Boarding Your Dog: Tips and Warnings

With summer vacations fast approaching, and having to make a decision on where to kennel my own crew for an upcoming annual family vacation, I’d like to share some tips and warnings on where and how to leave your pets behind.

Years back, I started with a highly recommended dog boarding kennel that I will never, ever use again! From there, I went to a kennel I adored that had been recommended by a dog-trainer friend, then moved on to a dog trainer who pet-sits, then tried to find someone who also house-sits, to alternating with Andrew on who stays home and who goes, to considering boarding again. We’ve been around the Mulberry bush with all of it.

Why all the changes? My dogs’ experiences and needs have changed over the years.

I’ll share my worst and best experiences first before I offer tips and warnings.

The first kennel I tried with Kiera and Magic came recommended by a friend. I should have wondered when they didn’t offer to have me tour the facilities, but I spoke with the people, who seemed knowledgeable and caring. All seemed well. I paid to have both dogs taken for 10 minute walks several times a day because I knew that while Kiera readily relieved herself on leash, she would not poop in the kennel or run. Then I left on my trip free from worry, knowing that my dogs were well-cared for. WRONG!

When I went to pick up my dogs, they both literally screamed with excitement when they saw me. As I petted and hugged them, I noticed their coats were greasy and stinky with what I assumed was some kind of antiseptic kennel cleaner. Then Kiera had projectile diahrea in the car not two minutes after we left the place. She’d obviously been holding a few days worth of poop. So, clearly, there had been no walks–and no way to prove it, except the knowledge I have of my dog. It would have come down to their word against mine. So I did the next best thing and reported them to The Better Business Bureau and warned everyone I knew about them.

The next kennel, which both the dogs and I loved, was a small place that only took new dogs on the recommendation of someone who’d already been there. When I first drove in the driveway, this woman was throwing balls for each boarding dog in turn. She had Border Collies of her own, so when she said she daily threw balls for all the dogs, I knew she wasn’t kidding. Anybody with high drive Border Collies is used to being a slave to ball and Frisbee throwing. Then she not only gave me a tour, she had me bring the dogs in for a tour. She also gave me the phone numbers of a few clients so I could talk to them about their experience. But the bigest tell-tale sign was when I went to pick up my dogs. While they were certainly thrilled to see me, they were also obviously smitten with this woman. They both picked up balls and brought them to her to throw. They were bright-eyed and clearly happy. And they’ve been happy to return ever since — until she closed up shop for health reasons.

When we got Graidy, it was necessary to make the switch from kennels to sitters. As previously noted, he has abandonment issues and doesn’t travel well.

Since he’s come such a long way, I’m reconsidering the kennel option because it’s so hard to find sitters willing to stay at the house.

Okay, onto what you should consider when looking to leave your pets behind.

Points to Consider When Boarding at a Kennel:

  • Dog boarding ranges all the way from the extravagant (and expensive) dog spas and hotels to a couple of kennels at the vet’s office. The quality of care can and does vary greatly. Price can but doesn’t necessarily correspond with better care.
  • Where you get your recommendations matters! Is it a friend who shares the same values of care and comfort for your animals? Is it a dog-trainer, or someone who routinely deals with dogs? If several people who share your dog views all recommend the same place, then it’s safe to say you’ve found a good place.
  • Make sure you tour the place and ask questions about feeding times, play activities, etc. I would only go with a place that had dog doors in each kennel so that your dog has ready access to the outside for exercise and relief.
  • Look at the dogs currently being boarded. Do they seem relatively relaxed and happy? Or do they ALL look stressed?
  • If you can, make a surpise visit to the place to see how things operate when no one is watching. If they say they walk dogs, then look for dogs and walkers out and about. If you don’t see any, be suspicious. And so on for dog play, etc.

Points to Consider When using Pet/House Sitters:

  • Same recommendations as above apply for the process of finding and interviewing a reliable sitter. In this case you should have the person come to your house to meet your dogs and to see how they interact. Most sitters carry their own insurance.
  • Have they had experience with your breed of dog?
  • If you decide to go with a pet sitter, and you don’t have a dog door that leads to a securely fenced area, can they come often enough for your dog’s potty needs? Can you afford to have someone stop by several times a day?
  • If you decide to go with a pet/house sitter and they work during the day, will they be able to come a few times during the day to let your dogs out? What time will they be there at night and what time will they leave in the morning?
  • If they run into problems, do they have a backup plan for how your dogs will be cared for?

Don’t make the mistake I did way back when. Ask questions and keep your eyes open. And if you have ideas or suggestions to add, please do!

19 thoughts on “Boarding Your Dog: Tips and Warnings”

  1. I really appreciate this article. Even with recommendations though, I am so turned off from boarding facilities. I boarded my dog at a place that had come highly recommended by a LOT of dog people several years ago, and has rave reviews on the internet. They were also located less than a mile from his vet’s office, and had a waiver allowing them to transport if anything happened, which I gladly signed saying that I would assume any financial responsibility. I left my credit card number with the vet with specific instructions to charge anything necessary. When I picked him up he was filthy, had bird poo on his bedding (I paid a premium for a “cottage”), and had a quarter sized area of what I was told by his vet was necrotized tissue. I confronted the facility about it and was told that it was a hotspot. My dog had only been boarded there for a weekend and had literally had a vet visit with no hotspots for his bordatella shot the week before. The vet said that the wound was likely caused by a crushing bite or burn. I had requested that he not play with other dogs, so that should NOT have been an issue. After over a month on antibiotics and pain killers, constantly being in a neoprene vest to keep him from messing with it (the vet said that it was that or a surgically implanted bandage), and weekly vet visits to ensure that it healed without surgical closure, I can’t bring myself to board my dogs anywhere other than a vet’s office if they absolutely must be boarded. Fortunately I have a close network of people who come and stay with them as necessary.

    Reply
    • Wow! And YIKES! and every other explicative I can think of! Thanks for sharing, Shannon. So sorry to hear about your experience. And so glad that you have a good network of friends. That’s really one of the best solutions I think.

      I should update this post to note that I haven’t boarded my dogs in over a decade. And I have one pet/house sitter I trust, but who is seldom available because everyone who knows about her books years in advance. So mostly Andrew and I travel separately.

      It’s not worth the stress on our animals or us to have the worry.

      Reply
  2. I work at a dog kennel.We do both breeding GSDs and boarding all breeds (even the little guys).I hate when they go home.My boss picks on me and tells me if it was up to me we’d have millions of dogs.She may be right.She is a GSD breeder.Once in a while she lets us pick out a puppy to keep to replace someone who is going to retire.When the adults who retire go home thats hard.They are dogs we have known for years.Many since birth.Most kennel workers/tecs fall in love with the dogs in our care.We have some dogs who dont want to go. lol! I guess I am just that awesome to them.One cracks me up.When I had his leash to his owner and walk away he howls.

    Reply
  3. It is important to know what your dog’s temporary living space will be like. Ask for a tour of the facility to ensure that the environment is neat, organized and odor-free. Consider the cages or runs. While it might be fine for a crate-trained dog, boarding in a cage can cause anxiety for a dog not accustomed to it. Plus, older dogs with arthritis need more room to move around. If you don’t like the idea of your dog staying in a small cage the whole time, look for a boarding facility that offers upscale boarding. These “pet hotels” often have small rooms with dog beds and toys that mimic the home environment.

    Reply
  4. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading these comments and would like your opinion on this problem. We have two 4-year-old German Sheps that are incredibly possessive of my family and never took to socializing with other dogs, eventhough we tried. We love those dogs dearly and their main purpose is to protect us. Instead of us taking them into our family they have made 5 adults come into their 2-dog pack. We got them because about 5 years ago we bought a property and are developing it to be our home. It is located atop a mountain and far from any neighbors – except for bears. The dogs have protected us, but we have pampered them so much they will not stay with anyone else or in the property alone. We must leave on a trip in May and cannot leave them unattended. What kennel will accept two healthy, yet aggressive-to-everyone-else-but-us dogs? Maria

    Hi Maria. That’s a problem. Your best bet is to get recommendations of good kennels, start calling around now, and tell the truth up front. Some trainers also run doggy daycares and kennels. Perhaps you can find a trainer who’s comfortable with aggressive dogs. I also don’t know what your liability would be if they bite someone. That would be a question for your lawyer. Good luck.

    Reply
  5. Dear Karen,

    It is great to see someone who has invested time into bringing awareness into the dog boarding. Not to be negative, but in all honesty there are too many people in the dog walking and pet sitting/boarding industry that recieve too much money for very inadequate service.

    My name is Thomas Burns and I am the owner of Tom’s Pets NYC (www.tomspetsnyc.com). I am a one man business who offers cutting edge service and highly personal care. I have been sitting/boarding pets and walking dogs for over five years, but recently started Tom’s Pets NYC.

    What I offer now is videos of each visit sent to my clients email. This truly has been a hit. So much so that I am thinking about getting a live video feed for my overnights. My goal is to make sure that every client has a real connection with what is going on when they are gone. I have heard so many new clients say, “my old pet sitter was great, we think”. I want to take out all the worry.

    I take what I do very seriously.

    In my years of dog walking, cat feeding and pet sitting I have seen a real divide between what well financed and organized New Yorkers get for the amount of money they give. Many top pet care services can charge up to $40 a visit. Many times that person is in and out of the apartment in less than $15 minutes. I have heard of too many horror stories of new clients basically speaking to how initially they loved their pet sitter and soon came to realize how disorganized and inattentive that person was. I stop at nothing to make sure my clients are in full contact at all times. Upon meeting a new client, my policy is to send a video immediately to take out any concern. Whatever a client needs to feel comfortable, I oblige.

    Additionally, the services that most pet care businesses offer is so basic for the amount of money they are charging, it really is startling. I have a website, but my new HTLM website (due up within the next couple of weeks) will have a client data base where customers can login and find out all their information. It will have local vets in their area and related vendors. It will also have a calender of their recent activity (and more to come). I will offer fun pet polls on the side and tons of important animal related articles.

    I just started a brand new idea. For clients for book a 7 day trip, I bring a new toy for their pet. I believe you have to love what you do and give people new and exciting ways to view your service.

    I always give tips to my clients on what to look for in a good pet sitter. Like really being meticulous about what they want from that person. Write a list and make sure that person fulfills everything. If they do not there might truly be need for concern. See if you can get a neighbor to check on that person. If they notice anything strange that might very well be a sign as well.

    If you have an interest in anything I said above or would like to learn more, feel free to contact me at this email or directly at anytime (917) 686-8537.

    Keep doing a great job and be well Karen.

    Sincerely,

    Thomas Burns

    Thomas G. Burns
    Tom’s Pets NYC
    (917) 686-8537

    Reply
  6. Cora, I really, really, really wish you lived around the corner from me! If only all boarding situations were so good…

    So, you wanna move to a really lovely location where there are lots of dog people?! : )

    Reply
  7. Oh, I forgot to say I only charge $17 per day, just because the fee is expensive DOES NOT mean top quality care. I like my prices to be accessible to everyone, ok that’s it thanks for reading!

    Reply
  8. I manage a boarding kennel and it breaks my heart to hear any horror stories. Those few bad ones are ruining the good one’s reputations and make people unsure about using them. So firstly I ALWAYS tell people to look around as they do vary in what they offer. What scares me is that any tom dick or harry can take on this job. I am a qualified vet nurse and nutritional advisor aswell as having 14 years of dog behaviour experience (I’m 29) I have customers that will cancel their holiday if they can’t get in with us! I understand the common worries of pet owners and will talk with them for however long they need to put their minds at ease. However, I have told a client that if they stay and carry on fussing over the dog for too much longer I will charge THEM for a days boarding too!! Ha Ha. I have inspection times, which DO NOT require an appointment and they can come through to check everything out for themselves. I encourage people to not bring their dogs through at inspection time. This is because (Dog psychology comes into play here) the environment is very active and noisy with dogs at play. They often see a car roll up and get happy with the possibility of a new face coming in! The owner would take a dog through for inspection and leave with them. Then when it comes time for the dog to stay, the previous experience could confuse them and make it harder for me to settle them. We must keep it simple and fuss free to help the dog go with the flow. I find a destroyed bed NOT always a sign of stress. I often receive dogs that are lucky to get 1 walk a week, put them in company of other dogs and watch them let loose. The energy they’re expelling is great, they’re having the time of their lives BEING DOGS and sometimes the play extends to my bedding! It’s all good, my reward is watching the dog pretty much fall asleep in the back of their car as they’re heading off home! The barking wont persist when you get them home too, there is a lot of noise at kennels as they are communicating and playing. There is a reason to make a noise! Socialising dogs is always a good thing, they need it to be healthy and balanced. I line dogs up with similar sizes and temperaments to limit intimidation. I let most things go except dominant behaviour towards me, which only happens from time to time. At most I have to simply use my body as a block if they try to push past me, or feed them last if they are pushy at dinner time and mug me for the food and make them sit, wait and show manners, simple. Often they behave better for me than their own owners! My body language is always calm and assertive they follow my lead VERY well. For people inspecting kennels 1) Don’t go in to admire or pity the pooches.It’s not a pound, they all have loving, responsible owners coming back for them!
    2)Take note of how the place smells and the cleanliness.
    3)Do the dogs generally look happy, tails wagging and yes barking! (like children, when everythings too quiet I check to see what they’re up to!)
    4)Is the fascility secure?
    5)Is there a vet on call?
    6)Can diets be altered for special needs?
    7)Can medication the dog may need be administered?
    8)Is the kennel strict on vaccination requirements? If a kennel isn’t too worried about the vacc, DON’T USE THEM! A good kennel will require FULL and current proof of vacc, should be a C5 minimum.
    9)What is the exercise regime?
    10) Get recommendations from family, friends and ask your vet. Talk with the people who run the kennel to make sure you have confidence in them.
    And finally, as hard as it is, when it comes time to leave your dog don’t cry! Dog’s as you know sense our energy and how we are feeling. They will pick up on that. Make it a great fun exciting thing. Be happy! You are being a responsible owner and giving your dog what it needs. Time apart is a healthy thing. I find it frustrating when owners seem disappointed to hear their dogs have done exceptionally well with out them. It’s not that your dog doesn’t love you! It simply means the dog is well adjusted and balanced, that’s exactly what you want! It is pure selfishness to want your dog to sulk with out you. With the right person and kennel, your dog will thrive and have a wonderful holiday, as you are! I LOVE my job and the opportunity to give dogs ‘reality checks’ remind them they are dogs and let em have a ball. Proof is when dogs arrive, run out the car to the kennel to pick their spot or into the office to say G’day and give me a smooch, what a hard job!!!

    Reply
  9. Hi Karen, great artlcle I have just been spending alot of time looking for a new sitter as I don’t board. I am too a Mom and writer. I am also a dog trainer and photographer. Great blog

    Reply
  10. I just moved to a new state to be with my husband, and we had two week long vacations planned this summer. I posted an ad on Craigslist in the Community (Pets) section asking if there was a family or couple who would like to have my two Labradors come stay with them for those weeks. I visited a couple places after reading several emails and fielding phone calls. The perfect couple emerged–they recently lost an 18 year old Lab and aren’t quite ready for a new puppy yet. They showed so much interest in my Labs (who came to visit and were laying on the floor fast asleep within minutes). They are only charging my $25 a day- they have a large fenced in yard and the man is retired and home all day. I looked through their scrapbooks, etc….very nice. We are going to “try” them out for a couple of overnights to make sure it gels. They both had references, etc…so I hope it all works out well! :) Thanks for the wonderful website!

    What a very creative solution! Hope it turns out to be the perfect solution for you.

    Thanks for your wonderful comments!

    Reply
  11. Finding a great pet sitter or boarder can be a job in & of itself! When we got our dogs, I swear we went to dozens of doggy daycares.

    We have used several around our town, and I’ve been pleased with them all, but the one we use almost exclusively now is wonderful. She caters to small dogs only (we have chihuahuas); the dogs sleep where they want to in their home — usually in their bed (don’t ask me where the humans sleep!); and she even does a little training with them!

    She has boasted that Chester is bilingual: he knows my sign for sit & hers.

    On top of all that, she picks them up & brings them back for a very minimal fee! And the dogs absolutely adore her. In fact, they just stare at the door after she leaves . . .As there’s a very real possibility we’ll have to move in the near future, I’m just heartsick about finding a place as great as this.

    We use a pet sitter for the cats. Because of the cats, we can’t have a doggy door, and just a couple of visits a day would never, ever work for the dogs.

    A few other things to ask pet sitters:

    What do you do in case of an ice storm (or other severe storms)?

    Are you capable of giving my cats medications? My current cats aren’t on any meds, but I had years when my elderly cats were getting sub-q fluids & a variety of pills — and my pet sitter did all that (and my cats weren’t good patients)

    How do you prevent the cat from running out the door when you come in?

    What happens if you lose the key?

    And because now I’m writing an article, one last thing: instead of leaving a diary, I have my pet sitter leave a message on our answering machine after each visit, so I know daily how they’re doing. Some people have their pet sitters call from their own phones while they’re there, so that they know they’re actually there!

    More great points! Many thanks. 

    Reply
  12. We’ve never boarded Pappy– so far we’ve been fortunate to have a student from the nearby college as housesitter during most absences. Though she’s not necessarily a dog person, she’s awfully responsible and he responds well to her. I’ve always had a “housesitting should be our first choice” attitude, though I am not sure it’s all that well founded.

    I completely understand this attitude. It’s my first choice too, but I can’t always find someone available whom I trust. And — I’m getting down and kissing the ground — I’ve finally found another boarding situation that I love, love, love!

    Reply
  13. Thanks for the tips! I only hope I’ll be able to go SOMEwhere this summer. Maybe I’ll do some dog friendly camping.

    LOL! Oh, I know that feeling. Our annual vacation is actually a family get-together with 25 of us sharing one house! So it’s not really a vacation for us moms.

    Reply
  14. The only person/place I trust with the two standard poodles and tabby cat is my mom aka Gwandma. They adore her, she adores them. They get excellent care, lots of brushing, treats and attention and they have Mom’s two SPs to keep them entertained. If a kennel was needed I’d get advice from the veterinarian. If she didn’t want to board the animals at her family’s home she would know a good place for them to go to camp.

    My mother was my first and only choice until her GSD and Kiera started having kerfluffles some years back. They’re not serious and I don’t have a problem watching her dog, but she finds it too stressful to watch ours with hers. Sigh… 

    Reply
  15. Great post!! I agonized over where to leave our kitty when we went on our honeymoon. We ended up boarding her with the vet which was not bad, but not my ideal either. We do have a devoted animal lover who we can call on from time to time but is not a professional sitter. I am considering offering to pay this friend from now on so she can do it on a more regular basis.

    We pay one of Cait’s friends to come and check on Finn while we’re away. The money does seem to help as an incentive.

    Reply
  16. The weirdest boarding kennel story I’ve ever heard was the couple who swear the dog they picked up was not the dog they dropped off. Yet they took the dog home before they said anything. I can’t imagine how this could happen.

    OMG!!! On so many levels…! 

    Reply
  17. Morena stays at the kennel run by the vet who nursed her back to health. They have a nice backyard with dirt and grass, and they take the dogs out every day. I think it’s important to ask if big and small dogs are kept separated during play time, because small dogs like Morena are afraid of big dogs.

    Also, I drop off Morena with her sleeping pad and when I pick her up, the pad is in the same condition it was when I dropped her off. This shows that a) the pens are kept clean, and b) she’s not nervous (otherwise she’d tear the pad to shreds).

    They require proof of immunization for all dogs, and they obviously have veterinary services on-site. If you board your dog with a pet-sitter, make sure he/she has 24-hr. access to a vet.

    Hope that helps, it’s always torture leaving her… :(

    Great points. Yes, bedding is always a great clue. And definitely check to see how they select dogs to have playtime together. It’s torture leaving mine too. I hate it. But knowing they’re somewhere safe and well-cared for (even if not happy about it) helps.

    Reply

Leave a Comment