Boarding Kennels: Choosing a Good, Humane Place to ‘Store’ Your Dog

Things have changed since I started grooming.  It used to be, if the owner didn’t live on site, the kennel manager and his family did.  The best kennels were booked up  six months or more in advance.  Boarding kennel owners were usually  hobby breeders who showed dogs. Sometimes, they were veterinarians or professional (AKC) dog show handlers. Once the kennel was full, that was it.  They didn’t set up extra crates so store dogs in just to make extra money.

I blogged last year  about how to choose a boarding kennel: about touring  the kennel and having your dog stay in a suite or kennel run while you  you toured, asking if there was staff  24 hours;  if there was a lot of barking, or an odor;  who owns the kennel and  are they on site, or are they absentee?  Are the owners involved in dog sports at all, or is this  just a  business to them?

Unfortunately, more and more,  dog businesses are owned by  people who want to own a dog business, but who aren’t necessarily ‘hands on’.  They are  rock stars at business networking events…indeed, anywhere they go and where people ask them what they do.  People have a fantasy in their heads about  what it means to  operate a dog business. But dogs are not their lives. That’s just how it is.

Many  kennels/dog daycare and grooming businesses are owned by  refugees from other industries.  Showing, training, or breeding dogs are not their hobbies.  They know nothing about animal husbandry and  know that most government agencies charged to do inspections are broke or  so understaffed that they will never be inspected—at least not by any inspector who  knows what he is looking at.

I have worked at kennels that were  reasonably run—not well run, but not dangerous…when   it wasn’t vacation season or a major holiday like Thanksgiving or Easter.    At holiday times, when the  kennel was full—and the owner or manager had the option of stuffing more dogs in—it was a nightmare. The fact of the matter is that  in order to capitalize on the opportunity of  idiot dog owners who wait until the very last minute to make boarding arrangements for their dogs, they often charge more for these impulsive types, and  set up crates for  these extra dogs.

Kennels used to be set up where a dog was housed in a kennel pen attached to an outdoor  dog run.  They were set up this way to prevent dog fights.  While it was true that dogs didn’t get a lot of exercise, they got some, and most kennels also had paddock areas  for exercise.  The advantage  of the traditional kennel  is that you don’t have to handle  dogs once they are in the kennel pen:  you have a guillotine door, and you could put food down, or clean, without having to interact with the dog.    Why would you want a boarding kennel set up this way?  Many dogs  don’t like strangers, and the stress of being  in a strange place  stresses them out more, and they lose their bite inhibition.  The set-up is great for these dogs, and intact dogs, or dogs that don’t want to play or who are bullies.

I worked for a hobby breeder who had  inside pens for her dogs, and she had to walk all her dogs out to an outside exercise area. She  purposely set her kennel up this way so she’d have to touch her dogs  several times a day. Something to think about.  Why would you not want to touch your dogs every day?

More and more, the businesses that run  dog daycare, run packs of dogs.  The  dogs usually have to be neutered if over a certain age, and must be social. It is very labor intensive to accept non-social dogs, but because the kennel owners aren’t hands on, they  tend to discount the disruption.  They won’t be honest about nonsocial dogs getting enough  exercise or attention.    Some have  side yard paddocks for these nonsocial dogs, so the nonsocials  can see the pack, but can’t directly interact with them.  This is ok…until the kennel gets busy.  The nonsocial dogs are going to be short changed.

This would not be so bad, but kennel owners who are not hands on  rarely add on adequate personnel. In my state, the law says you are supposed to have  one person for  every six unrelated (this means from  separate household—not genetics) dogs  who are run in a pack.  This NEVER happens.  Some people feel comfortable  with a 10 dog pack, but over that, you are playing the odds that one dog won’t offend another.  It’s dangerous—and in a  space where there isn’t an average of 10 square feet  per dog, no play occurs:  it’s just dogs milling around, possibly looking for a ‘friend’, possibly looking for a place to just hang out and not be bothered.  Is this what you have in mind for your pet?  One of the places I work currently  runs 35 dog packs with 1 person attending.  Another close by has over 50 dogs in their pack, and 2 teenagers  supervising.  Not safe.

But getting back to the busy kennel at holiday time. The manager  sets up crates.  The crates aren’t all Great Dane size, they are different sizes, and if you don’t  know how big your dog really is, your dog may not be able to stand up to his full height or stretch out.   That is the minimum USDA standard—but since nobody’s inspecting, you have to RELY ON THE INTEGRITY OF THE OWNER AND STAFF. Feeling lucky?

Because of the extra dogs, many of whom  have never come to this  place, many of whom  have never been in daycare and run with a pack, and most of whom are stressed out, they won’t be on a regular schedule.  Even is there is one kennel attendant per 20 dogs, it is not enough for all the dogs to  be let out, make sure they all potty, and clean up.    A lot of dogs are going to eliminate in their crates due to stress, and the time that might have been spent on play is taken up with cleaning.   Try to look at it from your dog’s point of view:  why did his  family leave him  in an animal shelter? He doesn’t know you will come back if you haven’t toured and  left him for a few minutes and picked him up. Then, there are the dog owners—our neighbors—who lie about their dog’s health:   their dog  NOT having diarrhea, ear, eye, or skin infections, parasites…. not a pretty picture.

I really don’t want to be prejudiced, but  it’s true:  the kennel owner manager who is likely to be involved in dog performance training and exhibition  is  more likely to take the risks seriously.  My experience has been that the people who just want to say they own or manage a dog business are more likely to  take all comers and  not  care that all the dogs are stressed.

So, how do you find a well run kennel?  Believe me, your veterinarian, unless  involved in dog performance, has no idea. Lots of them  work with puppy mills or own poorly managed kennels and  make money off of stressed pets.  You really have to  network with dog trainers and groomers  who know.  It’s a difficult  position to be in as a dog owner.  What do I do?  If I haven’t  worked in the kennel, I  ask for a tour, and ask all the questions I addressed at the top of the page—-including being allowed to leave my dog in a kennel suite.  I ask dog club members and fellow dog groomers for suggestions. I have also had care givers come to my home to just feed my dogs and let them out if I didn’t have a trusted friend to do so.

If you have doubts about  a kennel or care giver, this is  what you are doing to your dog. Your dog will forgive you if he lives.  I am asking you to be mature, act with integrity, and  plan ahead.


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