As much as you might like to bring your dog on your travels, sometimes it’s just not possible or practical. And you may have used up all your pet-sitting favors from family and friends.
It’s time to go kennel shopping.
As with other travel arrangements, planning in advance is the key to success in making sure the kennel is a good fit for your best friend. The options (and prices) vary from spa-like to spartan, so take the time to get references and visit the place.
Go on a tour
Key signals separate good kennels from bad:
- Cleanliness. It must smell as well as look clean–not just in the areas where your dog will stay, but also in play areas and other places your dog will go.
- Ventilation. Is the air fresh, or is there a stale-air smell?
- Roominess. The play area should be large enough for many dogs, since too little space can make dogs aggressive.
- Comfortable bedding. The kennel may ask you to bring your dog’s own bed, but make sure they also have enough bedding if they need to change it due to spills or other accidents.
- Interactions among dogs. Watch how the staff handles dogs of varying sizes; some kennels separate smaller dogs from larger ones, so the small ones won’t feel overpowered. This is usually a good thing. Observe how the dogs staying at the kennel interact.
- Your dog’s response. Just like people entering a not-so-clean hotel or an uncomfortable room, dogs can show their displeasure through agitation or restlessness. Bring your dog on the tour and see how she handles it. Trust your own gut instinct, and your dog’s, too.
Evaluating the contenders
If a couple of kennels seem to be in tip-top shape, several other factors can help you make your choice:
- Ask for references and call them. Get the opinion of several dog owners, preferably those whose pets vary in size and personality. Also ask if the kennel is a member of the Pet Care Services Association, a group founded by kennel operators to promote higher standards of pet care. You might also request recent inspection records to make sure the kennel regularly meets state standards for safety and hygiene.
- Make sure the kennel has a relationship with a veterinarian. Alternatively, see if the staff is willing to work with your own vet, particularly if you have a dog with special medical needs.
- Observe how staff members interact with and talk about the dogs. Warning bells should sound if they speak in a negative way about any of the dogs, or handle the dogs roughly.
What a good kennel provides
There are some basics you should expect from any reputable kennel:
- The dogs are fed on a regular schedule, which varies according to owner instruction but typically is once or twice a day.
- The dogs get regular daily exercise; this varies according to kennel but usually consists of four to six hours per day, and can involve off-leash open space, supervised walks, or kennel runs.
- The staff will give any medications needed, on your requested schedule.
- Bathing and grooming is usually available if requested.
What a dog hotel provides
Let’s say your dog demands the best, and you want boarding to be as luxurious as possible. These are the kinds of services some “doggy hotels” offer:
- Swimming pools
- Wilderness walks
- Heated floors
- Color TVs set to Animal Planet
- Fresh-baked treats
- A staff bedtime partner and/or music to reduce the chance of separation anxiety
Preparing for the kennel stay
Before sending your pup on her extended sleepover, you’ll need to get her ready.
- Be ready to meet the kennel’s requirements. Bring everything requested: proof of current vaccinations and other health documents, prepayment (if required), your contact information, and any needed medications. Many kennels request that you bring your dog’s own food to avoid any stomach upset, so bring enough for the entire stay, plus a bit extra in case of delays at pickup time.
- Bring familiar objects from home. Many kennels recommend that you bring a familiar object or two, such as your dog’s bedding or favorite toy, because it keeps her calmer in your absence. (Note that kennels can’t always guarantee the toy will come home again; it may get lost during play or cleaning.)
- Make it a quick leave-taking. As difficult as it might be, experts recommend that you hand your pet to a staff member, say goodbye, and walk away. Emotional farewells can be upsetting to the dog, and they’re not so easy on owners either. With so much homework done in advance, you can leave knowing your dog is in good hands, and save the emotions for a happy reunion.
Discuss any unusual circumstances with the kennel staff in advance. For example, if you’re boarding a young puppy, get as much detail as possible about how she’ll be handled and socialized around the other dogs. Find out the kennel’s methods for dealing with any unusual behaviors your dog may have, such as aggression toward other dogs, excessively submissive behavior, or separation anxiety.
If your dog has special medical needs, consider boarding her at your veterinarian’s office. Although she might not get as much exercise or interactive playtime as she would at another type of kennel, she’ll receive more medical supervision.
Bottom line: Both you and your dog should feel comfortable with the kennel before the stay even begins. Before you drop your dog off, check the kennel’s references; go on a tour; and ask about details regarding exercise, feeding, and other care.