Hurrah—summer is here! When travelers pack bags to head off on vacation, many will be packing bags for their dogs, too. Here are some great suggestions for choosing a pet boarding facility, and for making your pet’s stay as comfortable and stress-free as possible.
Do your homework
Not all boarding facilities are equal. Do some research to find out what kinds of facilities are available in your area, and what each facility offers. Once you get an idea of what is available, contact all of the facilities and ask to schedule a tour. Tours are a practical way to get acquainted with the staff, and what you learn onsite can help with the decision-making process.
Veterinarians and dog trainers are not the only pet professionals to earn accreditations and certifications. The Pet Care Services Association (formerly the American Boarding Kennel Association) provides a list of accredited kennels on their website. Accredited kennels must adhere to a Code of Ethical Conduct and the Pet Owner’s Bill of Rights, as well as pass inspections.
Kennel staff members may also participate in a certification process to become Certified Pet Care Professionals through the Pet Care Services Association. In addition, some boarding facilities may employ certified trainers and/or veterinary technicians.
Look at the age of the staff. Are employees adults or teens helping out after school? Are staff members friendly, professional, and courteous? Often the way an employee treats customers reflects his or her treatment of animals. Even in a short visit, you can discern the atmosphere and attitude of a boarding facility. Trust your instincts.
Most boarding kennels, pet resorts, and vet clinics will be happy to give you a tour. If the facility does not offer tours, ask if there is a way to view the area where your pet will stay. Take note of the size of the runs. Do the dogs have both indoor and outdoor access? Are the runs clean? How does the facility smell? With good ventilation and proper cleaning procedures, a boarding kennel does not have to smell bad. Are the dogs given a platform or bed to keep them off the floor? Do the pets currently boarding at the facility appear to be clean and happy?
Questions to ask
A tour is a good time to ask other important questions about your pet’s stay.
- How many times a day are the dogs walked or exercised? Exercise is essential to the physical and mental well-being of any pet. It is important to know how often and what kind of exercise is provided.
- Is there group playtime? Some boarding facilities will not allow dogs from different families to play together, while others provide group play. If the facility provides group play, you may or may not want your dog to participate, based on your dog’s temperament, prior socialization, and the amount and quality of supervision provided.
- Is anyone present after hours? Knowing that someone is available 24/7 to see to your pet’s needs, or to handle an emergency, provides peace of mind.
- What are the facility’s policies and procedures for illness, injury, and emergencies? Will your pet be transferred to your vet, or is there a vet that the facility uses in these circumstances? Are pets monitored several times a day for signs of illness or injury? What happens if your dog needs medical attention and you and any emergency contacts cannot be reached?
- Can you supply your own food? It often makes sense to keep your pet on his regular diet to avoid irritating his digestive tract. Some kennels do not allow owners to bring their own food, or may charge extra if you bring your own. If your pet will be eating the kennel’s food, inquire about the brand to ensure that it is a high-quality food. If your pet has a sensitive stomach and the kennel prefers to use their food, introduce your pet to the food gradually several weeks before his stay. If treats from home are allowed, pack some of your pup’s favorite treats to be offered occasionally while you’re gone. Remember that just as you wouldn’t want to switch foods quickly, avoid sending new treats that your dog hasn’t tried before.
- Can you bring your pet’s bedding and toys? Some pets take comfort in having familiar bedding and toys with them. Having an old t-shirt for snuggling that smells like family members can be soothing. Thundershirt dog anxiety treatment is a terrific solution for calming dogs with separation anxiety or that may experience stress in new environments.
Some facilities allow you to bring your own bedding. Others prefer to provide those items, as it is sometimes hard to keep track of bedding once it becomes soiled and needs to be washed. There is also the chance that a pet could chew bedding from home and create an intestinal blockage or obstruction. If you do bring bedding, be sure that it is machine-washable.
Toys from home can present similar problems for dogs that chew. If your dog is a chewer, be sure to bring toys that are durable. Select just a few favorites to take along. Interactive and food-dispensing toys may offer some entertainment while you’re away. Ask the staff if they mind stuffing a KONG Goodie Bone with peanut butter, or filling a KONG Wobbler or a Tug-a-Jug with kibble. Fun interactive games, such as the Nina Ottosson Dog Brick or the Aikiou Puzzle Pet Food Bowl are mentally stimulating and can be terrific boredom-busters. The Clickertraining.com store offers a variety of durable interactive toys that your dog will love!
When you have had a tour and feel that a facility can satisfy your dog’s needs while you are away, schedule your dog for daycare or an overnight stay. It’s a wise idea to familiarize him with the facility before he is there for an extended time. This short stay also helps reassure your dog that you will come back! Leaving your dog for a short time gives you the chance to see how he reacts to the kennel environment. You’ll have confidence and peace of mind on your trip if the staff reports that your dog ran, played, and ate well. However, if after his stay the staff reports that he was very stressed and anxious, you may want to investigate other accommodations.
When you drop off your dog for an overnight or extended stay, there are some important things to remember.
- Your reaction will set the tone for his reaction to his stay. If you are worried and upset when you drop off your dog, the dog may also feel that there is reason to worry. Dogs are very good at sensing human emotions, and may become stressed or anxious if owners act in an unusual way. Even if you are upset about having to leave your pet, try to act calm and matter-of-fact. Don’t indulge in long goodbyes and, at the end of the stay, keep the reunion celebration reasonable. Even if you are truly ecstatic to see your dog after his time away from you, it is in his best interest to greet him calmly and not create undue anxiety.
- Be sure to discuss any medical or behavioral issues with the staff. Explain in detail any medications needed and how to administer those medications. Review emergency contact information and the facility’s policy for illness or injury while you are away. Let the staff know of any abnormalities in your pet’s appearance or health. A benign growth that has been present for a long time may cause distress for the staff when they discover it during his stay.
- If your dog has any behavioral issues, be sure to inform the staff of those as well. The staff will be working in close proximity to your dog, so it would be helpful for them to know if he is a resource guarder, is afraid of men or hats, or does not like to be handled in certain ways. If your dog is storm-sensitive or an escape artist, the staff will want to make note of that as well.
Boarding your pet does not have to be stressful for you or your pet. Planning and communication can make you both comfortable. The first step is to find a facility that you trust, one that has knowledgeable and dedicated staff looking to make your pet’s stay as easy and enjoyable as possible. At the right place and with the right people, and with some careful advance planning on your end, your dog will have as much fun on vacation as you!