[Note: Recently, I asked my friend and colleague Shalise Keating of A Dog Spot to write about picking a boarding kennel. Here's what she had to say...]
Sara asked me to share some of my thoughts about picking a boarding kennel. I have to admit that my dogs have never been to a boarding kennel but I own and operate a boarding kennel of my own. As I designed the kennel and thought about how I wanted the kennel to be run I always kept in mind what a kennel would have to be like in order for me to feel comfortable having my own dogs stay there.
If I needed to look for a kennel to board my dogs at I would start looking well before the time I needed to leave my dogs. Then when I was ready to make vacation plans (or needed to board due to a family emergency), where my dogs would stay would already be taken care of. Touring kennels with or without your dog along is a good idea. If you take your dog along be sure to have your vaccination records along and take note if they check your records or not.
I would want to know how many dogs the kennel can take in at one time. How is your dog going to feel about staying with that many dogs? Some kennels can house more than 100 dogs at a time. I have one dog who would think that it was simply grand to hang out with a whole bunch of dogs for a week, but the other two would find 100 dogs to be pretty overwhelming. If you are traveling over a holiday you can count on boarding kennels being full.
Ask who takes care of the dogs and what kind of experience and training the caregivers have. Will the same 1 or 2 people care for your dog each day or will they have several different caregivers thoughout their stay? If they will have multiple caregivers, will your dog be comfortable with that? Some dogs will be fine with lots of people caring for them and others will not.
Ask how they handle a dog that is not eating well. Often when dogs are stressed they won’t eat. How long do they let a dog not eat before trying to do something about it, and then what do they do to encourage them to eat? How do they keep track of this if you are considering a larger kennel that has several caregivers working? This is especially important if you have a very small dog or a dog with medical issues who needs to eat. Even if your dog is a chow hound don’t assume that they will eat right away while being boarded.
Before we opened up for business I would have advised you to ask how much exercise the dogs would get each day. I would have assumed that if the dogs got enough exercise, they would be tired, and that a tired dog in a boarding kennel would be a happy dog. After doing this for a few years now I would instead advise you to ask what kinds of things the kennel does to minimize stress for the dogs who stay with them. The answer is probably pretty complicated, and good exercise may or may not be part of the answer depending on the dog. A young active dog will benefit from a couple of good sessions of exercise but an older dog might really enjoy sitting on my lap while I answer e-mail. Keeping stress to a minimum is important and being sure the caregivers have the knowledge to adapt to the needs of different dogs is important.
Ask what a typical day looks like for a dog in boarding. What time is the first and last chance to go outside to potty? How many time a day does the dog get out? Do they get to spend any time outside of their kennel run?
Be sure the kennel is clean. Clean helps keep the germs away. It really shouldn’t smell like urine or feces, and if it does, ask about it. Maybe someone had an accident recently. Kennels should NOT be cleaned with a high pressure washer as that causes germs to become airborne. It’s okay for kennels to be spayed down with a hose, just not a high pressure washer. We scrub our kennels down by hand.
Does the kennel require vaccinations? Do they check to be sure that all dogs staying with them are up to date? Which vaccinations are required? Most kennels are going to be real sticklers about this and require annual vaccinations with no exceptions. I don’t think that pet owners should be railroaded into having to vaccinate their pets. We require vaccinations but we are happy to make exceptions on a case by case basis. Some dogs have had bad reactions to vaccinations and so vaccinating them puts their health at risk. Just have your veterinarian write us a letter explaining the situation. There is some pretty good evidence that some vaccinations are good for much longer than the recommended 1 year. Some owners will have a blood test done to check for titers (immunity) for diseases that we vaccinate for and will make vaccination decisions based on titer results. Even if a dog staying with us has a good reason to not be vaccinated, we still require regular veterinary care to show that the dog is healthy, or is being properly cared for if they have some kind of health issue. Good air exchange, proper cleaning techniques, and keeping stress levels down can help lessen the chance of diseases being spread in a kennel environment.
[Sara's note: my dogs are boarded at A Dog Spot, and I always feel comfortable leaving them there. Shalise, Jill, and Sandy are patient when I call everyday for updates, and post pictures of the dogs playing in their large exercise yard. The dogs are happy to see me when I come to pick them up, but aren't frantic or exhausted for days afterwards as they would be if they were stressed at the kennel.
Do you board your dogs? If so, where do you board them and how did you choose that facility? How do your dogs respond to boarding? Please share in the comments section below!]