August 7, 2008
Dog Boarding, Kenneling, Dog Sitting Services
How does one choose the right service and what considerations should be evaluated?
With all the choices available for boarding, kenneling, dog sitting, some even coming with fancy names like bed and breakfasts, doggie spas, motels and hotels, it might seem like an overwhelming choice for the average owner in selecting the proper boarding facility. However, in spite of luxurious claims compared to a bare bones facility, the most important consideration should be providing a safe, secure, predictable environment, with friendly and competently trained staff.
Before you make your decision, you should visit the facility; your visit should be welcome if not encouraged by management and staff. I consider it an important part of the decision making process. This provides the owner a visual representation where their pet will be kept and viewing outdoor areas used for potty and play.
Any questions and concerns should be answered to your satisfaction; because it is important while you are away that you feel comfortable, knowing your pet is being cared for properly.
Depending on the specific environment you choose, it should be a priority to evaluate the kennel staff experience and expertise in normal dog behavior, training, and general knowledge concerning dogs and cats. Ask how much training the staff has received, where and for how long. Beware of franchise establishments their staff has little to no experience believe me, I inquired!
If you choose to board in a facility-offering dog daycare or interactive activities including other dogs, it’s even more important the staff is sufficiently educated in normal dog behavior, dog communication, recognizing behavior problems and emphasis on aggression.
What are bare bone considerations when selecting a kennel?
- Cleanliness is the most important feature you should consider. This should include proper sanitation procedures preventing spread of contagious disease. See important information concerning fecal matter below.
- All accommodations including kennels, crates, outdoor-indoor runs or private rooms should be clean and odor free and pets should appear clean and well cared for.
- Check designated potty areas and outdoor play areas. These areas should be free from accumulated fecal matter and depending on substrate routinely cleaned.
- Ask how fecal matter is disposed of. Kennel facilities should take responsibility how fecal material is treated and disposed. See important information concerning fecal matter below.
- Exercise should be a concern, ask how often it’s provided. Some kennels offer extra exercise opportunities at additional costs.
- Ask to see the outdoor toilet areas your dog will be using, how often access is provided. Normal dogs need toilet breaks at least every 6 hours, the only exception during normal sleeping hours.
- Providing natural daylight is a plus, good air circulation and proper ventilation decreases risk of spreading disease.
- Consider the number of staff compared to number of animals. A greater number of staff versus animals may indicate more individual attention. This depends on the environment provided, dogs kept in outdoor-indoor kennels, runs, or cages don’t usually get much attention.
- Ask about veterinary care procedures in case of an emergency. Personal preferences should be discussed with the kennel owner.
- If your pet requires medication or other treatments, make sure the kennel staff can accommodate your pet needs.
- Grooming services are often required in kennels. Sending pets home clean or freshly groomed is a plus. You want to make sure the groomer is sufficiently trained in proper grooming procedures. Providing dogs with baths and grooming requires two completely different amounts of skill.
- Make sure someone lives on the premises; fires or other natural disasters do occur. Kennels often do not provide this protection.
- Ask if the owner carries liability insurance, especially for this type of business
- Make sure you include emergency information or instructions; this should be included on the boarding intake form.
What you should know and consider when boarding, using a pet sitter or swanky spa!
When boarding includes socialization privileges
A well-socialized dog could be characterized by how readily it interacts and plays with other dogs. However, dogs will be dogs! In most cases, if there are altercations, they are often minor, but one cannot be careful enough when allowing a group of dogs to interact. If you decide to board your pet in this type of environment, make sure the staff have good working knowledge how dogs communicate, meaning they can read dogs well and have the ability to handle multiple dogs while keeping every one safe.
Often these kinds of businesses include behavior assessments, however, future behavior is not always predictable and there is always a chance that dogs may not get along with specific dogs. It’s best in these environments that numbers be limited by the effectiveness of staff, and sometimes alternating dogs in smaller groups, giving consideration to size, breed and personality can help provide safety while still providing interaction and socialization opportunity.
It’s your responsibility to make sure your dog is safe so your decision should include evaluating the level of expertise concerning animal behavior when boarding your pet in these types of environments. If the staff is not sufficiently educated in normal dog or cat behavior, and specifically aggression, how to manage it, recognize it and modify it, then you should be concerned about your dog’s welfare.
When boarding you don’t want your dog learning bad habits, proactive owners are concerned in preventing behavior problems and it’s not uncommon when dogs return from kennels poor habits have developed resulting from insufficient housing, management, exposure to dogs with bad habits and generally poor care.
Is stress a consideration during boarding?
“Stress occurs when any demand is placed upon a dog that requires the dog to change or adjust” (Lindsay, 2000). For stress to occur events or situations do not have to be unpleasant, rather any biological or psychological demand placed on an animal is capable of producing stress. There are certain amounts of healthy stress animals are capable of adapting to, however chronic stress may lead to stress-related medical conditions. This is an important consideration when making your decision on how, where and under what conditions you board your animals.
Stress-related hormonal changes occur during separation in a number of species. Tuber and colleagues (1996) studied dogs and found a “differential glucocorticoid (cortisol and corticosterone) response” occurs during five conditions of separation.
1. Alone in a novel environment
2. With a conspecific (another dog) in a novel environment
3. Alone in a familiar environment
4. With a human in a novel environment
5. With a conspecific (another dog) in a familiar environment.
The results of their study showed dogs left alone in novel environments had the highest level of cortisol output with the lowest level occurring in home kennels with a familiar conspecific. However, dogs tested in novel environments with a human companion had significantly lower cortisol levels when compared to dogs kept in the novel environment with a conspecific. These results lend support when considering your decision concerning your dog’s welfare when kenneling or boarding.
What exactly does Your dog prefer?
According to these studies, dogs prefer the company of humans even in novel (unfamiliar) environments compared to dogs kept/left in home environments even with a familiar dog! This means, you need to consider your dogs stress levels when using a pet sitter who drops by on occasion sometimes no longer than 30 minutes. Compared to a kennel alternative that meets your dogs needs for socialization as well as human contact, it’s almost a no brainer.
Things you might want to include for your pets comfort
• A favorite bed, blanket, toy may help your pet feel at home. Other dogs can destroy these items, unless provided under privately managed housing.
• Send your own food – pets can get stressed away from home, abrupt changes in diet can cause gastrointestinal upset that may include vomiting and diarrhea, you don’t want to stress your pet more than she/he needs to be.
• You may want to include any special treats or chew items, make sure the kennel accepts these as part of their overall care.
Why is disposing fecal matter so important?
If fecal matter is not removed regularly (immediately), dogs will not continue to potty in designated areas. During housetraining, teaching the dog proper locations should be of utmost priority. Dogs will not continue to use designated potty areas contaminated with fecal matter, instead moving to other locations within the yard. When we remove feces, our dogs will continue to use designated areas, providing ideal housetraining.
Additionally, feces should be removed because it creates a foul odor, is unsightly to humans, and presents a public health hazard. The public hazard comes in the form of Toxocara canis, which is larvae deposited in dog stools that become mature and infective after two to three days. During the summer months, it is even more hazardous when the sun dries the fecal matter allowing wind to carry it, contaminating everything in the area.
Additionally, feces provides an excellent breeding place for flies, according to Dunbar (1986) “a single dog fecal deposit” provides for the proliferation of up to 588 flies! (Yuk) These mature flies then spread not only the toxocara larvae but also other infectious disease. These flies find their way into our homes, carrying these infectious agents. The best prevention is clean up fecal matter before flies have the opportunity to lay eggs. For owners, this is easily done using plastic bags, tying them up and disposing of them. When considering a boarding facility, you should ask how this material is being processed. You want to ask, because you don’t want to expose your pet to unnecessary illness or disease.
Lastly, this a responsible dog owner’s duty, not only does ignoring this responsibility cause potential public health problems, it does not promote good pet management and consideration of neighbors!
Health and Vaccination Requirements
All dogs and cats should be healthy and free of disease contagious to other animals. Pet owners who have pets with medical problems and currently being treated and stable should advise the kennel owner or staff prior to boarding to ensure the kennel staff could accommodate your pets’ needs.
Many products are available for treating fleas, ticks or other external or internal parasite, your pet should be treated prior to any scheduled boarding. Some kennels will treat dogs or cats if any external parasites are noticed and charge you for the treatment.
Some kennels may require health certificates or proof of vaccinations from your veterinarian. Because some veterinarians do not routinely vaccinate every year for DHLPP (distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza and parvovirus), your dog may not have all the vaccinations a kennel or boarding facility may require. It’s best to ask what an individual kennels policy is concerning vaccinations because “there is no generally accepted rule regarding vaccinations in dogs.”
FYI – Information concerning vaccination protocols
Among the veterinary community there is developing a “diversity of opinion” concerning which vaccines should be administered, frequency and safety of administering vaccines as well as their protective value.
The veterinary community attempting to individualize immunization programs has divided vaccine protocols into Core and Non-Core groups. Core vaccines are recommended for all dogs, Non-Core are recommended for dogs at risk, due to lifestyle, or exposure to infectious disease. Core vaccines are determined by infectious ability and transference to other dogs and humans.
Due to vaccine safety risks, this debate is of concern, the benefits of vaccination are well recognized, there are reports of “injection-site tumors in cats, vaccine associated autoimmune disease in dogs” and vaccine reactions occurring after booster administration. This causes concern whether or not vaccines should be administered to all dogs and if annual booster administration is necessary for continued protection.
Recent publications suggest current vaccination schedules do not address effectiveness of vaccines protective immunity, saying, “depending on the infectious agent… protective immune response may persist for years” after vaccination questioning the continuance of boosters. However, no published data substantiates any “uniform standard” concerning the duration of any vaccine-induced immunity with the exception of rabies.
Finally, Non-Core vaccines should be considered based on risk assessment for individual dogs, taking into consideration the dog’s history, environment and infectious agent of concern. Some Non-Core vaccines include Canine Bordetella, parinfluenza, Leptospira, coronavirus, Giardia, and Borrelia (Lyme disease). It is suggested vaccines that do not present risk to a dog be excluded from any vaccination protocol; clients should rely on their veterinarian to guide their choices, what is best for their individual pet.
Dunbar, Ian & Bohnenkamp, Gwen. Behavior Booklets – Housetraining Supplement.
CA: James & Kenneth. 1986.
Mansfield, Philip, DVM. (2000). Vaccination Issues of Concern to Dog Owners.
Retrieved from: http://www.scwtca.org/pdf/bmarch/28.2Mansfield.pdf#search=’philip%20D.%20Mansfield%2C%20D.V.M
Responsible Dog & Cat
Dog Training and Dog Behavior Solutions, LLC
Joyce D. Kesling, CDBC, ACCBC
Sarasota, Florida 34243
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