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Great Dane puppy dog sleeping in her crate or kennel

The essentials

  • Boarding can be an alternative to traveling with your dog — Housing your dog at a boarding facility can save them the stress of travel, especially flying.
  • You have options — Research kennels and local dog sitters to find the best boarding solution for your dog.
  • Preparation is key to a good boarding experience — Book in advance and pack your dog a bag of essentials to make their stay as comfortable as possible.

The moment has finally come. You have a big trip coming up but nowhere to leave your precious pup while you’re away. Many owners opt to leave their dog with a trusted friend or family member in these situations — but what do you do when none of them are available, either? That’s where professional boarding facilities come in.

If you’ve never enlisted their services, a boarding facility can seem like a cold, scary place to leave a dog. How are they going to react around unfamiliar people and other dogs? Will they be mad at you for leaving them there? These are perfectly normal questions for first-time boarders.

The good news is that boarding your dog doesn’t have to be scary or unpleasant. Follow these tips to find the best boarding facility for your dog’s needs and ensure they’re comfortable during their stay.

1. Different kennels have different rules

Every boarding facility has a unique set of rules regarding the different aspects of canine care, including:

  • Feeding policies
  • Walking and playtime schedules
  • Whether or not they’re comfortable administering medications
  • Protocol in the event of a medical emergency

Many pet owners conduct phone interviews with kennels to learn more about these basic policies and how long each facility has been in business. Look up references online to make sure other clients recommend that facility, and plan an in-person tour of the facility before scheduling to make sure it’s the best choice for your dog.

2. Get your dog’s vaccinations in order

While other policies may differ from kennel to kennel, all of them will require you to provide proof that your dog is up-to-date on core vaccines for diseases like canine parvovirus, distemper, canine hepatitis, and rabies. Kennels can be the perfect breeding ground for these diseases since they house many dogs in the same area. Making sure your dog is up to date on their vaccines is a quick, easy way to minimize their chances of getting sick.

You'll want to ask your vet about bordetella and canine influenza vaccines. Upper respiratory illnesses can spread quickly, even with the best of cleaning and disinfecting, so these vaccines are the best way to prevent serious symptoms.

Dr. Erica Irish 

3. Check for parasites 

Parasites like roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms can easily spread in areas with a lot of dogs. Many facilities will perform a routine parasite check on your dog before admitting them, and most will charge you for the full cost of treatment if any are found. To avoid this, we recommend asking your vet to conduct a fecal test to check for parasites before you drop off your dog.

4. Don’t change their diet 

Changes in diet can be a big shock to a dog’s digestive system, and many dogs can’t properly adjust to a new diet in the short time they stay at a boarding facility. Ask kennels about the type of food they provide, and if it’s different from the food you currently give your dog, ask about leaving them with your dog’s food.

5. Ask about space 

Any reputable facility will provide each dog with private accommodations to eat, sleep, and rest when they don’t feel up to interacting with other dogs. Ask the facility about their socialization policies and how many dogs they allow to interact at one time. The ideal number is around 3 — any more than that, and your dog may start to feel overwhelmed by the presence of so many new friends.

6. Check the cleanliness of the facility

As you may know from firsthand experience, more pets typically means more mess to clean up after. Commercial kennels are facilities that board at least 3 dogs, not to mention other pets like cats. This makes hygiene a top priority for your search. Ask each facility about their cleanliness standards during your phone interview, and note how clean everything looks, smells, and feels when you go in for the tour.

7. Medication and emergency instructions

If your dog is currently on any medications, it’s essential to leave them in the care of a facility that’s trained and comfortable administering them. Go over the correct dosage and schedule for your dog’s medications with the kennel staff, and provide them with detailed instructions on what to do in the event of a medical emergency.

👉 Leave your vet’s name and number with kennel staff in case of emergencies. 

It’s a good idea for more reactive or anxious dogs to have medications on hand just in case. Check with kennels for their policies on certain meds. At our resort, hormonal meds and insulin (any injectable med) are not permitted.

Dr. Erica Irish

8. Stay strong when it’s time to drop them off

If your dog notices that you’re visibly upset or stressed when leaving them at the kennel, they’re more likely to pick up on and mirror your anxieties. Make the transition as easy as you can for them by keeping goodbyes short, sweet, and simple. It’s not goodbye forever, after all! Plus, you’ll have more peace of mind knowing you left them in good spirits (and good hands).

9. Expect behavioral changes when you bring them home

Don’t worry if you notice your dog acting a little out of sorts after picking them up. It’s a normal part of the readjustment process. Many dogs exhibit increased hunger, thirst, and lethargy the first few days after coming home from the kennel. Some dogs may seem distant from their owners, while others will be overly clingy. In rare cases, dogs may also experience diarrhea. While diarrhea may seem alarming, it just means your dog is comfortable and excited to be back.

10. Trust your intuition 

Always trust your intuition when it comes to your dog’s care. Look elsewhere if even one aspect of a facility doesn’t sit right with you. Research all the options in your area, and consider leaving your pup with a private dog sitter if you’re uncomfortable with a commercial boarding facility.

11. Get to know the staff 

Take a few extra minutes to befriend the staff during the in-person tour. Ask if the same person will take care of your dog, or if their care will alternate between multiple staff members. Also, experience is key when it comes to quality pet care, so don’t be afraid to ask about staff members’ qualifications.

12. Start with a 1-day trial run 

If you’re unsure how your dog will respond to the boarding experience, you can always conduct a trial run by boarding them overnight or taking them to doggy daycare for a day. It may cost a little extra time and money, but it will be well worth the peace of mind you get from knowing your dog is at least somewhat familiar with their surroundings while you’re away.

13. Quality comes first 

Don’t skimp on your dog’s boarding care over cost. Most facilities offer different rates for daily, weekly, and monthly stays. You don’t need to break the bank on the fanciest facility in town, but it’d be a major disservice to you and your dog to settle for a questionable kennel just to save a few bucks. Remember, you’re paying for quality service and a stress-free vacation!

The best thing a first-time boarder can do is to make sure they’re making the best all-around choice for them and their dog. If you’re not 100 percent sure about a facility or its services, spare yourself the unnecessary stress and look elsewhere. After all, what’s the point of going on a trip if you’re constantly worried about your furry best friend?

Boarding your dog doesn’t have to be stressful. The more prepared you are for the experience, the happier they’ll be while you’re away.

Frequently asked questions

Is being boarded stressful for dogs?

Usually, yes. Many dogs experience separation anxiety when they’re away from their owner for an extended period. Pair that with the unfamiliar surroundings of a boarding facility, and it’s easy to see how the experience could be overwhelming for them. Research and preparation go a long way toward reducing your dog’s stress and making their stay enjoyable.

What do dogs do all day in boarding?

The specifics ultimately depend on the boarding facility, but you can generally expect your dog to be treated to full days of equal parts play and rest. At night, most facilities feed dogs their dinner before returning them to their own private kennels to sleep. Some places also give dogs one final potty break and play session before bedtime.

What to expect when your dog comes home from boarding?

It’s normal to observe changes in your dog’s routines, diets, and behaviors the first couple of days after you pick them up. Most dogs will naturally feel more comfortable at home, so you may find that they eat, drink, and sleep more until they can properly re-acclimate. Regarding behavior, some dogs may seem more distant after being picked up from a boarding facility, while others will be clingy.

What do dogs think when you leave them for boarding?

Dogs are creatures of habit. Whether you’re leaving the house for 10 minutes or boarding them for 10 days, it’s safe to assume that any sudden change will cause them some anxiety. However, you can do things to minimize your dog’s stress during their boarding experience, such as visiting the facility before leaving them there and packing familiar items to comfort them while you’re away.

Should you feel bad about boarding your dog?

No! As long as you’ve researched, made the necessary preparations, and found a high-quality facility that meets your dog’s needs, boarding can be a safe and enjoyable experience. We don’t recommend boarding your dog more often than you need to, but a couple of times a year shouldn’t be cause for guilt.