Choosing a Kennel for Boarding Your Dog

So you’re planning a vacation, eh? Need to get out of town for a few days? Have you checked for the best flight rates? Planned out your itinerary? Created a packing list? Got the tickets? Awesome! You’re all set to go! Oh wait… what are you going to do with the dog?? Do you have relatives or close friends that can watch him while you’re gone? Would they be able to come over frequently enough to make sure he’s let out, loved on, played with, fed, and cared for the way he deserves? What if the answer is no?

Determining whether an in-home sitter or a dog boarding facility is best for you and your dog is outside the scope of this article, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume that your answer is “no” to the questions above.  You will need to board your dog somewhere.  As scary as that may sound, this article is intended to give you some guidelines in choosing the right boarding facility (kennel) to use.

First, determine your options.  Do a Web search for dog boarding in your area; ask your veterinarian for facilities they know of and trust; ask fellow dog owners for recommendations.  As with all important decisions, you will need your list of options.  Now that you have said list, it’s time to do your own personal research.

Visit each kennel’s web site to get as much of the “basic” information as possible.  This includes fees, office hours, services offered, etc.

Check online reviews and testimonials.  I almost feel that I have to put this in here, since you’ll most likely do it anyway, but let me add some caution.  If you have ever looked up online reviews on practically any service (be it a restaurant, hotel, kennel, or amusement park) you will notice that any given place will have reviews broken up into 2 categories.  It’s either “THE GREATEST PLACE IN THE WORLD” or it’s “AWFUL, WOULD NOT RECOMMEND IT, AVOID THIS PLACE LIKE THE PLAGUE”.  Sadly the convenience of online reviews are not always the most reliable.  How can a place be both clean and filthy, have a staff that is both friendly and arrogant, and be a place of integrity and a bunch of lying crooks at the same time?  So, that leads me to the next guideline…

If time allows (and I would recommend you make time) go check out the facilities for yourself.  Take tours.  One thing you may want to be mindful of is whether or not you need to schedule a tour with a facility or if you can stop by any time.  I am prone to wonder about having to schedule a tour – what do they need to do to “prepare” the place for your tour?  In my opinion, if the facility is confident in the way they keep their place clean and care for their guests, they will not have a problem with drop-in visitors who want to look around.  Look thoroughly through the facility and make sure the tour guide isn’t rushing you.  Check the cleanliness.  How does the place look and smell?  Check the attitude.  How are the staff composing themselves and interacting with the dogs?  How large are the play yards (if there are any)?

As you are taking your tours, ASK QUESTIONS!  If the facility giving you this tour is not open to questions, LEAVE.  If the staff is not friendly or knowledgeable, LEAVE.  Here are some questions to get you started:

  1. Where will my dog be staying? A run, a cage, etc?  Ask if there are conditions to this.  If they get crowded can this change?  You don’t want to have a false sense of peace (and probably have paid extra for a run) if at any time your dog could be moved to a crate.
  2. What will my dog be sleeping on? Do they provide beds, and can you bring your own?  One thing to keep in mind, and this will be a recurring theme, is that many times dogs act differently in different places.  While you may want to bring Fido’s favorite bed, there is a possibility that Fido, in his stress of being in a new place, will shred, urinate on, or in some other way ruin his favorite bed.  This is just the way some dogs are.
  3. What is the facility’s feeding schedule? How often and around what times?  What food (if any) does the facility offer (and at what charge)?  What is their policy on bringing your own food – does it need to be bagged individually per feeding, etc?
  4. What playtime activities are included/offered? How long do these activities last?  If you’re going to pay extra for your dog to get some tennis ball action, make sure that doesn’t mean one throw and he’s done!
  5. How often will my dog go outside and get exercise?
  6. Will my dog socialize with other dogs? If so, how do they group the dogs together?  Putting a mish-mosh of dogs of all different sizes, ages breeds could be a very dangerous situation.  Your best bet would be to make sure they keep similar dogs of similar temperaments together. Again, there is a possibility that, in a new and different environment, your dog may act very differently around other dogs. While he may be the most passive and gentle dog at home, there is a possibility he’ll act differently in a new setting.
  7. What is the protocol for emergencies? If, God forbid, something happens to a dog at this facility, what does the kennel staff do about it?  Make sure this is up to par with how you would want your dog treated if he needed emergency attention.

These are just some questions to get you started.  Any others you think of, do NOT hesitate to ask!

After your tours, hopefully you will have narrowed down your list to a small handful of choices.  From here, see which aspects of each place is most important to you.  Something else you may want to consider doing is boarding your dog for a day prior to your trip to see how your dog handles it.  If the facility offers a Day Care for dogs (Doggie Day Care), sign your dog up for a day or two to see how it goes.  This will give you and your dog first-hand experience with the staff and facility to determine how comfortable you feel with them.

Finally, do yourself a HUGE favor and do some research on the possible effects kennel boarding can have on dogs.  One of the biggest concerns is tracheobronchitis, or “canine cough” (usually referred to as “kennel cough”).  Here is a great PDF brochure from the Pet Care Services Association on the subject:

Now go enjoy your vacation with the extra peace of mind that your dog is having just as much fun as you are in a safe and wonderful environment!

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