When you have to leave your dog for an extended period — whether for an extra-long work day or a trip away from home — you might consider pet boarding. Unlike pet sitting, where someone visits or stays in your home to care for your dog, boarding involves leaving your dog at a facility where they’re cared for by staff members.
While pet sitting may be a better option for families with multiple pets or pets that are easily stressed by new surroundings, a dog boarding kennel is great for younger, high-energy pups and dogs that thrive off of social time and frequent attention. Not all pet boarding facilities are created equal, but if you put in the legwork, you’ll find a boarding facility that your dog will look forward to visiting — and you won’t feel so guilty about leaving them behind.
Here are some tips for choosing the perfect pet boarding facility for your dog.
Starting the search for a pet boarding facility can be intimidating, but it often helps to ask friends or your veterinarian for referrals.
Kelsey Lee, owner of two dogs in Owatonna, Minnesota, chose a boarding facility based on recommendations from friends who understood her needs.
“We wanted to make sure it was a location with a large outdoor space for our dogs to run around and play,” she says. “It was also important that the dogs get out of the kennel multiple times a day and that they could share a kennel at night, since we have two dogs that are used to cuddling.”
Tour potential boarding facilities
Although you could learn a lot about a facility by reviewing its website or social media, you’ll do even better to see it in person. Some operations are truly no-frills, with steel kennels and limited outdoor space for dogs to play. Others are built for your pet’s comfort and enjoyment, with premium beds, expansive play areas and even amenities like swimming pools and TVs in private rooms. Prices tend to reflect perks with boarding rates ranging anywhere from $25 to hundreds per night, according to PetCareRX.
Visiting the facility will allow you to assess factors that their promotional materials can’t convey — from hygiene and staff attitudes to the behavior of other pets.
Carmen Rustenbeck, CEO and founder of the International Boarding and Pet Services Association, recommends leaving your dog at home for your first visit so you can fully focus on assessing the space.
“Ask to see the area that the pet will be kept,” she says. “If the pet will be in a playgroup, ask to see the playgroup area and confirm that the staff has received education in dog body language and group play.”
Rustenbeck advises dog owners to ask questions about the facility’s years in business and certifications to get an understanding of their track record. Extensive experience and official industry recognitions speak volumes about a facility’s professionalism. Also pay attention to how it looks, feels and smells.
“The facility should be well-maintained,” she says.
That means all areas should be clean, uncluttered and safe for pets and humans alike.
Pay attention to your dog’s behavior
While it’s natural for pups to feel anxious about a new experience like pet boarding, it’s important to pay attention to how they behave in the facility — and how they act when you’re reunited. You can — and should — ask staff members about your dog’s stay, but you may find your dog’s behavior even more informative and unbiased.
“Your pet will never tell you a lie,” Rustenbeck says. “A pet owner should recognize when their pet is uncomfortable, as they will demonstrate that through body language.”
Some common signs of anxiety in dogs include trembling, tail-tucking, pacing, panting and reduced activity.
If the dog is participating in day care only, there should be an evaluation process to ensure they’re a good fit for the facility. If they’re staying overnight, ideally you should do a one-night trial stay to see how they react.
Prepare for time apart
A good boarding facility will have basic needs (like shelter, bedding and outdoor space) provided for your pet, but be sure to ask what you need to bring. Most facilities will require you to bring your own food with instructions on how much your dog eats, plus any medications they need. You may also want to give them a reminder of home, like a favorite toy or a T-shirt with your scent. Check with the facility before bringing extra items like a beloved blanket or treats.
Also make sure your dog has certain expected behaviors locked down before dropping them off at a pet boarding facility.
“Pets do best when they understand basic commands, have had some socialization such as daily walks and have had time to adjust to their new surroundings before staying longer than one night or day,” Rustenbeck says.
If you feel at all nervous about leaving your pet at a particular facility, consider that it just may not be the right fit for you and your pet — no matter how good it looks on paper. Take the time to explore other boarding facilities or open your search to professional pet sitters.
Ultimately, if you’re worried about your dog back home, you won’t enjoy your time away. For that reason, it’s crucial to do a thorough search, as well as trust your instincts, to find the right pet care provider for you and your pup.