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What Should I Know About Boarding My Dog?

I have owned/operated a small boarding kennel exclusively for dogs almost eighteen years. During that time I have come to find many new friends, both human and canine.

There have been some that have fleetingly passed through my life. Many others have stayed for years. I’m now keeping second and third generations.

My job is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with no time for vacations. When I compare “what if” with the “what is” in my life I know I have been blessed with joy and fulfillment in the direction my life has taken. I cannot imagine not spending my days with God’s creatures.

The first time I heard someone tell their dog that they will be back for them, that they don’t have to stay at the “pound,” it startled me. I wasn’t the “pound.” It was then that I realize just how traumatic leaving a dog could be.

Since I didn’t look at what I was doing as any different than babysitting for a family member the realization of their perspective was a bit of a shock. A shock as well as an education. I learned very quickly how important it is that people feel comfortable where they leave their dogs.

I also know if I make the dogs stay safe, secure and as stress free as possible that dog will pull their owner in the door looking for a cookie at the next visit. If the dog is excited and happy, the owner will be much more at peace.

I expect the first time I keep a dog that both dog and owner will be apprehensive. It’s a large part of my job to make that separation as easy as possible.

Make reservations early.

As soon as you know what you are doing call the kennel, even if the reservation has to be adjusted later. Kennels rely on reservations. If you don’t make one early you may not find a place for your dog, especially on busy holidays.

Some kennels require a credit card number at the time of reservation, some don’t. Ask what their cancellation policy is. If you are using a facility for the first time call ahead and ask if you can see the facility.

Personally, I’m not going to let people in my kennel area whenever they want. I do expect to allow new people to come at a scheduled time to “check me out.”

If I couldn’t see where my dog was going to stay, to see the reactions of the other dogs to the staff and get a good smell of the place I wouldn’t leave my dog. Realize that no matter how clean a facility may be there may be smells different from home (someone always poops when there’s a visitor) but it shouldn’t be nasty or offensive.

Allowing visitors in the kennel area is an individual kennel policy. Discuss fees charged for boarding as well as any possible additional charges. Ask what types of payments are accepted by the kennel.

This is the time to discuss any special issues your dog may have. Be honest with the kennel. They will not think less of you or your dog.

If your dog is scared of storms, men, women, water hoses, will not potty on concrete or hates big black dogs let the kennel know so that they can take the proper precautions.

Please, if you rely on pet sitters, friends or relatives to care for your dog, leave them at a facility you are comfortable with for at least one weekend. Pick a weekend that is not busy for the kennel.

It is so stressful for a dog that has never had a successful stay at a kennel to be left because of a family emergency. I will not keep old dogs (those wonderful seniors in their teen years) if they have never been boarded before.

It’s just too stressful for them, often allowing for hidden medical conditions to surface. It is sad to see an elderly dog, with no experience being away from home, exposed to such a drastic change in their routine.

If they have had even one successful boarding stay in their youth it will make that emergency situation more tolerable.

If you have a young puppy, don’t board it unless absolutely necessary. Young dogs (under 4 months old) can sometimes be frightened in the wrong situation. If you must leave a baby, see if their breeder would consider keeping it for a few days or delaying bringing the puppy home until after your trip.

Maybe a friend that is going to be home would consider babysitting. If you must board, pick a kennel that is aware of the emotional needs of a young dog and is willing to bend over backwards to make the first stay a pleasant experience.

Don’t expect a kennel to be able to make those extra efforts on the major holidays. If you can’t find the right situation for a young puppy then stay home!

If you have a dog with questionable temperament/behavior board for a couple of days trial run while you’re home instead of flirting with disaster while you are out of town. Be honest with the kennel about possible problems.

Some kennels hire teenagers or people not skilled in dog behavior. If they know of potential problems then more experienced staff could be assigned to individual dogs.

If for some reason your return trip is delayed, be sure and call the kennel immediately (planes can be missed, snow storms delay things, cars breakdown, etc.) so that they can make the necessary arrangements for the care of your dog.

Specifically ask:

  • Where will my dog be kept?
  • Do you keep dogs in cages or kennel runs?
  • What size is the cage or kennel run?
  • Do you have indoor only runs or indoor/outdoor runs?
  • Do you ever crate dogs?
  • How many dogs can you keep?
  • What do you do if a dog gets sick?
  • What does the kennel feed?
  • Can I bring my dog’s food?

I have been asked if the boarding charges would be discounted if an owner brings their own food. No, because it is actually more trouble and time consuming to keep food separated than to feed from the kennel’s source.

Storage space can also be an issue. If the dog has a special health problem and is on a veterinarian prescribed diet let the kennel know. In those cases, exceptions can often be made.

I allow an owner to bring their own food, but some kennels will not. I’m small, so it isn’t quite as large an issue with me.

If you bring your own food it is helpful to have it either bagged and labeled in daily portions, or the appropriate size scoop included in containers not just the bag. If you are feeding a raw diet, make sure the kennel doesn’t have a problem with feeding raw, has refrigeration/freezer space and is in agreement with feeding what you bring.

Let the kennel know if your dog has eaten that day and if they eat once or twice daily.

Can I bring bedding or toys? Again, this is an individual policy of each kennel. Realize, if you bring bedding, it can become soiled, ripped or torn. I remember one morning, when I was letting dogs outside, I discovered little tiny white balls knee deep in one of the runs and one very happy, smiling dog.

This dog wasn’t a chewer but had decided to have one heck of a good time taking his bed apart. I was finding those little white balls for days. So, nothing is impossible for an inventive dog. Toys, again, are an individual policy issue.

I will not allow toys that aren’t safe for all the dogs in the kennel. I have known those little buggers to play “pass the toy.” What started out in one run ended up four runs down.

These dogs are on concrete with chain link fencing. What a conspiracy they mounted! I don’t allow rawhide or hooves. Those aren’t safe unsupervised.

If you value a certain toy or bedding don’t take it. I keep a supply of old towels and blankets for boarders, most kennels do, ask.

What about vaccinations?

In North Carolina, Rabies is required by law for all dogs over four months of age. Most kennels require Distemper/Parvo and Bordatella (kennel cough) as well as the Rabies vaccination. Check with the individual kennel.

Some kennels have additional requirements, ask before you arrive. Bring an updated copy of the vaccines from your vet. If your dog need to be updated on their vaccines please do it at least a week before their stay.

If your dog is going to have a reaction to a vaccination then you don’t want it to happen at the boarding kennel. Sometimes a dog will not feel well for a day or two after vaccinations. It is better for them to be in their normal environment during this time.

If you bring a dog to the kennel without proper vaccinations then the kennel may either refuse to accept the dog, take the dog to a veterinarian or have a veterinarian come to the kennel to administer the vaccination. You will be charged for this service.

With the concern of possible problems associated with over vaccination some kennels are accepting titers for Distemper/Parvo. A titer is the result of blood work that has been done to show that your dog can mount a defense to these diseases.

Titers are a controversial topic. Some people believe in them and some don’t. The blood work has to be done at your veterinarian’s office some time before you need the results.

Check with your vet about the time frame. Be sure the boarding kennel will accept the results before assuming that they will.

What if my dog needs medications?

When you make your reservations discuss the need for medications with the kennel. If they are willing and capable of administering the medication (they usually are) be sure that the instructions are written.

Include dog’s name, type of medication, how administered, how often administered, vet’s name and your name. Some kennels charge for this service some don’t.

It isn’t the kennels responsibility to secure more medication if you don’t send the appropriate amount. If they have to secure more, then there will be an additional charge.

What if the kennel needs to reach me?

I require an emergency phone number, some way of getting in contact with the owner or someone the owner trusts to take financial and medical responsibility in case of a medical emergency, I assume most kennels also have the same requirements.

I will see that your dog gets to a veterinarian or emergency clinic, but if your dog becomes ill you need to be involved in the course of treatment. If you give someone else’s name and number as the emergency contact make sure they understand the responsibility and are going to be at home.

If you give a cell phone number make sure it will pick up in the area you will be visiting and leave it on. If you are staying in a hotel, let the kennel know in whose name the reservation was made or what group you are with.

Remember, several contact numbers are better than one – especially if the one you leave is the hotel and you are going to be out doing the tourist thing all day.

Emergencies happen, that is why they are called emergencies. Fees to the kennel, veterinarian and/or emergency clinic are the responsibility of the owner. Those fees can become huge. You need to be involved in all treatment decisions.

Make sure you can be contacted or have a responsible person lined up. On Christmas Eve, of this year, I had to take one of my long time friends to the emergency clinic. X-rays showed a large mass on her spleen (probably cancer) that had ruptured and was bleeding out.

One minute she was fine the next she wasn’t. Since Teddi was a puppy, twelve years ago, I’m the only person that has ever boarded her. Her owners are valued friends.

Because I was able to contact them, they made the decision to jump in their car, drive 600 miles in the middle of the night and be there in time to say good-bye to her on Christmas Day. This tragedy was unexpected; it broke my heart and devastated the owners.

But they had the chance to make the decisions that were right for them. Make sure you always leave reliable contact information.

What about extra charges?

Some kennels offer additional services at extra charges. I have heard of everything from cookie time, baths, playtime and nature walks.

Ask what is available and what the charges are.

What do I do when I get to the kennel?

You have done your homework, checked out the facility, made sure vaccines are current, packed an overnight bag with goodies, food, bedding, toys, emergency information, labeled everything and included more stuff than your dog will ever need.

Since this is your first time leaving your baby you’ve probably over packed. That’s alright; you’ll figure it out with more experience. I’ve found that if you arrive early in the day your dog will have time to adjust to the new situation before the staff has to leave in the evening.

I know you want to keep them with you until the very last minute, but things will go better if the staff has time to observe your dog’s reactions before closing the kennel for the night.

When you arrive, if the office area has other dogs waiting, don’t crowd into a tight space. Wait outside, in your car or take a quick walk. Sometimes dogs don’t like to be crowded by unfamiliar dogs and people.

You don’t want your dog’s experience to be ugly. Also, don’t let your dog rush up to other dogs. Keep your dog on leash or in a carrier. Your dog will either be bouncing around, clinging to your leg, trying to see everything at once, sniff the other dogs or leave the way they just came in.

Remember, this is their first visit. By the second visit it will be much easier on both of you.

By the way, pay attention to what your dog is doing. The kennel is never impressed when a dog urinates (marks) all over the furniture. While I know its human nature to try to console and reassure, don’t do it when you bring your dog to the kennel.

They will interpret your hovering as praise for their behavior. What I mean is, if your dog is nervous, don’t cuddle and stroke them while telling them that you aren’t leaving forever and will be back soon.

A dog will take your nervousness to heart, as well as think they are being praised for their behavior. Give a quick pat or hug, tell them you love them and hand the leash over to the kennel staff.

The more you drag it out, the more the dog thinks something is wrong. Some dogs learn to play their owners. I had an old yellow Lab mix that I use to keep. Her name was Lucy. Now dear old Lucy would really put on an act for her daddy.

He believed everything she said. When he would start to leave she would pull and strain on the leash, whine and stand on the tips of her toenails. I could actually see daylight under all four of her feet.

Of course, he would worry and fret, telling her it would be alright and he’d be back soon. Well this old gal really had his number. The minute he closed the door, she would drop down off those nails, trot over to the kennel door with tail wagging.

The owner finally stopped feeling guilty when I had his wife hide outside and watch through the window.

A dog will usually go with the staff once the owner is out of sight. If I have a very nervous dog, the kind that will bite out of fear, I’ll have the owner take them back and place them in their run.

I have already been back there and gotten their bed ready and left a cookie. Usually, if you give a dog a little time and space, they adjust quite well.

What should I expect when I come to pick my dog up?

When you arrive handle the bill before the dog is brought to you. Trust me, writing a check with an excited dog trying to help isn’t productive. I know you are excited to see your buddy but realize they don’t know you’re in the office.

Don’t rush to grab them. I have seen dogs not realize that person rushing towards them is their much loved owner and shy away. Give them a second to “get your scent”, and then you’ll see the explosion of excitement you were expecting.

Dogs are more scent oriented that visual. Ask if they have already eaten for the day and been given any medications that you had supplied. Ask how they adjusted.

When you first get them home, don’t immediately feed and water them. Let them settle down first.

With a young dog, that’s just beginning to become housebroken, back up a little bit on their training. Watch them a little closer for a few days. They have adjusted to the kennel schedule and now need to be eased back into yours.

Boarding kennels are a business but staffs often become attached to their regular boarders and the dogs to the staff. Realize that they have set hours and requirements that are needed for the proper care of your dog.

Don’t expect they will be able to make exceptions just because it might suit you.

Kennels come in many different sizes, from the twenty indoor/outdoor runs that I have to a facility that can care for hundreds of dogs. Find what suits your needs. Often times a veterinarian will also board dogs.

I would consider using a veterinary boarding facility if their boarding area is completely separate from the hospital area with a separate staff. Actually, in the case of a dog with complicated medical needs it might be advisable to seek boarding at a veterinary facility that is staffed after hours.

If you establish a good relationship with a kennel value that bond. If you are uncomfortable with anything try discussing your concerns with the person in charge. If you are not satisfied with the results of your efforts then don’t give them your business.

If you need to locate a kennel ask friends, people you meet on walks, members of your training class, your veterinarian, phone book, etc. Take no one’s word for what is best for you and yours. Ask questions, expect answers, do your homework. Your dogs belong to you; you are responsible for protecting them!

Since I don’t board cats, I’m afraid that I can’t offer much other than some of the above will apply to cats as well as dogs. A lot of the boarding facilities care for cats as well as dogs.

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National Canine Research Association of America