13 Considerations when choosing to board your dog while on vacation
Thinking about a family vacation, but not all the family gets to go? One of the most stressful parts of planning a trip is making sure that you find your pet the best alternative accommodations possible. If you’re worried about your pooch back home, you certainly won’t be enjoying your time away.
Of course, having a trusted friend or family member stay at your home and maintain your dog’s routine is the best option. But that situation may not always be possible. Your next avenue? Ask friends for recommendations; often quality facilities don’t heavily advertise, because they don’t need to.
Next, you’ll want to do your due diligence and visit the facility. As all of us know, anything can look good on the internet. Arm yourself with the following information, so that you can ask questions in the best interest of your pet.
1/Does the boarding facility know how to manage multiple dogs?
First and most importantly, make sure the facility that you entrust with your pet has experience with multi-dog boarding and manages the dogs rather than just loves them. That may sound like an odd piece of advice, but your dog gets plenty of one-on-one love at home. What he needs while you’re on vacation is a responsible facility that understands how to acclimate him to his temporary environment. Cuddles may not be enough.
2/What happens overnight?
Often boarding facilities close for several hours overnight and don’t have a human monitoring the dogs. If just one of the canine guests experiences anxiety and barks, the whole pack can become stressed. It’s important to have someone onsite to calm the dog and attempt to discover the source of his anxiety. There are many methods to holistically calm a pet when in a stressful environment - from a treat-filled Kong to a quiet, enclosed den. Make sure that the spot you choose has experience with this kind of situation - not just for your dog, who may be fine in his new environment - but for any others, so that your dog can get a good night’s sleep.
So ask how the dogs are monitored overnight. Is there a staff person in the room? Do they do hourly checks? Or does the staff use cameras to keep tabs on their guests?
3/Where will my dog be sleeping?
On the surface, you may feel reassured by leaving your dog at a facility that doesn’t kennel or crate your dog at night, especially if that’s how he sleeps at home. If dogs are allowed to sleep in a big dog pile, you tell yourself that it’s like a Disney movie with them playing cards and telling jokes all night. However, I always explain to my clients that it’s similar to when humans vacation with friends. We spend all day together - swimming, skiing, sightseeing - whatever. Then we head out for drinks and dinner and more conversation. But around 11 p.m., if you’re anything like me, I hit a wall. The last thing in the world that I want is for those friends to follow me back to my hotel room and hop into my bed.
There’s a reason for the saying, "let sleeping dogs lie.” They don’t like to be disturbed while resting. If they’re not given private quarters, they won’t get adequate rest. Anytime dogs aren’t kenneled, they should be monitored by humans.
KidTripster Tip: Make sure to ask if the dogs’ sleeping quarters are climate-controlled.
4/What will my dog be eating?
Make sure that the facility is willing to feed your dog his own food. A potentially stressful time away from home is no time to be changing a dog’s diet.
5/How will my dog be introduced to the pack?
You want to look for a facility where the employees take the time to introduce your dog to the other guests slowly and and at his comfort level. Be wary of facilities that simply open the gate and push your dog into a group situation.
6/What does playtime look like?
Another tip-off that the prospective boarding facility doesn’t understand dog behavior istoys in common play areas. When dogs are together, the interaction with each other is enough stimulation. Toys can and do cause problems and aren’t necessary.
If you’re leaving your friend at a facility that allows group play (which I encourage for most dogs), be sure to ask how the dogs are separated and monitored. If small and large dogs are allowed in the same area during playtime, it’s another sign that the employees aren’t well versed in pack play. It’s just plain unsafe.
Also make sure that older dogs are given adequate rest time and not put in with the "party animals.” Puppies also should be given special consideration, as they may not yet have the proper social skills; older dogs won’t want to take the time to teach them.
Finally, be sure to ask how many dogs are out together at a time, how they are monitored, and how their pack is chosen.
7/Am I being realistic about my dog’s personality?
It’s important that you're realistic about your dog’s personality, so that you can let the facility know as much as possible in advance. For instance, not all dogs will be happy in a spot that has "pack play.”
8/Is the facility secure?
If the boarding facility has an outdoor play area, how will your dog be confined? Are there fences and 24-7 supervision? If you know that your dog is a jumper, you may want to find a more secure facility.
9/How does the facility handle emergencies?
Make sure that the spot you choose has emergency plans in place with proper release and waiver forms. Also, make sure that employees have a policy for informing you in advance regarding any issues.
10/Does the facility charge for extras?
Boarding facilities that charge extra for treats and petting sessions should cause you to think twice. I just can't get past the visual of a caregiver giving out "good night" treats and passing by the dogs whose owners declined to pay for that perk. I feel that the people who care for dogs must be passionate about what they do - regardless of extra compensation.
11/How difficult is it to make a reservation?
Most reputable boarding facilities have limited capacity. Because of that, there’s often high demand. It’s never too early to book.
12/Is the facility willing to communicate with me while on vacation?
Even if you’re confident in your decision, you may need a little reassurance during your dog’s stay. Is the owner or employees willing to email or text you updates or photos? Some dog resorts even maintain social media accounts, where you can check daily to see what your best friend has been up to in your absence. As they say, a picture (of a happy pup) is worth a thousand words.
13/Do I have a good feeling about the place?
Trust your gut. Don’t settle for some place that you don't feel good about. A boarding facility that’s perfect for one type of dog may be overwhelming for yours. If you establish a relationship with the people who’ll be caring for your friend, they’ll understand his needs each visit and be ready to make him comfortable; he’ll be going to visit friends, while you’re on vacation. If you choose his temporary home wisely, chances are that you’ll miss him more than he’ll miss you.
Sunni Liston is the owner of Dogpatch Resort in Estacada, Oregon. She’s been boarding dogs while their families are on vacation for over 15 years.