Boarding your dog: How to Find a Good Kennel


“Spring Break’ , “Summer Vacation”  Memorial Day Weekend”.  Yes. the wealthy among us  travel whenever they get  3 or more days off from work.  Many of them own dogs.  Since they learned the hard way that they had to plan ahead for the very best  place for their pets, many of them booked boarding over 6 months ago.  No joke. Call the kennels you Google in your town.  Contact the top 5 that come in  on your search (usually, this means the kennel owners paid for some sort of  search engine optimization,   not that they are necessarily ‘the best’).  Call and ask  how far ahead you should book for the  3 day weekends, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc.  They may tell you they are already booked—and you can be on a waiting list with a deposit.

Must be something about them, right?  Now—now!!! Ask about taking a tour of their kennel—not  necessarily  the busy weekend (some will allow it, some will be too busy to take you around).  Bring your dog, so you can get an idea about how they run.  Do you have to bring your own food?  Is someone there 24 hours?  What is  the  hour interval between last evening potty outing and the morning outing?  How many people do they have on staff per shift?   What is the ratio  of kennel staff to dogs?  What animal hospital do they have on call for emergencies?

There are other questions you should ask….and look around you. Do they have individual indoor/outdoor kennel runs for the dogs (& how large are they?  Will your dog  be stepping in his own mess if the run is too small?)  or, are they ‘open concept’, where all the dog run together?
What kind of training  in animal behavior  does their staff have?   Is the owner/manager involved in any humane organization, or involved in dog performance events?  The reason you want to know this about the people caring for your pet is simple, but extremely important:  there are now more kennels owned by both corporate entities, and people who just want to say they own a dog business, than people who actually  love hands on working with dogs and caring about  how they feel.  We learn about dogs not by just reading, not because someone told us something  is true…but because we spend time with  with other dogs lovers who love dogs enough to want to communicate with them, bond with them, and alleviate their stress in stressful circumstances.

This is NOT to say that the ‘open concept’ kennel is necessarily bad, or unsafe…but there is a reason the tradition  boarding kennels kept dogs separated. Really.  You  don’t want your dog to be endangered in a dog fight.  When people giving negative ratings to those kennels—AFTER CHOOSING AN OPEN CONCEPT ENVIRONMENT FOR  THEIR DOG OVER A TRADITIONAL KENNEL—is  naive .  Just because a business is legal, it doesn’t make it safe.

The ‘open concept’ kennel—where dogs are run in packs…works for many dogs.  However,  not all dogs are Labs , Beagles, and Golden Retrievers.  My issue with these kennels is that the owners and managers either don’t know enough about the dog breeds to acknowledge this—or they deny that the Boxer, French Bulldogs, Bostons, and often individuals of other breeds—are going to cause problems with otherwise  easy going dogs. They also take dogs that should never be with other dogs because they are greedy  (and don’t have the  INTEGRITY)to say, “this kennel is not for your dog”—until after a problem has occurred.

Is the kennel noisy?  With a lot of barking? A barking dog is a stressed dog.  I worked in 1 kennel that was set up in such a way that while dogs were in their suites, they never saw another dog, and got a lot of rest, but I have worked in kennels where dogs faced each other, through barriers, and there are always a few ‘fence fighters’ and this stresses everyone. However, the owners of the kennels do not care, and can’t be profitable any other way but to have  the  suites face each other &  because  they don’t want the kennel to appear as a kennel, and  don’t block sight lines.  Looks good, but stressful for a lot of dogs.

Do they hose down the  potty/play areas?Is there a pool?  This won’t matter if your dog is short haired, but if you have a Cocker Spaniel, an Afghan Hound—any  long aired dog, your dog WILL  matt, and never be totally dry while staying in this place.  that may lead to a skin infection.  The kennel staff does what they are told to do. They do not care if your dog gets matted or becomes soaked. And—that  pool is a great idea for  many dogs. Lots of dogs love playing in water.  Just don’t expect the groomers, at the end of your dog’s stay, to dematt your  Soft-coated
Wheaten Terrier.

When you go to tour the kennel, you want to leave your dog in a typical kennel space while you tour. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!!!  Why?  so your dog get the experienced of being dropped off and picked up.  That’s all your dog will remember: being put someplace, and then being taken back by you. This will alleviate a lot of stress for your dog. it will take you  five to ten minutes to tour the kennel, and that brief amount of time lets your dog know he was not abandoned.  Think of this from your dog’s point of view:  The people he loves leave him in a strange place .  What did I do?  I become depressed and sick.  If I am in bad health, I may die of the stress!

I did  a Google search of  the question, “How to choose a dog boarding kennel’ and while the information all  he postings gave was good, the writers had obviously either never worked in a kennel, or  had never  really taken  animal behavior into consideration—or the economics of running a kennel.  One thing they mention  to ask is—does your state mandate inspections?  Funny (not) thing is, my state—Illinois—is broke. Inspections are mandated by law, but not done.  In fact, our kennel laws are so poorly written that the few inspectors that might come out every 2 or 3 years are party hacks who have no idea what they are inspecting for. As long as they do not see  electrical wires in water on the floor—the kennel passes.  You have to  have sense and be an advocate for your dog.

Staffing is a huge problem with many kennels–especially the open concept ones that run daycare.  Some kennels actually offer their employees health insurance—so they do have a more stable work force—many of those laborers are going to veterinary school or getting advanced degrees in biology.  Most,  however,  just hire people who say they love dogs and show up.  The employees then find out this is physical labor, and can be  smelly work, and  this is the nature of the industry.   I  suggest asking how many people work a shift—or are  employed for  X number of dogs.  ideal is 1  kennel person for every 15 dogs, but most   only add staff after  30 dogs. This means your dog  will have to wait  to go out, and staff may be too busy to supervise loose dogs, or note digestive issues.  This is legal—it doesn’t make it right.  the kennel business is about profit, not about being humane or safe, in most cases.

Will you want your dog to have a bath after his stay?  Decide ahead of time,.  The kennel owner is  not a groomer.  She doesn’t care if the groomer is overwhelmed.  Front desk staff may forget to ask when you check in.

What about NOT A KENNEL , but in home boarding.  You really have to be skeptical and be an advocate for your dog.  I have several friends who do this. They are dog trainers. Some are professionals, some are hobbyists. Their  yards are secure, they ask a lot of questions, they tell you what they can offer you, ask you what  discipline methods they can use, and demand a lot of  integrity on your part.  Others, well….now it seems, there are  companies that  seem to think any idiot can  take care of a strange dog, multiple dogs, and everyone makes money.  I have 1 friend whose dog got loose (kids let the dog out, gate wasn’t secured) &  he was called by the police that his dog would be euthanized in  5 days. The people taking care of the dog didn’t have the integrity to call him on his trip and tell him his dog got out.   I have a client with a Bearded Collie…the dog came back with fleas.  Client with a Pug mix—caregiver was walking another dog, left the pug lose with a German Shepherd.  Pug barked at sleeping Shepherd & got his eye bit out.. Careless, preventable, but these care givers are not real dog lovers. Were they, they would have bought crates, insisted on having  boarders on a flea preventative, and would have been prepared for every contingency.

Boarding at the veterinarian?  I worked for 1. he seemed to think it was ok for  the night interval to be over 12 hours & staff would clean up.  Is that really what you want?

Don’t fall for the marketing.  If you really care about your pet, look for a safe environment. Don’t fall for pretty.  Of course, there should be no odor, but  you want a quiet kennel with  plenty of personnel who  ask YOU a lot of questions.

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One Response to “Boarding your dog: How to Find a Good Kennel”

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