Questions to ask when boarding a dog…
either yours or on behalf of someone else. It’s that time of year when dog and cat owners are making plans for Christmas. Often there are early plans in place to take your pets to a boarding facility or a pet sitter. Many of these facilities require reservations made months in advance. Newer kennels might still have room a couple of weeks before Christmas, or you could get lucky with a cancellation. In 1995, I created, with the help of my husband, a Pet Sitting service. Shortly after, I realized that what I wanted was to create, operate and run my own Pet Boarding Kennel here at home. As the years went by, I formulated questions to ask when boarding a dog, or cat.
Within our first year or two of my new Business, we had to find a Boarding facility ourselves for our own dog just for a weekend. This before the days of being able to ‘Google’ any information that you wanted. After scouring the Yellow Pages and making some phone calls, we settled on a large kennel facility in the same City that we were spending the weekend at. The owner of the facility assured me that he had been in operation for 20 years, and had many years of dog handling experience. The owner gave me some history of his own, he had been a sled dog operator up North before opening up his present business.
I didn’t think to ask if I needed to bring any comforts of home like blankets or toys.
This owner told me that food was included but I insisted on bringing my own food for our dog which involved some dry and canned food. The picture of his facility was a sketch of what looked like a large building with some outdoor kennels. The owner told us that he could take in about a 100 animals and was always very very busy over holidays. We were very new at this and thought bigger might be better regarding dog boarding. How wrong we were!
To our great dismay, the building was a cavernous dark gloomy building with long narrow cages for small dogs suspended off the floor. The larger kennels subsisted of indoor chain link enclosures divided in half with a wooden doorway. The dog was supposed to know that one section was to eat and sleep in and the other part for defecating in. He also had runs that led outdoors but even the outdoor runs were walled in and covered (not allowing any sunshine). Everywhere, the floor was old concrete, with drains in the floor here and there. The floor was wet and cold, the air inside was also fairly cold and damp.
The larger dogs were given a wood platform to sleep on, no beds or blankets. I was kicking myself by this point and really wanted to walk out of there with our dog. However, the choice was to go home with our dog and have the entire weekend ruined for everyone or make the best of things the way they were. What added to my worry was that our dog had been experiencing a little tenderness in one leg for a couple of days but seemed alright otherwise.
I worried about our dog, all weekend, it spoiled my weekend anyway. Our sons were young, between 11-13 years of age and did enjoy the Hotel pool facilities. However, when we check out of the Hotel on Sunday, I was anxious to pick up our beloved dog, Gus was his name, and our sons had also missed our dog. Gus was over the moon thrilled to see us, he undoubtedly thought we were not coming back. There was no report on how Gus had been doing only that ‘he was fine’, from the staff member who handled his departure.
On our way home however, we soon realized all was not well.
We only lived 1 1/2 hours away from the City but it was a long drive home. Every 15 minutes we had to stop to let Gus out of the car, because he had terrible diarrhea. Poor boy! We figured the stress of the whole weekend had caused it and we blamed ourselves. That night we had to let him out a few times too but eventually his intestines ran out of fluid to eject. I did not have any dogs in our new Pet Hotel that weekend, but I looked at my own set up and realized not every dog boarding facility took the same care that I did.
As an added note, we discovered when our dog visited the Vet the following week, that he had a type of bone cancer. The cancer was in the one hind leg, the prognosis was terminal. He survived another 9-10 months. Our Gus was pampered and loved more than ever during those last months. Moving on…
In the first 3 years, we ran a tiny Pet Hotel out of a spare couple of rooms in our home (basement), and took our dog guests outside for a walk 4 times per day. These were bathroom breaks but also time for exercise. For those dogs that were more social, we also allowed them some time upstairs with our family every day. All the dogs in our care had comfortable beds or blankets to sleep on and the rooms were warm and clean. It was quite a shock to see an actual dog boarding kennel for that time. After 3 years, we converted an old barn on our ranch to a very homey and cheerful Pet Hotel, for dogs and cats. Our set up was still very small though, we never had more than 12 dog kennels. Later we built another building so we could have the cats separate, and had 5 large cat kennels there.
Right from the beginning, I had imposed my own ideas of what dogs needed for comfort, cats too, so my business was unique. For many years, mine was the only dog and boarding facility in our area. Since I was the only one in the area, I often had to turn clients away, sending them to find kennels in the city. I would tell them what to look for in a good kennel and what questions to ask.
Regarding the set up and operation
1- Ask how large the kennels are, indoor and outdoor runs, just indoor or all outdoor? The indoor kennel should be large enough to have room for the dog’s comfortable bedding, his food and water area, with a little room to spare at least. The outdoor kennel runs (connected to the indoor kennel) should be a minimum of 5 feet wide by 10 feet long but 20 feet long is better. If the kennels are entirely outdoor with a snug shelter/doghouse, then the runs should be a minimum of 5 feet wide by 20 feet.
2- Is the building heated, air-conditioned (depending on seasons)? The building should be comfortable enough that you would not feel chilled without your jacket in the cold seasons. During hot seasons, it should be kept cool enough that the dogs are not unduly stressed. If the facility is outdoor, it should be sheltered from the sun and ventilated. If the outdoor base is hard packed gravel, during hot days, the gravel should be soaked with water to cool the dogs.
3- Are the dogs taken out of their kennels for exercise every day? Are the dogs walked or allowed to run around in a fenced play area? Even the outdoor dogs kept in strictly outdoor kennels, should be given exercise every single day, on leash or in a safe fenced play area.
4- Is there a perimeter fence around the whole facility, especially around doorways and gates? This is to avoid dogs getting out when someone opens a door or gate. Very important! All it takes is for someone to open a kennel gate and for another person to open a door to the outside around the same time, to allow a dog to escape.
5- All kennels should be 6 feet high at least, with solid walls in between indoor kennels. All Wire fencing should be heavy 9 gauge chain link, secured at every link along the bottom. Walls should be concrete, or well constructed wood covered with tough hockey rink PVC (or similar). Open fencing (not solid) in between kennels encourages fighting and is very frightening for small or timid dogs. Outdoor runs can be chain link (mine were), but must be heavy chain link of 9 gauge or thicker. Inside floors should be sealed concrete, never wood, outdoor runs can be a combination of hard packed gravel and some wooden decking (mine were), or concrete all the way through. Dirt is a completely unacceptable surface for a kennel as it is messy when wet and quickly becomes a churned up disgusting mess!
6- Indoor/outdoor kennel adjoined should have a draft free doggie door and a guillotine type door to close the dog off from the outdoors when needed. During storms, extremely hot weather and to give dogs a time out from fence fighting, a slide down guiletine door is a very good idea. Some kennels have doggie doors but do not have another door to shut them in. This is a mistake and results in a lot of stress for those more timid dogs that happen to have some aggressive and noisy neighbours on either side of them.
7- If possible, choose a kennel that is able to separate large dogs from the very small dogs in different areas. My facility had three areas, my North wing for the larger or noisier dogs, with the South Wing for the smaller dogs. This kept the stress levels down for everyone. None of my kennels faced another kennel either, which also helped to keep things quieter. Kennels that face other kennels are going to be very very noisy! Absolutely terrifying for timid dogs!
If you have a confidant dog, choosing a large facility of 25 to 100 dogs (or more), will be fine if it’s a well run organized facility. A very young, very old or very timid dog is better off in a small facility with less than 20 dogs, the smaller the better actually. My facility was a small one, taking no more than 20 dogs at its height, later I downsized to a maximum of 12 dogs. I rejected dogs that were too noisy as I discovered very quickly that if there were a couple of dogs barking non-stop, it was very stressful for other dogs. It was not worth the stress to the other dog guests and to me, to have to endure the crazed barking that some dogs created.
8- Make sure you ask about bedding, some kennels provide cots, some provide blankets, and others do not. It’s important to ask this question if you want your dog to be comfortable (I hope you do). I suggest you bring a couple of comfortable blankets at the very least. Some dogs are prone to chewing when nervous, so if you have dog like this, you might want to leave your expensive dog bed at home.
Now and then I would enter a particular dog’s kennel, to find he or she had destroyed their beautiful bed, fluff was everywhere! If you have an older dog, I would urge you to bring a soft cushy bed for them, for their achy joints. It’s always more stressful for an older dog, so having a soft bed is helpful to get a good nights sleep. Make sure whatever bedding you bring is washable.
9- Dog boarding facilities prefer to use their own dishes, but if you have a dog that is particular about dishes, ask if you can bring your own. Smaller facilities will be more open to this suggestion that the larger kennels. Imagine the possibly hundreds of dishes that are handled daily in a large facility, for water and food. Having to take special care of your dog’s favorite ceramic dish would not acceptable in those kennels.
10- Many dog boarding facilities prefer to use their own supply of food, especially the large facilities, however I advise against this. Your dog will be used to his or her own food, and to be suddenly switched to something new, along with all the new sights and sounds, is a recipe for stomach upset. Bring your dogs food supply and other extras (treats etc.), in a sturdy plastic container, not a plastic bag.
Bring enough for a few extra meals, in case you have to extend your dogs visit, or in case the boarding personnel’s servings are more generous than yours. Most kennels do not want you to bring the entire bag of food, when a smaller container will suffice. Label the container with your name and your dog’s name. In my Pet Hotel, I supplied a plastic bin for each dog, sitting on a counter top facing each dog, however every kennel is different.
Regarding the Personal, all those involved in the actual care of your dog
1- If it’s a large facility, ask how many people the boarding facility has for taking care of the dogs. It really should be one person per 12 dogs at the very least. If you have one person taking care of 50 dogs, you know that there is not going to be a lot of individual attention per dog. Shortcuts will be taken and neglect is the result.
2- I strongly suggest that you visit the kennel, with your dog or dogs, to meet the people who will be caring for your dog(s). Some call this a ‘meet and greet’, I used to call them my ‘Pet Hotel tours’. I loved doing the ‘tours’, as it was my chance to get a feel for the dog and it made it easier to settle a new dog later. As I used to always tell new clients, when you bring your dog to a boarding facility for the first time, your dog may assume that you are not coming back.
This is especially true for former abandoned dogs. When you bring your dog for a visit first, take him home and then bring him back for your dog’s reservation, your dog will understand that you are coming back. This will ease your dog’s anxiety a great deal.
3- Lastly, if you have done your homework, and you have a good feeling about the place where your dog will be living for a while, if not, keep looking. Listen to your inner feelings, if something does not seem right, it probably is not… unless you are one who worries about everything anyway… just saying. I encountered many a nervous dog owner, yet their dogs often had a great time to their owner’s surprise. Let’s face it, not all dogs are going to have fun, some will experience separation anxiety. The best that can be done for dogs’ who have no sense of fun, it to make sure they are safe and comfortable.
So in summary, when asking questions about boarding a dog
be thorough but try to be respectful when asking your questions. Some questions can come across as insulting. You don’t want to start off on the wrong foot with those that will be responsible for your beloved dog(s). Insult your dogs caregiver and you may find that they don’t have a ‘room at the inn’, the next time you call.
Likewise, if you have made a reservation and did not show up, you will quickly find yourself on a ‘black list’.I had one of those too, for clients that left me hanging, were always very late, were insulting or had dogs that were very unpleasant.
The road goes two ways in a relationship. I formed some wonderful relationships with most of my clients and their dogs. When you find a boarding kennel that you and your dog are happy with, cherish that relationship. As a dog owner, It certainly helps to send your favorite kennel a Christmas card, give them a tip, and praise when it’s due. Kennel operators have to work very hard for every dollar they make. Trust me, I know. I hope this article ‘Questions to ask when boarding a dog’, has been helpful for you and you will be able to find a facility that you and your dog will be happy with. Cheers!