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Home Away from Home

Some dogs revel in the social aspects of the boarding experience, and others are just good sports. Like it or not, a kennel is the safest place for a dog when the owner is away from home.

Investigate local kennels before you board your dog.

Ask your vet, groomer, and friends for recommendations. Satisfied customers are the best reason to visit a kennel. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints or violations.

When you have a list of recommendations, call each kennel and make an appointment to visit. Listen to your instincts -- if you don't like how you are being treated over the phone, call the next kennel on your list. If you have specific dates in mind, ask if accommodations are available at that time.

What to Look For

When you visit a kennel, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • The grounds should be neat and well-maintained. Owners should be eager to show you the entire facility, though be aware that some kennels will only let you look at individual kennels through a viewing window. This is acceptable: The kennel owners do not want to upset the boarders (visitors can also inadvertently spread contagious disease since they are not held to the cleanliness standards of the staff). Boarder animals should look clean and healthy. If a kennel will not let you see every part of the facility your dog will have access to, leave immediately and try the next kennel on your list.
  • Kennels should look and smell clean, indoors and out. There should be a regular disinfecting schedule. Ask how often the kennels are cleaned and which chemicals are used to control parasites and disease.
  • Pets should be properly supervised. Someone trained to recognize the symptoms of illness or stress should check on your dog several times a day. Ask about the qualifications and training of the kennel personnel. If your dog appears to be ill, the kennel will either contact your vet or arrange for a veterinary examination. Be aware that you are financially responsible for any veterinary bills incurred while boarding.
  • Dogs should be contained securely. There should be sturdy gates and dividers between enclosures, and fencing and latches should be in good repair. If your pet has a tendency to dig or climb, inform the kennel and ask how they will cope with these proclivities.
  • For safety's sake, be sure the kennel areas are free of small or sharp objects and harmful chemicals. Surfaces should have good traction, even when wet. Ask about 24-hour supervision, fire and burglar alarms, and fire safety plans.

Business Basics

A trustworthy kennel should adhere to basic practices, including the following:

  • Rates should be posted clearly. Inquire about any extra charges that could be incurred and how they are calculated.
  • Every kennel should offer you a boarding agreement or contract to sign. This document should clearly state the kennel's responsibilities and your rights. Read it carefully before you sign to avoid misunderstandings.
  • The kennel should have regular business hours, and you may be unable to drop off or pick up your pet outside these hours. (Some kennels charge extra for after-hours assistance.) These hours are not to inconvenience you; rather it helps the office staff at the kennel stay informed, and keep you informed, about your pet.
  • Expect kennel personnel to be neat and clean, to show an interest in animals, and to be responsive to your dog. All employees should handle dogs with confidence.
  • Ask about additional services like grooming, bathing, playtime, and training that can be scheduled during your pet's visit. Many kennels offer these types of service. If you are moving, some kennels can ship your pet to you once you are settled in.

In order for your pet to be comfortable and well-cared-for during his stay, you must do your part to convey your animal's individual needs to the kennel, and to check the quality of the facilities:

  • Food and water: Ask about the food policy and see if there are extra charges for special dietary needs. Some kennels will provide your dog's preferred food, but others will ask that you bring a supply with you. Each dog should have an individual water dish with clean drinking water.
  • Temperature: Make sure that the temperature is not too hot or too cold for your pet. If your pet has special needs, ask whether these needs can be accommodated.
  • Ventilation: There should be adequate airflow without drafts.
  • Lighting: Lighting should be bright but not glaring. Lighting should be turned off or dimmed at night.
  • Sleeping and bedding: Sleeping quarters are called "primary enclosures" and should contain solid dividers between kennels. Enclosures should be clean and dry and give your dog enough room to stand up, turn around, and stretch comfortably. Some kennels provide bedding and others ask that you bring it from home.
  • Exercise: The exercise areas should provide shelter from rain, wind, snow, and direct sunlight. Some kennels have enclosed facilities, some keep pets inside and offer scheduled access to outdoor exercise areas, and others have indoor-outdoor facilities. Dogs should have enough space to run. Ask how often the animals exercise and determine if that will be adequate for your dog. An outdoor running area should be clean and made of gravel or concrete.
  • Toys: Familiar toys that taste and smell of home can be very comforting. Ask if you can bring some of your dog's toys and how many would be appropriate.

If possible, take your pet to the kennel for a weekend visit to start. After several short stays, your dog will understand that her stay is temporary and she is not being abandoned. This dramatically reduces the stress of boarding the dog for longer periods.

All packed and ready?

As you pack for your trip, spend some time gathering what your dog and his caregivers will need while you're gone.

Give yourself a head start on gathering this list (don't start the day before your trip!), just in case you need to refill a medication or reach your vet during business hours to track down a vaccination certificate, for instance.

Once you've got these items together for the first time, it'll be a cinch to keep the paperwork updated if you keep everything together with your other household files.

  • Give the kennel your vet's name and phone number.
  • Tell the kennel where you will be staying, and how you can be reached. Leave the number of a local contact person in case they cannot reach you in an emergency (this could be your vet).
  • Bring current vaccination certificates and tell the kennel about any medications your dog may need during his stay. No kennel should accept a boarder without proof of vaccinations.
  • Inform the kennel of any medical conditions like epilepsy or deafness, or behavioral issues like fear of thunder, shyness around people, or aggression with other dogs.
  • Take all medications, bedding, toys, and required supplies. Leave written instructions for special care like dietary restrictions.
  • If required, have your dog sprayed or dipped for fleas before boarding.
  • Make sure you have packed the phone numbers for the kennel and your vet in your own luggage before leaving home.

Saying Good-Bye

After you've checked in at the kennel and are ready to go, here's what to expect.

  • Say good-bye to your pet cheerfully and matter-of-factly. Do not make a scene. The more relaxed and confident you appear, the easier the separation will be for your dog.
  • You may be asked to leave your dog in the office instead of bringing your dog into her kennel. Allowing your dog to go to her kennel with the kennel employee shows your dog that you have confidence in the staff, and so should she.

These tips will help ensure a happy reunion when you pick your dog up and take him home.

  • Plan to pick up your pet during the kennel's business hours. If you need to make other arrangements, call the kennel at least a day before you arrive so they can accommodate you if possible.
  • You may want to request that your dog be bathed before you pick her up, as disinfectant odors can cling to a dog's coat.
  • After you greet your dog, ask the staff about her experience at the kennel. How did she react to the sleeping arrangements, food, and routines? Did they notice anything unusual about her behavior, and did she need any special handling? Take note of any new behaviors for future reference.
  • In the excitement of coming home, most dogs have a tendency to eat and drink to excess. Do not feed your dog for several hours after he is home. Give him ice cubes instead of water so he won't drink too much.
  • If you have any questions about your dog's behavior when you come home, call the kennel. Behavior that seems peculiar to you may be perfectly normal -- for instance, some dogs sleep more than usual for a day or two after a kennel stay, because they had so much fun.

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