I wrote this article for a local magazine and thought it might help some people visiting my website.
411 ON BOARDING
So many articles have been written about the subject that I wanted to try and write something that appeals to not just the first time boarding public, but also to the person that boards their dog regularly. I want to try and look at the whole process, from the dogs perspective to the kennel owner.
Dog Basics 101 There are always exceptions to the rule but basically dogs are social creatures by nature. This means they enjoy human and canine companionship. Every dog has its own unique personality, learning ability and coping skills. As owners, it’s up to us to try and prepare our dogs for a life in society, The vets office , the dog park the boarding kennel. This means socializing them, taking them to obedience classes and turning them into good canine citizens. One of the first questions you need to ask yourself when thinking about boarding your dog is “have I prepared my dog for life beyond my house?” Dogs are very good problem solvers. If you don’t believe me, put a delicious dog treat in a difficult place for a dog and see how long it takes them to figure out how to get the treat. Dogs also adapt very well to new living conditions. Most owners do not give their dogs enough credit for being able to survive without them. They feel guilty for leaving them. Boarding can be a good learning experience for your dog. They will be handled by other people, Socialize with many other new dogs. Learn to live life outside of the comfort zone of home.
Should You Board Your Dog? What are the other options? You could have a pet sitter come in and take the dog out and pick up the mail and all the other things pet sitters do. Pet sitting is also another pet care industry that is quite popular. You could have a neighbor come over and feed the dog, or take the dog to a relatives house. It comes down to the dog and how well it will adjust to being home alone without full time supervision. You know your dog and how much mischief they will find when they get bored at home. You also need to consider if they will try to get out of the yard or house if you are gone for a long period, And if they will allow a stranger to come into the house or yard. Having them in a boarding environment is a safe choice. The dog will have built in entertainment and be cared for by a person that is familiar with dogs, and dog issues. There are dogs that do not need to be in a boarding environment. I have dogs that have boarded with me since they were puppies. I watch them as they go through life, and then become senior dogs. I start to see the arthritis set in and eyesight diminish. I will then talk with the client and explain to them at some point in the future that I will not board their dog for them. Just as in people we reach a point that the slightest change in our living conditions can cause us to stress mentally and possibly injure ourselves in unfamiliar surroundings. Even if a dog has done well in the kennel for years, There will eventually be a line you do not want to cross. We want what is best for the dog. In this case, I will suggest to the client to start looking for a good pet sitter to come to their house. By doing that, we do not have to change anything for the dog except the person caring for it. If you feel you must board the senior dog, I suggest boarding with your vet. This way, if there is a medical issue it can be handled by them.
The Right Facility For You And Your Dog There are no county or state inspectors that visit or regulate how boarding kennels are being run in the Columbia area. The pet boarding industry is basically self regulated. This means that it’s up to you to do your homework and find the facility that fits you and your dog. To start the process you can talk with your vets office, friends and family, your groomer etc. Most kennels have websites and facebook pages and have a presence online. Columbia has a wide variety of facilities to choose from. We are fortunate to live in a town that is very pet friendly. I have shown dogs all over the US and pay attention to the pet service industry where ever I go. Columbia has top notch Veterinary care as well as some nice dog parks, grooming and boarding facilities. We also have two very dedicated dog clubs in town The Greater Columbia Obedience Club and The Columbia Kennel Club. After narrowing down the facilities that you want to check out, look at their websites for answers to some of the more common questions first. Common Questions: What vaccinations are required for boarding? What are hours for drop off and pick up? What are the rates for boarding and any additional services. Can I bring my own food? Etc…Call each choice with any unanswered questions. Such as: What is the daily routine for the dogs? (when they eat, go outside and playtime) If you have an older dog or pet with special needs, you need to cover that. Administering medications is a common practice in most kennels. Prescription diets and special food is also common. Is someone on site at night or is their a monitoring system? Some kennels today have webcams set up so you can see the dogs from anywhere you have internet access.
Visiting your choices Most kennels are happy to give tours, as long as it does not disrupt the routine of the boarders that are in the kennel. Set up the visit by appointment. A kennel environment should be bright and clean. Kennels should have good air exchange for health. The dogs should have adequate living space. Look at the area outside that the dogs will be using for exercise and playtime. General rule of thumb is about 25 dogs for each full time staff member. If the facility boards 75 dogs their should be at least 3 full time people. The noise level in most kennels will be low until a new dog or people come into the kennel besides the staff. Expect the kennel to be very loud when you go in for the tour. There are a lot of things going on in a boarding kennel during the day. The dogs stay visually and mentally busy due to the activity. Many dogs come home from being boarded and rest for a couple of days. A dogs home life is usually not as active. Most owners have in mind what they want for their dog while they are out of town, so you should know after the tour if that facility is right for you and your dog.
Leaving Town Now that you have your reservation at the kennel and are preparing to leave town, here are some things to remember. Bring current vaccination records. Bring food, if you plan to. Bring any medication your dog will need. Bring a contact number or trip itinerary. Make sure that a couple of days before you leave that you keep your dog on their usual diet and not to give them anything unusual before boarding them. Take them out before leaving home and walk them again when you arrive at the kennel, or ask the staff to do so. Only get them out of the car on a leash with a collar that is secure so they cannot get off their lead. If there are other dogs being checking in, keep your distance. Only bring food, treats, bedding and toys that your dog would get on a regular basis at home. Every kennel will have different policies for what to bring and not bring with you, so be sure to ask. When you arrive, if the dog is showing signs of being anxious or nervous (shaking, whining etc) Do Not tell them “it’s okay” or “you’re a good dog”. Either ignore the behavior or if you feel that you need to tell them anything, tell them to “relax” or “stop”. The reason for this is… If you tell them “it’s okay” when they are acting like that you are just reinforcing or praising that behavior. Do not make a big deal out of dropping them off. For a dog that has never boarded before, make things seem as routine as possible. The more normal you act, the more normal your dog will react. Remember to treat this as a learning experience for them, and a training opportunity for you. While out of town Feel free to call and check on your dog. The main things to ask would be… How is the dog behaving, eating and drinking? If you have an older dog you would want to check on their movement to make sure they are not overdoing it with all the activity.
Returning Home After being gone for several days or longer you should make sure you have done a few things to prepare to bring the dog back home. Wash any food and water bowls that might have been sitting out. Make sure you run the water in your house for a minute to clear the pipes of old water before filling the water bowl. Check any area outside that you will be letting the dog into. Look for things that were not there when you left, mushrooms, snakes etc. Picking Up Your Dog Bring their leash and whatever method of payment is accepted by the kennel. If you have done your homework there should be no financial surprises. Make sure you pick up all related items that you left, food, medication, bedding and toys. your dog is going to be very excited to see you, so be careful not to let them hurt you or the kids in their excitement. The staff should inform you of any behavior or medical issues that they have observed. You may want to walk them before putting them in the car. Most kennels keep the dogs on a strict diet of nothing other than what they should have to maintain their health. If you stop and get them a cheeseburger on the way home you will most likely cause a digestive track issue. Make sure to keep their diet normal for a day or two and then ease them back into junk food. Don’t be surprised if they come home and sleep for a day or two. Remember it’s an active place.
Owning A Boarding Facility This is a business that very few people have a clear understanding of the level of responsibility and commitment it requires. We work hardest on the holidays and weekends. Dogs have to eat on Saturday and Sunday mornings at their regular time. We are responsible for the lives of the animals entrusted to us. The buck stops here, if an employee looses a dog or one gets sick The owner is looking at me, not the employee. This is a business, and 40 to 60 percent of our income is earned between May and September. It’s important for clients to understand we need to make the most of the available space in the kennel. When we are busy in the summer and especially on holidays we usually have a waiting list of other clients trying to get their dogs into the kennel. Be considerate and call with advanced notice of changes to reservation or your trip itinerary. This allows us to get the next client in. By calling us it might save you some money, depending on that facilities cancellation policies. Kennels are always full on holiday, you must reserve weeks in advance or you will not get your dog in. This business has a certain level of unpredictability to it. The dog that just had a bath and is going home in five minutes, decides to play in his water. The dog that is fine when the owner is standing there but will bite you when the owner leaves. The owner that does not realize their dog is sick when they drop it off. It is a rare occurrence for an animal to get sick or injured in most boarding kennels. There are situations that arise just as they do at your kids school or daycare. Kennels try to proof their facility from having issues, but dogs can be unpredictable. All of these things create stress for the owner of the facility. Lets face it, we all choose our path in life and as kennel owners this is the nature of the business. I think part of the reward is trying to enjoy the business. We got into it to be around animals. Most kennel owners I know are happy and content with their business. If you can make a living doing something you enjoy, you have beaten the odds.