar blanket, towel or item of your clothing that can get lost. "A few old socks will do the trick to help your dog feel more at ease," Krieger says.
Skip the bath: If you bathe Fido before he goes to a boarding facility, you're wasting time and energy, Krieger says. "It's like giving your kid a bath before they go to day camp," she says. "However, if you professionally groom your dog, make an appointment for the day after you return from your trip. Your nose with thank you!"
Keep in (virtual) touch: If there is streaming video available for a nominal charge, do it. "Nothing is more fun than watching your beloved play, eat or mostly sleep on closed-circuit TV," Krieger says. "Even though you see it live for free, it is addictive to watch it on your phone."