10 questions to ask before boarding your dog

Whenever I leave town, I ask myself who is going to take care of my mutt Ace.

Friends and family are a good option, but only if they are reliable enough and they actually want to take my dog for a week.

For many dog owners, boarding is the best and sometimes the only option. There are a lot of really bad kennels out there. Trust me, I worked at one. That’s the very reason I started pet sitting through my dog walking business.

I worked at a boarding facility near Minneapolis while I was in high school and college. It was a very popular and busy kennel, but the owner was very good at sucking money from his customers, and the dogs suffered because of it.


Since this week is a busy travel time, and many people are looking at dog-boarding options, I wanted to share some tips for you to think about when choosing a kennel for your dog.

Questions to ask before boarding your dog

1. Ask if you can tour the dog boarding facility.

Never leave your dog anywhere without touring the facility. If the staff will not allow you to see where your dog will be, that is a really bad sign. They have something to hide.

The kennel I worked at eventually stopped giving tours because if anyone saw it, they would not leave their dog there.

If the kennel you are interested in does not allow you to see the full facility, this might mean the cages are too small, the building is unclean or rundown, or maybe more than one dog is crammed into one kennel. I have seen this happen.

Usually the kennel manager will use an excuse such as, “We can’t let you back there for insurance reasons.” That’s bullshit. If you can’t see where your dog will be, find another kennel. The owner should be excited to show off his or her business.

Just because a staff member tells you the facility holds 40 dogs, don’t believe it unless you see it. The business owner could be cramming 200 dogs in a small area, just to make more money. Trust me, I’ve seen this too.

If the staff member lists certain hours when tours are given, that is fine. It makes sense that they would want to tidy up a bit and have you visit during quieter hours.

But ideally you should be able to stop by anytime and someone should be happy to show off their great business. By seeing where your dog will be, you will instantly have a feeling of whether or not you are comfortable leaving your dog there.

Trust your first reactions!

On your tour, here are some questions to keep in mind:

2. How clean is the dog kennel?

An area with several dogs in it is never going to smell good, or be totally clean. But are the staff members making an effort to pick up all visible dog poop? Is the ground dry?

Are there any abnormal odors, other than what you’d expect? If the ground is wet, is it because the area was recently cleaned? Does it seem like there is proper ventilation or is it wet all the time?

3. How many dogs are at the kennel?

Ask the staff member how many dogs the facility can hold, and then count for yourself how many are actually there. If most or all the kennels hold two or more dogs, you should immediately ask why.

The staff member might tell you that dogs from multi-dog families are boarded together. But they can’t all be from multi-dog families, can they?

4. How are the dogs identified?

The dogs should be identified in some way, maybe with a card and photo on their kennel, or with a labeled collar.

You know what your black Lab looks like, but with nine other black labs, do you think someone could get her mixed up with another dog? The answer is yes. Again, I’ve seen it happen!

You don’t want to pay for extra treats or playtime sessions, only to have them go to another dog that looks just like yours. And you don’t want your dog to get sick from eating the wrong food or receiving the wrong medications.

5. Is there a play area at the kennel?

Don’t believe there is a play area unless you see it. And don’t believe the dogs actually play in it unless you see dogs playing in it.

Ask how often the dog will be let out, and if there is any extra cost. The kennel I worked at charged an extra $4 per 15-minute play session. But because of our limited staff, there was no time to actually follow through with these “play sessions.”

Guess what? The dog owners were still charged, and they had no idea their dogs sat in a kennel all week other than to get out to go to the bathroom. The owner of the facility would flat out lie to the customers, and they believed him.

6. How many staff members are on site?

Ideally, you want to have at least one staff member for every 10 dogs or so, in my opinion.

If there are less than that, it is not a good sign. It is not possible for one person to properly care for more animals than that. You want your dog to receive as much attention as possible.

If a fight were to break out between two or more dogs, it would not necessarily be easy for one person to break it up. There should be enough staff members so the place remains clean and the dogs get plenty of exercise and affection.

7. What is the cost per day to board my dog, and what does that price include?

If the kennel charges $30 a day, ask what this includes.

Most will charge extra for food, baths, playtime and treats. Don’t assume that the fixed rate covers everything or anything extra at all.

Ask if you can bring your dog’s own food. A good kennel will encourage you to bring your dog’s regular food to keep her schedule as close to her typical routine as possible.

Just make sure you know what you are paying for. The charges add up fast, and you don’t want to come home from vacation and receive a kennel bill higher than you expected.

It’s a good idea to ask what the total will be beforehand so you know.

8. What will happen in an emergency situation?

What will happen if your dog gets sick? Will you be contacted? Which vet will see him? Is there a vet on site? Will you be responsible for all the costs?

Is there any circumstance where your dog would be euthanized without your approval first? Dogs do get sick. Dogs do get into fights. Things do happen.

9. Ask all the questions you can.

If there’s something on your mind, ask it. You have every right to get the answers you want. You are trusting strangers with your pet, and you deserve to know everything you can.

You should leave your dog feeling comfortable that she is in a safe place and well taken care of. If you have any doubts, move on to another boarding facility.

10. Tip the kennel staff.

You want your dog to get the best treatment, right? Well, why not slip the staff member an extra $10? This will go a long way. He or she will remember you tipped, and will likely give your dog a little extra attention, whether it’s a few minutes of ear scratching or some extra time in the play area.

It wouldn’t hurt to tip again when you pick up your dog. Yes, it is a bit of a bribe 🙂

If you feel awkward tipping the staff, you could also do something nice like bring them a box of cookies or donuts when you drop off your dog. People remember nice gestures.

Have you ever taken your dog to a boarding kennel? What did you think of that kennel, and how did you choose it?

28 thoughts on “10 questions to ask before boarding your dog”

  1. Tom - PugsCorner.com

    Like you say there are so many bad kennels about. Poor condtions and dogs that get left locked up with no exercise.

    You did a great job covering all the key points to consider.


    Tom – PugsCorner.com’s last blog post..Pug Gifts – The Way to a Pug Owners Heart

  2. Most kennels provide optional playtime for the smaller dogs as well as the big dogs. Usually, you can ask to have your dogs play with other dogs that are a similar size and have a compatible energy level to your dogs. Or, if your dogs would rather not be around other dogs, a staff member might provide supervised playtime for just the two of them. Many kennels have wading pools, plenty of toys and sometimes obstacles or playground equipment. Other kennels don’t have a play area at all. Basically, always ask, and don’t assume anything.

  3. My vet has a kennel, but not a play area. They walk the dogs a few times each day, but that is it.

    My wife and I have two small dogs – a Pomeranian and a silky terrier. How do kennels typically handle play time with smaller dogs?

    We are thinking of bringing our dogs to a kennel while they are young, just so they get used to it.

    Mike’s last blog post..Dream Home Gym

  4. I used to have a pair of Pekes, and I now have cats. I am very fortunate that they could/can stay home in their own environment. Friends come by each morning and early evening, not just to feed and water them, but to sit and engage with them. This usually means watching the 6:00 news, or just sitting out on the patio with them. I reciprocate for them.

    I can’t imagine leaving them with a facility because I have seen the horrible conditions. I’d go to a pet-friendly hotel if I didn’t have friends who loved my pets (almost) as much as I love them!

    WillThink4Wine’s last blog post..Happy OY EH Day

  5. I had to leave my Lab with a kennel for a week, and her tail was all the way down because of fear. All the dogs were barking non-stop at the kennel, and I guess being a Lab, she isn’t all that used to the noise.

  6. Look for “family style” boarding. No kennels unless the dog needs “alone time.” Someone on site 24 hours a day. The dogs sleep in a big room with toys for the dogs and a TV, couch, kitchen, bed, etc., for the staff. We have one here, and we’ll take our dog there for the day to tire her out.

  7. These are some great tips. I personally leave my dog with family. I know that a kennel is a solution, but I haven’t ever found one that I thought was worthwhile. I guess I spoil my dog too much.

  8. This is for everyone who would like to get the background information about where they are keeping their pets.

    Of the three kennels I have worked at, all three of them have had problems. The worst kennel is located in South Fargo. This business has an owner who is not interested in the animals but rather the money. She does not keep the property nice, and the horses that also share the land are poorly kept. The gates that keeps the dogs in had holes and the kennel is sometimes unclean. If the owners take a tour of the facilities, it will be obvious that this is not a great place. If the owners do not mind the looks/upkeep of the business, then they should be aware of the actual employee behavior. Although I did my job well, interacted with the dogs and made the business as good as it could possibly be, many of the other employees did not.

    One of the early morning workers would show up a half-hour late every day. When he got to work, he would throw the dogs outside (he did not make sure they got along) and would sleep on the dryer. When his shift ended, he would feed the dogs and put them back. He never cleaned the kennels, did dishes, interacted with the dogs or made any effort at all. The boss was aware of his behavior which I believe shows lack of respect for customers and their dogs.

    While I worked there, I was extremely careful with the cleaning, pairing of dogs and more, but when I left for a week vacation, all hell broke loose. The day I came back, the kennel was a mess. All the runs had been soiled (even the ones that weren’t occupied), dogs were out of food and the animal cops had stopped by twice. There are a lot of negatives about this place, but the positives are decent. First, it is cheap, but I can certainly say that you get what you paid for. Second, your dog will get plenty of outdoor interactions, which I find many boarding kennels lack. Third, the stress level for the dogs is low (meaning they are not barking, clawing, howling, pacing or other stressed activities. These dogs will lie down and sleep or chew bones). Fourth, aggresive dogs are allowed. I am not sure how the business is run today. It may have changed, but I am willing to bet it has not.

  9. The second kennel is located near downtown Fargo. Unlike the first kennel, this place has a daycare. The daycare is fairly well run, with plenty of playtime and supervision. The dogs are not trying to escape all the time and do not get into many fights. The boarding dogs have to stay in small crates overnight (unlike the first kennel I talked about where the dogs stay in large runs). The employees are required to have training, safty packs (filled with leashes, spray and treats) and a spray bottle filled with water at all times. People are always on time and moderatly professional. The dogs hardly fight. I found that the boarding dogs are stressed but the actual daycare dogs were not.

    The business is very clean and has an outdoor run that is used.

    A negative is the lack of disipline for dogs. The squirt bottle works very well and manages to break up tough play and obessive barking, but if there is a problem dog the employees will put them in a “time out.” Time outs do not work! Although it calms the dog down, the moment the dog comes back out to play, all chaos ensues.

    The second problem is the way the outdoor run is set up. It is small and does not provide great shelter. This business also says that they have weekly activities for your dog (such as a pool day, fetch or peanut-butter-licking contests), but this is not true. The manager tries to get the employees to follow through, but the employees are too lazy.

  10. The third kennel is located in South Fargo. It is probably the highest rated kennel in Fargo.

    This owner obviously cares about her customers and their dogs. She goes above and beyond to make sure that everyone is happy. She follows Cesar’s Way but something I quickly found out is the employees do not. I am very quick to make sure that I do, though. What I noticed is that the boarding is great, but the daycare is only decent. This is because almost all the dogs are over-excited or stressed.

    When I work, I try to make sure the animals are relaxed. I do not tolerate obsessive barking, pacing or whining. I only pet the dogs that are lying down, sitting or calmly standing at my side. I am sure to ignore the dogs that are jumping up at me or demanding attention. After about an hour, all the dogs are resting at my feet and getting a nice tummy rub from me. The moment another employee walks through the door or a dog gets excited, I have to start all over. It is very difficult and the dogs are very stressed. Of all the kennels I worked at this is the place with the most stressed dogs. The problem is because the employees think that in order to keep a dog happy, they need to play with it (in other words, make it excited).

    They also tolerate behavior that creates high energy and eventually a fight. Since the workers are not trained well, no one is on the same page for the disipline of a dog. This place also does “time outs” which as I said before, do not work!

    They do not have dogs outside often, but they are offering dog walking services for customers. This is helpful as long as the walk is done long enough and correctly.

    Something that people need to look at when checking out daycare or boarding kennels is how the dogs interact. Please, please, please check this out. I would not want to pay money to keep my dog at a place where she/he is very stressed out. If you notice that the dogs are barking, pacing, jumping, snapping, growling, shedding excessively, etc., do not bring your dog there! Your dog will come out with more problems than he or she went in with. If you want to board your dog, look for a place where the majority of the dogs are resting or interacting calmly with eachother. Trust me, it may not look like fun from your eyes, but your dogs will enjoy it.

  11. Lindsay Stordahl

    Thank you for the information. Since I’m from Fargo, I know exactly which kennels you are talking about and what you say is about what I expected. It’s hard to run a large kennel and not have dogs that are overly excited and stressed. And in all honesty, most owners will want to see their dogs panting and jumping around. They think this means their dogs are happy when in fact the dogs are anxious.

    From my kennel experience, unfortunately a lot of what the business says about dog activities do not actually happen. The kennel I worked at encouraged owners to bring dog beds and special toys for their dogs. However, all of the belongings actually went into a closet until the dogs were picked up. The runs where the dogs stayed were too dirty to put the beds in. The only reason to encourage owners to bring beds and blankets for the dogs was to make the owners happy. The dogs never actually got playtime sessions either. However, the owners were still charged $3 per play session.

  12. I know what you mean about the over-excitement. It is not just hard on the dogs, it is hard on the employees. Keeping the dogs calm can be done, it just requires hard work and cooperation from all the employees. I am currently working on a study to determine the stress levels of dogs at a daycare versus those that stay at home all day. The tests will be done on fecal with dogs through the Fargo-Moorhead and Minneapolis areas. If I ever start my own dog behavior center, I will be sure to create a proper dog kennel. Think Cesar Millan. His dogs are never panting, jumping fences or barking excessivly. That is how a kennel should be run.

    Many employees are also allowed to bring their dogs. What I often find is that the employee dogs get better treatment then others. I only brought my dog to the first kennel, which worked out great. I was able to pair the dogs well and make sure everyone got plenty of exercise. This was before any “greeting” issues that I have with my dog today.

    I don’t think I could ever do boarding/doggy daycare for my dog. If I did, I would pick Sheyenne River Kennels. I like the way they are run, plus how they choose to hire and train employees is very well thought out.

  13. Lindsay Stordahl

    Sheyenne River Kennels is a different experience because the dogs are kept separated from one another. I have left my dog there a few times. He doesn’t like it (he doesn’t like any kennnel because he’s a big baby). But that’s where he goes when I need to board him. I do wonder how often the dogs really get outside though. The runs are not indoor/outdoor runs. The dogs have to be taken out by leash. The kennel I worked at was much like you described where employees would show up late and not do their jobs, so I worry about any place I leave my dog. That’s why I do pet sitting, so people can comfortably leave their dogs at home and have me check on them, or they can leave their dogs with me.

    I’d be interested in hearing the results of that study!

  14. Thanks for the info on the different kennels in Fargo! I take my dog to a daycare every now and then, and I am very frustrated and disappointed when I pick him up because he is always overexcited and none of the staff try to stop it. And, they never tell me how it went or what happened unless I ask specific questions.

    Even if I ask how he was, I usually get a “Oh, fine. He played with the other dogs.” Well, duh he played with the other dogs! What they have told me (after a few months of taking him there) was that he gets anxious when the other dogs start to go home, and then they put him in a kennel to calm him down. But I’m sure that does not work because if he’s not in a calm state when he goes into the kennel, he’s not going to relate the kennel with being calm!

    I’m sure they don’t understand that concept though. One of the employees told me he was pushing at the door with his paws to try to get out. Another thing that bothers me is that they did not let me tour the facility. In fact, I have no idea what the kennels in the back look like, and there is probably a reason for that! After I learned of his anxiety issues, I decided it was better for him just to stay home while I am at work then to go through a whole day of being unstable and anxious. Thanks again for all of your info. If I need to board my dog for a length of time in Fargo, I will probably look at a personal, at-home business like Lindsay’s.

  15. When I went to interveiw at Sheyenne, they walked me through their procedures. It is like you said, they put the dogs on a leash and walked them out. They said that they will leave the dogs out for about an hour at a time and then switch dog rounds.
    The only reason I liked it is because the limited dog-to-dog interactions will prevent my dog from picking up bad manners.

    I am very excited to review the results of the experiment. There are so many variables so it is hard to set up in the first place. I need to figure out if the owners walk their dogs at home (and if the dog leads or not), I need to know if the dog is free fed, if the dog has any issues at home, etc. Perhaps I could compare with your business too by having a few dogs spend a day in daycare at a chosen place and collect their feces. Then have those same dogs spend a day with you, collect their feces. I am hoping to compile plenty of information from stress levels to appropriate behavior that allow owners to have scientific data of what atmosphere the dog is healthiest in.

    Amanda, very interesting comment! I actually have a story that is relating to that. The second place I worked at had a Boston that liked to hump other dogs. It was very frusterating to work with this dog and when the owner came to pick him up, she asked “How was he today?” I told that he was very anxious and seemed to release his tension by humping. She gave me this look like I just slapped her across the face. She said, “Really? Usually he is so good!” Uh, no. I guess everyone has been telling her that he is such an angel! She thanked me for my honesty and actually wanted to know how she can work on his problems at home. Later on, my manager came up to me and handed me a write-up. The manager was mad that I had told this owner the truth!

    If I had an ill-behaved dog at daycare, I would want to know!

  16. Lindsay Stordahl

    I don’t want to rip apart the kennels in town. It really all depends on the specific owner, the specific dog and the specific routine of the kennel. Some dogs love being boarded. Some dogs love daycare. Some dogs are hyper no matter where they go because their owners never walk them. And it’s hard for a daycare or boarding facility to keep everyone happy when there is such a variety of dog owners. The best thing to do is be honest like you said – honest about what goes on, the schedules, how the dogs behave. Then the owners can make up their own minds of what is best for their dog.

    Thanks Amanda and “Kennel Worker” for your comments

  17. Yikes.

    This makes me feel better about my doggy daycare. The dogs are all just sitting around, while I had hoped they would play so my dog would be tired at the end of the day. But I see that it’s better for her to practice being mellow.

    1. It’s important to ask a lot of questions, tour the facility and observe the dogs to make sure you are getting what you expect/want.

  18. Milan is a hack. What he does is repress dogs through intimidation. When he works with dogs they appear to be nonreactive, however most of the dogs on his show are exhibiting stress signals, such as lip licking, stiff body language and whale eyes. RESEARCH & DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Different breeds have different requirements for activity each day. A dog like a vizsla will be miserable if unable to run, while a pug might prefer sitting on someone’s lap all day.

    1. It sounds a bit harsh… Millan cannot be completely wrong after running such a good dog psychology center, saving hundreds of dogs that were going to be murdered, because of not being sociable enough, educating two pitbulls (cannot be a coincidence both pitbulls are so well behaved)… This guy knows what he is speaking about, a dog is a dog; I have got pugs, and although they love laps, and sleeping, when they do not get their walks, they become hyper and irritating to other dogs and humans, fighting too. I think you need to buy yourself a week with Cesar Millan and judge his abilities with a real experience. So far the facts say that he is just a natural with dogs.

  19. I’ve worked in quite a few boarding kennels and vet clinics. They all had their secrets, some worse than others.

    The best one I worked at, was pretty good, but during high volume times the small dogs did get crated and calm dogs put in kennels without an outside part. The way the kennel was set up, when we did tours, it looks like we had all indoor/outdoor kennels. The dogs were let out two-three times a day though into yards. We did the extra playtimes the owners paid for (running around the big yard, playing with toys, etc) 99% of the time.

    I worked at a kennel/daycare that told the owners the dogs got put out into yards during the day. Not so, the dogs would sit for days in their kennel. If they paid for daycare while boarding, it didn’t get done. The owner was so so bad, he was violent towards the barking dogs and frequently kicked kennels and screamed. Two dogs got in a fight, and was stopped quickly. The owner came out with a broom and a lead, leashed one of the dogs up, and hung it while hitting it with a broom. He had it hanging and struggling while he walked all the way through the yard and put it in a kennel. I quit.

    The two vets I worked for had mediocre care for their boarding dogs. Not many frills, the dogs were walked or put in yards to potty, pretty basic. Nothing bad ever happened there.

    Another kennel I worked for mixed dogs from different families, and the dogs never put out in yards. There was no exterior fencing. People paid for extra playtimes and they were not done at all. The care was OK I guess, very basic, the kennels didn’t have drains and were a bit unsanitary.

    Buyer beware, I guess. I would still board my dogs, preferably at a place with webcams!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I thought the place I worked at was exceptionally worse than others, but after hearing your experience I wonder if most kennels are somewhat sketchy. The place I leave my dog at now seems to be pretty good. He only goes for a few weekends a year, as he is pretty spoiled.

  20. Thanks to Lindsay and all who share their precious experience here; the discussion is very helpful and educational for me because I am always preparing for a potential oversea trip, and I probably need to board my 5-year-old 80 lb. female Rottweiler.

  21. I have had to board my pup once so far for three nights. I chose the place for a couple main reasons. One, they offer daycare on a daily basis. So I started utilizing them about once a week months prior for pup to go play and become familiar with the daycare and providers. And to be socialized. He also gets groomed there, another option they offer. So at this facility daily play is included in the overnight boarding cost. This daycare, like most, requires a temperament test prior to allowing them to come to daycare. It’s about a 20-min “test” where different dogs varying in breed and size are brought in to be sure your dog gets along with them. The pups are separated by size for play. Another reason I love this place in particular is they have web cams where you can watch the temp test from the lobby (so no red flags) and I was able to watch him from my iPad every day while on vacation. They don’t have web cams set up while they’re asleep at night in their individual kennels however. The attitude of the caregivers are always upbeat and welcoming too. It is a franchised business called Camp Bow Wow in California, if interested.

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