What Are Dog Boarding Kennels Like?
There used to be no place like home for a dog when the family went away. But these days, there’s a place that might be even better than home, dog boarding kennels.
Like so many dog owners, Reba Love, a retired accounting professor from Panama City, Florida, is shunning the traditional kennel when she leaves town. Instead, she is opting to give her pooch a vacation of its own. Love takes her three-year-old Weimaraner, Chloe, to Beaches Pet Resort when she has to travel. The upscale pet boarding facility in Northern Florida offers luxury accommodations, including extra playtime with staff. Rooms have tile floors and soft blankets. Love often opts for the larger room with a doggie door, so Chloe can go out into the courtyard whenever she pleases.
“You can pay more for a room with a TV,” Love says. “But I have no idea what they watch.” While she doesn’t want Chloe to be a couch potato, Love has been thinking about treating her beloved pet to a bubble bath the next time she goes out-of-town.
Modern-Day Dog Boarding Kennels
Unless you take your dog with you on trips, vacations often mean that man’s best friend ends up being boarded in kennels. These days, many facilities nationwide are eschewing the “kennel” label and are donning such nicknames as “Doggie Utopia.” In Topanga, California, Canyon View Ranch bills itself as a “Canine Shangri la,” where dogs can run on manicured lawns, climb ramps, and crawl through tunnels in Disneyland-inspired parks.
Camp Bow Wow offers all-day romping, while overnight guests get tasty “campfire treats” before being tucked into cots in their cabins. Camp Webcams help families monitor pups over the Internet from wherever they are, the beach, the ski resort, or the Champs Elysees.
“Our clients typically humanize their pets a bit. They see them as their kids,” says Heidi Flammang, Camp Bow Wow founder, and CEO. “The thought of leaving their dog alone in a box for 24 hours a day is too much.”
Here’s how to decide if a pet resort is right for your pooch:
What to Look For in Dog Boarding Kennels
Never decide on a boarding facility from a brochure or the Internet. You have to visit the grounds, meet the staff, and see how the facility operates. A good kennel is clean, well-ventilated, air-conditioned in the summer, and heated in the winter. The team should interact with pets. “When dogs are at home, they’re generally with family members being touched and petted. Suddenly, you put them in a kennel with handlers who never touch them, and it can be quite traumatic,” says Elizabeth Wilmot, owner of Countryside Kennels, in Owings, Md., and the Mid-Atlantic regional director of the American Boarding Kennels Association.
Consider Your Dog’s Temperament
Many of these kennel redux owners shy away from cages and encourage dogs to play in groups by romping, running, and chasing. Cage-Free K-9 Camp, of Los Angeles, allows overnight guests to sleep in a 2,000-square-foot, climate-controlled loft on individual dog beds. In the TV lounge, they show Animal Planet. And over at Camp Bow Wow, despite the fact each dog is given a private dining space, all dogs are temperament-tested. “We have an interview process,” Flammang says. A dog needs to enjoy the company of other dogs to be boarded in a communal environment. Otherwise, individual rooms are a better bet.
How to Pack For Your Dog’s Holiday
Like children, dogs sometimes do best on “sleepovers” when they have a comfort item to remind them of home. Check with a facility before bringing a blanket, a towel, or a favorite toy, Wilmot says. Bringing your things is usually fine if your pet has its own “room” or run. It may be more difficult (or provoke aggressive behavior) in the group environment. You may want to bring your food to the kennel for dogs with sensitive stomachs or special diets.
Many luxury kennels provide top-notch fare for overnight guests, such as the “healthy lamb-and-rice diet with Glucosamine” included in the $50-a-night rate at Canyon View Ranch. Medications will also be administered on-site at most pet resorts, although some charge extra. No matter where your dog stays, you’ll want to spring for a bath and flea dip before bringing your pet back home.
These new-fangled pet resorts may cost a tad more than the old-style kennel, but pup parents say the price is worth the peace of mind. “This is my baby,” Love explains of her dog, Chloe. “She’s a 70-pound baby, but she’s still my baby.”
How Do I Prepare My Dog For Boarding Kennels?
When Lisa Cook, a lecturer at the University of Central Florida, heads home to New Jersey for the holidays, she leaves behind a beloved family member: Stella, Cook’s Australian Cattle Dog, boards at an Orlando Veterinary Hospital.
“They insist that Stella be vaccinated for bordetella [an infectious bacterial illness] and rabies,” says Cook. “I also take her food along, so she doesn’t get an upset stomach due to new food.”
If you too will be boarding your dog during the holidays, now is the time to plan for your pet’s healthy, happy stay. Create a dog-boarding checklist to avoid last-minute hassles and worries about your pet’s health.
The Before-Boarding Checklist
Oscar E. Chavez, DVM, MBA, Member of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition, says the following are a few steps you’ll most likely need to take to help put everything in place before the significant drop off occurs.
For Your Dog’s Physical Health
Medically, you’ll need to make sure your dog is up to date on her vaccines before you board her, says Dr. Chavez. “This includes the famous Bordetella bronchiseptica, aka Kennel Cough,” he said. “Most boarding facilities will require proof of Bordetella vaccination within the last six months and a current Rabies vaccine.”
Timing is everything when it comes to these vaccines, too. It’s easy for pet parents to lose track of vaccine dates, which could cause a last-minute, stressful rush to the vet. “While some boarding facilities will be satisfied with a last-minute vaccine, it’s important to note that your pet only mounts an effective immune response several days following it. So if you do it all at the last minute, they may not truly be protected,” says Dr. Chavez.
Additionally, just because your pet has had all her vaccines doesn’t mean she’s clear for avoiding common boarding ailments (like Kennel Cough or fleas). “Like the flu vaccine, no dog vaccine is 100% effective, so it’s worth doing what we can to maximize their efficacy,” says the vet.
Other things to keep in mind when it comes to your dog’s health include flea prevention, de-worming, and preventative care. “Many dogs are flea allergic,” says Dr. Chavez, “and the April, May, June season is the worst for it. I see owners come in and spend over $200 on treatments for flea allergies (antibiotics, etc.) when it could have been prevented. Don’t let the boarding facility become a source of fleas for your home unnecessarily.”
For Your Dog’s Mental Health
Physical health prep before boarding is necessary, sure, but don’t forget the psychological preparation, as well. “In short, don’t make it a big deal,” says Dr. Chavez. “Research has shown that domestic dogs are better than any other species on reading human cues and body language — so if you’re anxious, he will be anxious.”
Instead, try to stay calm and make things fun. Consider how you would talk to your kids excitedly about going to Grandma’s for the weekend, and use that same thought process to gear your dog up for getting excited about being boarded.
It doesn’t hurt to drop off food for your pup (in fact, some kennels require this) and a few of his favorite treats to help him feel more comfortable, too.
If you’ve properly prepped your pet, a couple of days of being boarded can be a fun experience to get to meet and play with new people and puppy friends. And after all, absence makes the heart grow fonder. So just think of what your reunion will be like when you’re finally back together!
“Make sure all vaccinations are current at least a week to 10 days before boarding your dog,” says Sherry Boyer, owner of the Dog House Inn in Gilroy, Calif. Dogs occasionally show symptoms of canine cough or bordetella from the vaccine. A boarding facility won’t be able to tell the difference between shot-related symptoms and the real illness, explains Boyer.
Call the boarding facility to inquire about what its vaccination requirements are. Bring proof of the vaccinations with you when you arrive at the facility. Some places also require a clean fecal report as proof that your dog doesn’t have worms.
Visit Your Veterinarian
Even if a facility doesn’t require a veterinarian’s clearance, it’s good to schedule a checkup for your dog within 30 days of its stay. Especially if your dog has chronic ailments or is elderly, says CeCe Campbell, the camp ranger at Camp Bow Wow Northglenn in Northglenn, Colo.
Double-Check Medication Supplies
Ensure medication supplies are adequate for the stay and bring the prescription in its original container. “It’s essential that if your dog has a reaction, or another dog ingests the medication, the staff knows what the prescription is and the dosage amount,” says Campbell.
Keep Up With Flea Prevention
Almost every facility will require you to treat your dog with a monthly flea preventive. Schedule a treatment just before your dog checks in to the kennel, recommends Greg Martinez, DVM.
Questions to Ask At the Boarding Kennel
Steer clear of boarding facilities that don’t offer direct, thoroughly explained answers to all your questions. Here’s what to know:
Can Your Dog Eat Its Usual Food?
Dogs may have touchy digestive systems, says Dr. Martinez. Your dog will likely fare better if it can follow its usual diet, so when possible, carefully label its food before boarding.
What Treats Are Given to the Dogs?
A facility might serve your dog its usual food but offer unfamiliar treats. Often, treats contain more gluten and byproducts than commercial foods, and some dogs have trouble digesting the goodies, notes Dr. Martinez.
How Will the Facility Handle Dog Health Issues?
Ask if the kennel has a relationship with a veterinarian or if veterinary technicians are on staff.
Share the Right Information About You and Your Dog
Your dog is more likely to enjoy a safe, healthy stay if you also keep the boarding facility well informed. Let the kennel know the following:
Any Special Needs For Your Dog
If your dog is prone to anxiety, aggression, or other issues, let the kennel know. Early booking can ensure that your dog receives the right boarding space, says Campbell.
Your Contact Information
Share your emergency contact number, along with a local number for someone not traveling with you. Provide contact information for your pet’s veterinarian.
Any Dog Allergies
Provide a list of your dog’s potential allergens along with its other known health information.
How Do I Get My Dog Used to Boarding?
If your dog hasn’t boarded in a while, Boyer and Campbell recommend a half-day or so of doggie daycare in the facility. Reintroducing your pup to the facility will ease stress during the actual boarding stay.
As you’re shopping, packing, and otherwise planning for your holiday trip, following this checklist may seem like a daunting task. But keep in mind why you’re taking these steps: “It’s about your dog’s safety and health,” says Boyer.