Q&A: Boarding

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Photo credit: Fort Stewart MWR

Question

Sabrina writes: “What should I ask about before I leave my dog with a boarding place?”

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Answer

Even though I prefer to leave my dogs with a knowledgeable friend while I’m gone, that doesn’t always work out and I’ve had to board several dogs over the years. So here’s what I do when I’m looking for a new boarding place, which is a good way to find one that works for you, too:

(1) Google is your friend! 

A quick Google search will get you started with a list of boarding kennels in your area. Since most businesses now have websites or Facebook pages, you can check out several kennels from the comfort of your home. A good kennel website should give you information about their facilities, hours, services, and rates.

Based on the website, you can already rule out some facilities – for example, I look for a place that provides kennel runs (ideally with access to an outside run), rather than “kennel-free” boarding where groups of dogs are together in one open area.

(2) Read the reviews and ask around.

Did I mention what a great tool the Internet is? Read the reviews on kennels you found to learn about good and bad experiences other customers have had. It’s important to take reviews, especially on pages like Google and Yelp, with a grain of salt: people are more likely to leave bad reviews after an unpleasant experience than they are to leave good reviews if the service was up to snuff. At the same time, consider this: if a business has 50 reviews and they’re all negative, maybe it’s best to avoid them.

Aside from reviews, ask others for recommendations and opinions. Good sources for this are members of the local dog club, staff at your vet clinic, and local discussion boards of Facebook groups about dogs.

(3) Drop by for a visit.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list, it’s time to go see the kennels. You can get a hundred recommendations and look at a lot of beautiful websites, but that doesn’t compare to getting a first-hand look.

When I visit a kennel, I drop by unannounced during normal business hours. “Hi, I was in the neighborhood and I’m looking for a place to board my dog …” is always a good way to introduce yourself to the person behind the front counter. Ask them about the facility and services. Ask them what they need from you to board your dog. Ask them how far out you need to make reservations. Get their business card, a copy of their price list, and a brochure if they’re available. Then ask if you might see the boarding area.

NOTE: Unless the kennel is extremely busy with customers when you visit, I would always be weary of a facility that won’t give tours at all or that will only give tours by appointment. There’s no reason why a clean, safe facility wouldn’t let you have a look! (After all, you’ll put a member of your family into their care!)

Things to Look For or Ask About

What are their vaccine requirements?

Boarding kennels should ask for a copy of your dog’s shot record to ensure that they up-to-date. Most boarding kennels will (and should) require dogs to be current on rabies, DHPP, and bordetella (kennel cough) vaccines in order to be boarded.

Do they take unaltered males and females?

Many boarding kennels won’t take unaltered dogs, particularly unaltered females. If your dogs aren’t spayed or neutered due to medical reasons, because you’re showing in conformation, or because they are not yet fully grown, you’ll need to make sure the kennel will take them.

Will they feed your food (and supplements, if applicable)?

A good boarding facility should allow you to provide your dog’s own food. For most dogs, being boarded is a stressful experience without the added stress of being switched to a completely different food. You may be required to package individual mealsto make feeding easier on the kennel staff. Ziploc bags are great for this purpose – make sure to label them with the dog’s name!

Is there someone on site overnight or outside of “business hours”?

Fortunately, a lot of boarding kennels nowadays are family businesses located alongside the family home on their property, but even a commercial facility should have some other sort of supervision at the kennels at night and over the weekend to ensure dogs’ safety and well-being. (Ideally, staff should be trained in canine first aid, too, and have emergency numbers for local vet clinics in an easily accessible place.)

Do they provide exercise?

If a boarding kennel does not have indoor/outdoor runs for your pet, the fee should include at least two daily walks. Additional walks and one-on-one playtime should also be available for an additional fee. Remember, you’re paying the kennel to take care of your family member, not rent out a storage space.

Will they give medication / care for a special needs pet?

If you have a young puppy, a senior, or any pet that has special needs, you need to ensure that the kennel is able to provide appropriate care. Not all boarding facilities have staff trained to administer a daily pill or injection and many have little or no experience with pets that are deaf, blind, or otherwise disabled.

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