Dog in kennel
Many dog owners dread the prospect of boarding their dogs, but a kennel stay these days is often a resort- or camp-like experience for dogs, with comfortable beds, televisions with pet-friendly programming, and sometimes even swimming pools, agility equipment and other amenities. And with the right preparation, your dog may be as excited about his “vacation” as you are about yours. So we asked dog trainer Laura Roach, director of Behavior Buddies for Camp Bow Wow, how to help ensure a dog has a comfortable, happy and healthy stay at a boarding facility.

Choosing the Right Place

Of course, the first step is finding a dog hotel or boarding facility that’s a good fit for you and your pooch. Roach recommends checking out multiple facilities to find one where your dog will be happy and that meets your expectations for your pet’s care. “If you walk into the facility and feel uncomfortable for any reason, look at another one,” she urges. “It is important that you feel comfortable about where your dog is staying.”

Of course, the facility should look and smell clean, but you should also keep an eye out for safety hazards where your dog will be sleeping or playing, such as sharp edges or holes in fencing. Also smart: See how staff members interact with the dogs in their care.

Here are some questions to ask boarding facility managers before booking your dog’s stay:

  • Can I see your entire facility? (If the answer is no, think twice about whether you want to leave your dog there.)
  • What happens if my dog becomes injured or sick while in your care?
  • If my dog misbehaves, how will you and your staff handle it?
  • What type of training does your staff receive on dog handling and behavior? How often do they receive continuing education?
  • What are your vaccination requirements?
  • Is your staff certified in pet first aid and CPR?
  • Is a veterinarian on staff or on call? Will that person contact my vet directly? 
  • Is there a staff member watching the dogs at night?
  • Can I bring my dog’s own food, toys and bedding?
  • Do you charge extra for giving medication or feeding my dog his own food?
  • What kind of attention from or interaction with people will my dog have daily? Is there an additional charge for playtime or cuddling? For extra walks?
 If you’re unhappy with any of the responses to these questions, consider checking out another facility.

Preparing Your Pooch

Once you choose a place, it’s a good idea to take your dog for a visit beforehand. Let him sniff around the lobby and allow the staff to give him a treat or two. You may also book daycare or an overnight to get your dog acclimatized before a longer stay. “This will give your dog a positive association with the facility,” Roach says. “You could also ask if you could drop off a blanket to keep there for a day to get the facility’s smell on it. Then bring it home so your dog gets used to the smells of the facility.” Then when you take your dog to the kennel or dog hotel, ask the facility if it’s OK to leave him with the scent of home, such as an old T-shirt of yours or his favorite toy or blanket. 

Kennels typically require proof of vaccination for rabies, distemper and bordetella, but rules vary, so be sure to ask about the requirements of your boarding facility and then confirm with your vet that everything is in order, so you will be able to get your health certificate. Young puppies who haven’t completed their first series of vaccinations shouldn’t be boarded. Also, if you are going to be difficult to reach, make sure to have an emergency contact who is empowered to make decisions for you — including medical and financial ones — with the boarding facility and the veterinarian. 

Finally, book ahead, Roach says. “Boarding facilities, especially the more desirable ones, fill up weeks to months ahead of time for holidays.”

More on