Pet parents searching for a suitable boarding kennel to care for their pets while they are away from their homes can be faced with a bewildering array of choices. There are a number of different types of boarding options for dogs, and it’s important to look beyond a shiny website to determine the best service for your pet. Not all dogs do well at traditional boarding facilities and may do better staying with a local pet sitter who takes in one or a few dogs at a time to live in their home. Conversely, some dogs – especially those dogs that are not the most dog-social of pooches – will do better in a kennel environment with their own dedicated living space and run. Some dogs tend to do better in their own home with a pet sitter who moves in to stay with them in their own environment.
The following information will provide an overview of how to choose the right boarding facility for your pet, how to prepare for the boarding experience, and some resources on how to find boarding facilities.
Different dogs have different needs. Before choosing what type of service your dog is best suited to, it’s important to itemize a few things about your dog’s personality to help decide. Ask yourself questions such as:
• Is my dog fearful of new people?
• Is my dog fearful in new places?
• Is my dog aggressive towards people or other dogs?
• Is my dog very social and loves people?
• Does my dog have a history of separation anxiety or isolation distress?
• Has my dog ever bitten another person or animal?
An easy way to decide on the best option is to think about what kind of situation would make your dog the happiest. If your dog is fearful, anxious, or does not deal with new environments well, it makes sense to have someone stay at your home while you are away. If your dog loves to go on adventures and is social toward other dogs and people, an in-home boarding solution in a pet sitter’s home where there are other dogs and frequent outings might be ideal. If your dog has behavioural issues such as acute fearfulness or aggression towards unknown people or dogs, a boarding facility where the dog enjoys his/her own kennel may be the best solution.
Most boarding facilities and in-home dog sitters will have a comprehensive questionnaire that you will fill out to provide them with information about your dog which will help them also determine if your dog will be successful in their environment. Many ethical and reputable dog sitters and facilities will be happy to provide suggestions or recommendations for other services or service providers if they feel their environment will not be one in which your dog can stay relatively stress-free.
Now that you’ve narrowed down the type of service that is best for your dog it’s time to decide which facility or service you will hire. Here are some checklist items to consider before signing on the dotted line and dropping off your pet for their stay:
In an article for Whole Dog Journal, Nancy Tucker, CPDT-KA, lists a number of checklist items for owners to have in mind when choosing a commercial boarding facility. The below list draws from her recommendations.
As well, some kennels may require the following:
13. How is Feeding Handled?
Find out if the kennel staff is willing and able to maintain the diet you specified for your dog. Will they honor your instructions to refrain from feeding a particular food item to your dog if your dog has diet restrictions? If you bring a week’s worth of your dog’s special treats, will they arrange to give them as requested? If you feed raw, does the kennel have fridges available to store your food? Are they willing to accommodate home-cooked and able to store it safely if that is your dog’s regular diet?
14. Is There a Night Shift?
Many boarding facilities have a night shift person or video equipment to monitor animals at night. Does the facility have an appropriate emergency alert and response plan in place if animals are alone at night?
15. Does the facility come highly recommended?
In the end, a boarding facility’s reputation says a lot about its operation. Don’t rely on advertising or a great-looking website. Get references from people who use their services. Ask local vet clinic staff about them. Most facilities are happy to provide some client references you can contact.
Some pets will be more comfortable staying in a home with a pet sitter. Many of the above questions are applicable when choosing an in-home pet sitter but keep in mind that your service provider does not operate a commercial or storefront facility so asking for a “tour of the facility” will likely be an imposition. However, it is reasonable to ask to meet the provider in their home, where you will get a sense of the suitability of the environment for your pet. As a matter of fact, knowledgeable pet sitters will insist on meeting your dog, and some even require a try-out night to be sure your dog will be comfortable for a longer-term stay.
Here are some important considerations when choosing to board your dog at someone’s home:
Companies like Rover, Wag, or many local small pet care businesses can match you with a pet sitter who will stay in your home while you are away to care for your pet. For many, this is an ideal scenario, but as with other services, the level of professionalism or knowledge that the sitter holds will need to be determined prior to hiring that sitter. As with any other type of service, there are great pet sitters who invest in education or keep up to date with current best practices but there are also those who may not approach the job with the same level of preparedness or professionalism. Interview your candidates carefully to determine if they are the right fit for you.
Book a meet and greet with your sitter to have them over to your home. Experienced pet sitters will come armed with a number of questions about the care your pet needs, their routines, their feeding schedule, any health concerns and any behavioural concerns they need to know about. They should also be insured and bonded.
It’s very reasonable for you to have a number of questions as well, and to lay out what your expectations for care are. Communication about exactly what service you need and what service the caregiver provides is an essential tool of business so don’t be shy to let the pet sitter know you’re your needs are.
Along with many of the questions outlined in the above section (Choosing an In Home Boarding Service), lay out your guidelines and expectations for the care of your home and your dog. Be reasonable, of course, but communicate clearly if there are restrictions on having visitors over or if there are any special rules surrounding the house stay. Provide clear written instructions for the care of your dog and be sure to list where food, brushes, toys, leashes, jackets, and medication (if relevant) are kept. If your dog requires medication, be sure to write out exact instructions on how to dose the dog and how often. Make sure the sitter is comfortable doing so prior to hiring that sitter – often it’s a good idea to address this on your initial phone call or email to determine if a meet and greet is to be scheduled or not with this sitter. There is no sense in arranging to meet someone who does not as part of their service provide pilling or other in-home medical care.
Be sure to let your sitter know if other service providers will be entering the home while you are away (such as a cleaning service) and be sure to provide your pet sitter with your contact information while away as well as an emergency contact information number and your vet information, including vaccination records. It is a good idea to call your vet in advance to let them know that someone will be staying with your cat while you are away so they have that person’s name on file in case of illness or injury that requires a vet visit in your absence. Your vet office will likely also ask for a credit card number to retain on file as well.
As with every other pet-sitting or boarding option, checking references is imperative. Don’t simply rely on a couple of Yelp reviews, obtain the phone numbers of former clients and call them.
Doing a bit of research in advance (and leaving yourself enough time to do so) can make the difference between a great and stress-free experience for you and your dog and one that is not so great. Once you have found a pet sitter that works for you, you will likely return to that service each time you need care for your pet so the advanced research into finding the right solution will provide peace of mind and stability for your pet for future trips. It is definitely time well spent.
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