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.
Also see my article: 10 things to do before boarding 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.
Wednesday 21st of December 2016
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.
Wednesday 20th of July 2016
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.
Wednesday 20th of July 2016
Friday 31st of May 2013
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!
Friday 31st of May 2013
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.
Wednesday 19th of September 2012
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.
Wednesday 19th of June 2013
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.
Tuesday 23rd of November 2010
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.
Sunday 28th of November 2010
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.