It's never nice to have to leave your dog when you go away. When boarding a dog, I think every owner feels at least a little bit of apprehension or sadness at the thought of leaving your best friend in someone else's care.
Unless you're fortunate enough to have family that can care for Fido when you go away for vacation or business, the majority of dog owners must leave him at a boarding facility.
It will really help if your dog is well-socialized right from day one. A dog who is used to seeing new people, places, and dogs regularly won't be as stressed when put in a new environment like a kennel. Because let's face it, a boarding facility isn't home!
When choosing a facility, there are a number of different options. Some places are standard kennels that have very small cages or rooms that your dog stays in and little staff or other dog interaction and exercise.
Others are quite nice, with roomy "suites" for your pooch and special socialization and exercise programs to keep the dogs happy and relaxed.
So how does one go about choosing the best fit for your dog? Picking the one nearest to your house is likely not the best way. Instead, check out all your options in the area.
It usually boils down to several factors... price, comfort, and level of care. Now, I get that price is important. But with dog boarding, you usually get what you pay for!
Let's take a look at what exactly is available for boarding a dog, and what these places typically include.
The cheapest prices probably gives your dog a small cage or wired kennel, with or without a short concrete run attached outside. As they tend to pack as many dogs into the space as possible, there can be anywhere from 40 - 100 dogs being cared for at any given time.
Now, caring for that many dogs isn't per se the problem, but there is often only one or two staff members working during the day. This means that there is little to no social interaction with the dogs, as there is simply no time! Between feeding, baths, and scooping poop, there isn't time left for much else.
Another problem is that most often, all the dog cages or kennels are kept in one big room. If you step into that room, the sound will be deafening! Just imagine how your dog would feel if he had to listen to that for a week straight. It's much better if the dog kennels are split up into smaller separated areas, as this is really effective for keeping the dogs calmer and quieter.
Prices range from $18 - 25 per night, and it will usually be called a "dog kennel".
On the other end of things, there are luxury pet hotels for the pampered pooches, the Paris Hiltons of the dog world! Think large suites, beds, art on the walls, flat screen TV, bed time stories, spa days, and taxi service in a Ferrari.
I kid you not. There are several chains of pet hotels in the USA that offer drop off and pick up service in your choice of sports car! And no, you don't even get to come along for the ride!
You can even check in with your dog throughout his stay by signing in the webcam that most high end doggie suites have, or paying for skype time. And a luxury facility almost always has 24-7 care, with staff members who actually stay overnight to keep an eye on the dogs.
How much does it typically cost to send your dog to a place like this? $90 per night and upwards to $300 per night! I mean, we're talking pools, birthday parties, doggie weddings, beach days, hikes, massages, swimming and boogie boarding lessons. So if your pooch is used to this pampered life, boarding your dog here may be the best option for you, I guess.
Not comfortable with either of those options? That's OK... many pet owners fall smack-dab in the middle.
If you're like me, you don't like the idea of leaving your dog in a small cage alone for a week - or even a couple days for that matter. But Lamborghini rides and doggie facials seems a bit over the top... I mean, even I don't get to indulge like that!
Here's where the middle-of-the-road facilities come in. A typical place in this category will have rooms instead of cages for the dogs to stay in that give them a bit more stretching room.
These rooms might have an outdoor run attached, or the dog may get walked out to an exercise area.
So how do you know what your dog will be in for when choosing a boarding facility? Well, there's a few things you can do to get a good feel for the place:
The very first and easiest step you can take when boarding a dog is to ask lots of questions when you call. Everyone asks how much it costs, but as you now know, there's much more to it than simply dollar signs. Ask how often the dogs get let out. Ask how large the space is where you dog will be kept. Ask if they have an exercise program and how much exercise your dog will get each day.
Will your dog get to spend any time with the other dogs? If so, are they supervised at all times and how large are the play groups? What about bedding - do they provide it or can you bring your dog's from home? Do any of the staff members have pet first aid training?
What sort of area will your dog have to relieve himself? Some places make the dogs relieve themselves on indoor areas or flooring, which causes stress as most of our indoor dogs have been trained not to do this!
Next, ask if you can come and view the facility...
Many places will have set visitor hours to help keep the dogs calm. You should be allowed to see where the dogs stay - does it smell really bad? Some doggie odor is to be expected, but it shouldn't be overpowering as a good facility will have proper ventilation systems in place to deal with smell and bacteria.
Do the dogs who are staying there look happy? Does the staff seem caring and patient? Is the noise deafening, or are the dog rooms split up into separate areas to help keep noise down? Noise is one of the biggest stress factors when boarding a dog, and can be limited by careful layout. Even simply having the rooms arranged so that the dogs can't see each other will bring stress levels down, and in turn minimize barking.
The building should be clean, with plenty of natural lighting. Dark and dingy buildings do not make for a good stay for your dog. If you plan on having your dog groomed while you're away, it may be a good idea to meet the groomer as well. Is he or she a certified groomer?
You may be happy with what you see on this first visit, but try to pop in unannounced on another day for a second visit. It can be good to see the building when they are not expecting visitors.
And finally, talk to other clients. If you see someone who is leaving the building with their dog, ask them about their dog's stay. You can ask the staff for references, of course, but you may get a more unbiased opinion if you find your own references to ask.
When deciding on the best place for boarding a dog, you may already be feeling guilty for leaving Fido. Just relax, and do your homework before making a decision. Only you know what is best for your dog, and with all the options available, I'm sure one of them will be up your dog's alley!