While a vacation can be very exciting for many of us, it can also leave a pang of anxiety in the hearts of many dog owners. While travelling with dogs has become more welcomed and accessible for people, it's not always feasible in every circumstance.
Finding the right place to entrust your pets while you're away can feel very overwhelming, and you may not always know where to start. We personally went through this process last year when we moved to a new city, so I can relate to that stress wholeheartedly!
Here are some things we looked for in our search for the right boarding facility, and I hope that these tips can help you find the right fit for your furry friends.
🚩 Certifications & Licenses
Always ask to see licenses when you visit a new kennel, and never be afraid to head for the door if they can’t provide legitimate documents. License types can vary depending on where you live (be sure to check your municipality guidelines beforehand), but at the very least, overnight kennels generally need some type business license to operate in Canada. In addition, you can also inquire about things like pet first aid certificates, or any courses that the staff undergo to work at that location. The Ontario SPCA also recommends checking the Better Business Bureau to see whether any complaints have been lodged against a kennel you are considering.
🚩 Veterinary Access
Generally speaking, a boarding facility should have access to a veterinarian that they know and trust 24/7 (via phone). When checking out a new location, ask the question - What's the boarding facility's general protocol if veterinary care is ever needed?
🚩 Vaccination Policy
A reputable dog care facility will always have vaccination requirements for your dog to be able to enter the facility. After all, a wide variety of dogs attending kennel care comes hand in hand with a wide variety of illnesses that could easily transmit from dog to dog without the proper precautions. These precautions are in place to maintain the health and welfare of any dog that comes into the kennel.
🚩 Assessment Days
Often called "trial days", these are usually a half day at the kennel, where the kennel staff determines if your dog is a good fit for their facility. Not only this, but a reputable kennel will take that time to assess and plan the best route for success during the upcoming boarding period (i.e. is the dog happy with other dogs, or would they benefit from more one-on-one human time?). Usually this is noted within their internal files for easy access amongst staff.
🚩 Strategies to mitigate FAS (fear, anxiety, and stress).
Learning more about procedures in place for stressed dogs is a big one that often gets overlooked. After all, the kennel experience can be stressful at first; pups are away from their families in a new space that they may not be used to. Never be afraid to ask what the general course of action is for dogs who experience stress during their stay. Does the kennel offer enrichment activities, quiet places to decompress, a soft place to relax?
🚩 Dog-to-Caretaker Ratio
Some boarding and daycare facilities just... go for it. All of the dogs, all together, all the time. Generally speaking, this can be the perfect recipe for disaster.
Dogs should have access to spaces away from other dogs if needed, and a place to decompress is always a good idea. If you see a huge gaggle of dogs and 1 human... red flag. A good facility will have trained staff with knowledge of dog behaviour and body language, and smaller groups of dogs per staff member to set the dogs (and staff) up for success.
In addition to the dog-to-caretaker ratio, it's important to get a general feel for the staff working at the location you're interested in (especially when they'll be the ones directly taking care of your pets). How do they seem with the dogs around them? How do their interactions make you feel? Keep in mind: There's a big difference between people who just "love dogs" and people who are truly "dog savvy" in a professional scenario.
In our search, we found that many kennels hired seasonal staff (usually very young summer students). While summer students can be great, to a certain extent they can also be a red flag if there aren't enough senior staff to balance out the numbers. For example: If you see a giant gated area of dogs and a 15 year-old staff member overseeing play, not only is this a potential liability for the dogs, but it can also be dangerous for the staff member. Dog fights are extremely serious and can be exceedingly hard to break up; giving a young student that responsibility should never be taken lightly. Always trust your gut!
🚩 Indoor & Outdoor Facilities
I always recommend leaning towards a kennel that has both indoor and outdoor facilities (or even better - indoor/outdoor access). This is a preference of mine and not necessarily a "red flag" when I see otherwise, but I consider it a preference for a good reason. For example: Say you board your dog at PetSmart for two days, which has no outdoor facilities (indoor kennels, indoor play areas only), that has one included walk a day. If staff gets tied up with something else, there's a chance that they could be forced to forego that walk. That's a lot of time indoors, and personally wouldn't suit my dogs very well.
Additionally, ensuring that these facilities (whether indoors or out) are maintained & extremely secure will also give you peace of mind.
🚩 Cleanliness, Ventilation, & Temperature Control
Any facilities housing, training, or watching over multiple dogs should have a strict cleaning routine in order to stop the spread of germs and possible illness. Not only that, but your dogs should also have a properly ventilated, temperature controlled space (especially if you're boarding during the heat of summer).
🚩 Read The Fine Print!
A place might look fine and dandy, but did you fully read their policies and agreements? It might sound like common sense, but always be sure to read agreements thoroughly and ask any questions that you may have. If a place seems to good to be true, it might be a good idea to check the kennel company's reviews and give them a once over.
ADDITIONAL TIPS FOR SUCCESS
When it comes to attending a new kennel, one of my best pieces of advice would be to take your dog a few times prior to their first overnight stay. This helps the facility become a familiar place, and helps your dogs get to know the staff better (and vice versa). Prior to Bindi & Rosie's first overnight stay, we took them to the kennel for one day of daycare a week for 1 month. Not only did this help the dogs feel better, but also ourselves. It eased our minds to see the dogs get excited to see the staff once they had a couple of visits, and also to see the facility at multiple different times (it was reassuring to see the kennel's interactions with other clients, getting to talk to other clients about their experience, etc).
Lastly, while we weren't able to take physical tours during our search (which took place during the heat of Covid), I always recommend taking one if you're able to. Even if it's with a staff member over Facetime, a reputable facility should have no problem accommodating this for you.
At the end of the day, do your research and trust your gut! With a little detective work, you'll find the right fit for your canine companions.
SOURCES & FURTHER READING