The number one question I would ask any prospective boarding kennel is how many dogs the proprietor has. A person who has their own dogs will (hopefully!) know how to treat them and be able to spot problems with your dog before they become overwhelming. For example, if your dog gets hot spots, you know they are relatively easy to treat if you catch them in the first couple of days. However, if an inexperienced person fails to notice the dog worrying over a small hot spot, it can quickly become a large hot spot, causing unnecessary pain for your dog and high veterinary bills for you. If possible, ask to see the kennel owner's dogs so you can check out their overall health and apparent happiness.
Check out the kennel facility. When you first walk in, take a deep sniff. Do you smell dog? Urine? Feces? Overwhelming air freshener sprayed just prior to your visit to mask existing odors? If so, turn around and leave. Kennels should be kept clean enough that you don't know there are lots of dogs around. And there is no excuse for a dog having to be in a cage with his or her own waste for very long. Adequate ventilation and proper cleaning practices should prevent odors from building up.
As you walk through the kennel, take a moment to consider how you feel there. Do you get happy vibes or sad hound-puppy vibes? Do the dogs in residence look happy and well-cared for? Do they look as if they have been drugged to keep them calm? Do the employees appear happy to be there and glad to be interacting with dogs? What happens when a dog throws up or poops in his or her cage. Is it cleaned up immediately or do the employees draw straws to see who gets stuck with the task? Are you warm enough? Too warm? Is there enough light for you to comfortably move through the space?
How closely are the cages jammed in? How many animals are placed in each cage? Are the cages large enough for the animals they house? At a minimum, each dog should be able to stand up on all fours, head held high without touching the top of the cage, and the dog should be able to comfortably turn around in the space.
What type of flooring do the cages have? It should be cleanable, but you also may want your dog to have some type of bedding in the kennel. This might be particularly important if your dog suffers from arthritis or other types of joint pain. Sleeping on a hard concrete surface might increase his or her pain. Find out if the kennel can accommodate your dog's special needs.
Make sure all entrance and exit points are double-doored or double-gated. Two sequential doors or gates makes it much less likely your dog can escape through an open door. See if the employees use the doors or gates as intended: one shut whenever the other is open. If one of the doors or gates is propped open, it defeats the purpose.
Ask how the kennel handles a dog who becomes sick while in their care. Do they have a standing relationship with a qualified veterinarian? Is there a place where they can isolate the sick dog until they are sure the problem is not contagious? Will they transport a dog to a clinic or animal hospital? Do they contact the dog's guardian as soon as possible?
If your dog takes daily medication, expect to pay extra to have the kennel staff deliver it. Find out what type of system they have to make sure your dog will be medicated at the proper times and proper doses. At a minimum, you might want them to have a sign on the cage reminding the staff that your dog is on medication.
Ask if it's possible for you to check in on your dog during your trip. Some facilities offer video uplinks to the web, which you can check whenever you have time. Some places are staffed 24-hours a day so you can call no matter which time zone you're in. Other places are staffed only long enough to feed the dogs, which means you may have a hard time reaching anyone to see how your dog is faring without you.
What hours is the kennel staff available for you to pick up and drop off your dog? You could conceivably have to pay for two extra nights if you have an early morning departure flight and a late night arrival flight. Look for flexible options such as allowing you to drop off after 8 pm the night before you leave or pick up after 7 pm when you get home so you don't incur extra charges.
Cleanliness, high staffing ratios, and safety measures all add a bit more to your cost, but they will assure your dog is receiving quality care while you are away.
Options for dog boarding away from home
The lowest cost option for boarding your dog is in a facility that simply places your dog in a cage and gives him or her food and water a couple of times a day. Although this type of care certainly meets the minimum standard, it doesn't provide for the companionship and mental stimulation your dog will need. Sure, it may be fine for a weekend, but if you're going to be gone for a longer time, you owe it to your dog to fit better accommodations into your vacation budget.
Some kennels provide indoor/outdoor runs with a doggy door in between. This allows your dog some level of freedom while preventing the dogs from interacting directly, which could result in fights and/or the spread of disease. This arrangement also allows your dog to get at least some exercise by running around in the cage.
Some kennels provide a walking service which guarantees that your dog will be out of his or her cage for a designated time each day and will have the opportunity to interact with people. Try to make sure your dog gets at least two trips outside each day. This can help maintain potty training so you don't have a big problem when you bring the dog home after your trip. The kennel should tell you exactly what you are getting for the extra money you are paying. For example, they may let your dog run around in a fenced area by himself or herself for a few minutes, or they may actually walk the dog on a leash or play with the dog off-leash in a fenced area. They should specify the number of minutes your dog will be allowed out of his or her cage. You should also ask if the cages are cleaned while the dog is out of them. Some places simply hose down the cages to remove any waste while the animal shivers in the back corner in fright.
More upscale kennels offer dog "suites" equipped with a television to keep your dog from getting lonely and some sort of bedding in the room to allow for beauty sleep. They also offer extra services to pamper your dog. Depending on your budget, you might purchase a dog massage or facial so your dog feels like he or she is on vacation, too.
One of the best out-of-home boarding options is in a kennel that also has dog daycare. Your dog will likely be caged only at night when the facility is unstaffed. During the day, however, he or she will be allowed to roam the playroom, sniffing the other dogs' backsides, chasing tennis balls, and playing tug with friends. Your dog will likely be so tired by the time he gets back to his cage, he won't even notice being locked up! If you choose the daycare option, find out if your dog gets unlimited access to the playroom or if there are only designated play times for the kenneled dogs. Your rate should reflect the amount of time the dog is out of her cage.
If your dog will be out of his or her cage at any time with other dogs, ask the staff how they break up dog fights. Invariably when a bunch of dogs gets together, one dog will be aggressive to try to establish dominance. If the other dogs disagree as to that dog's leadership position, it is not uncommon for scuffles to break out. Ideally, the staff will try speaking sharply to distract the dogs, then will try a squirt bottle. Only if neither of these techniques work should the staff have to manually intervene to break up a fight. Does the facility insure its employees against dog bites or are you liable for any injury inflicted by your dog while at the kennel?
Ask what they do with the fighting dogs after the fight has been stopped. Do the offending dogs totally lose their freedom or are the dogs simply kept in separate play groups, either in different areas or at different times? Is your extra play time fee refunded if your dog's time in the playroom becomes limited?
If you can afford it, your dog is going to be most comfortable if allowed to stay in your own home rather than going to a kennel. If there's a neighborhood kid you trust around your dog, this can be the perfect arrangement because the dog will likely receive several visits each day and will have a playmate to keep him or her from getting too destructive.
However, if you have to hire a pet sitting service, you should be aware that services vary widely among different care-giving companies and even between specific caregivers at any one company. Some will do feedings only. Some provide daily walks. Some will clean up the messes your dog makes in the house and in the yard. Some will provide play time. Investigate thoroughly so you know what you are paying for.
Ask if the same person will be providing all of your dog's care or if different people will be in and out, forcing your dog to get used to a new stranger each time. If you call to check on your dog, will you be able to speak to the actual caregiver or only to an answering service or receptionist who will assure you that your dog is fine without ever having laid eyes on him?
While you are gone, ask your neighbor to keep an eye out so you will know if the caregiver did what was promised. For example, if you paid for two ˝-hour walks each day, you might ask your porch-sitting neighbor to let you know if the walks really only last five minutes.
Make sure the company who is providing in-home care is bonded. This means that if something comes up missing in your home, the company has to replace it. Obviously, you don't want to leave Aunt Ruby's ruby necklace lying out on the coffee table while you have strangers in your home, but a bonded caregiver will give you at least some assurance that your hidden valuables won't be pilfered while you're away.
The key to your and your dog's peace of mind lies in asking questions and shopping around before deciding on a boarding option best suited to your needs. Take the time to investigate several placements before you decide on the one where your dog will be happiest.
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