Putting your dog into a boarding kennel for just one night can be stressful to them, with longer stays creating even more anxiety. Of course, not all dogs get kennel stress, but for many of them it is a very real and unpleasant experience that can also bring a lot of stress onto owners too.
What is kennel stress? Boarding kennel stress is a generic term used for when dogs encounter a state of mental or emotional strain and tension during or after a kennel stay. It can manifest in a number of ways including aggression, fear, anxiety, shaking, whining, or other noticeable changes in behavior.
Is boarding stressful for dogs?
Whether boarding is stressful for your dog or not will depend on many different factors including your dog’s character, the kennel environment, and events that take place during their stay. Your dog will have to contend with possible changes to their diet, routine, aggression from other dogs, new smells, sounds, and being handled by new people. All of these can result in anxiety.
You won’t always know whether your dog will be stressed in a kennel stay. Even the most even-tempered of dogs can become stressed out when placed into new and unfamiliar surroundings coupled with a change to their daily routine.
The bottom line is, dogs are like young children. Studies have shown they look upon owners as their parents, with one piece of research even suggesting dogs have the same IQ as two year olds.
Based on this, you could take the position that putting a dog into boarding is similar to leaving a toddler for a week. It doesn’t sound so easy now does it, and you can start to understand a bit better why some dogs will find boarding a stressful experience.
However, there are ways in which you can prevent (or at least reduce) boarding kennel stress in your dog. Keep reading for my tips on how to do that, plus what the signs of kennel stress are.
Reasons for boarding kennel stress in dogs
Dogs have complex personalities and are very dependent on their owners for comfort, food, and shelter. When you take that away from them or make them think it’s at risk, some dogs can get stressed – it’s completely understandable.
The factors that contribute to what we call boarding kennel stress are:
- Separation anxiety: Being separated from their owners is stressful. Dogs don’t have the same perception of time as we do. As far as they are concerned, you might have left them for good. Studies also suggest that dogs miss their owners when in boarding kennels.
- Changes to routine: Dogs are creatures of habit and can be become anxious when their routine chances. This is almost unavoidable when boarding, as your dog will experience changes to when they eat, sleep, and exercise.
- Unfamiliar sounds and smells: Dogs are hyper vigilant to noise and scent, so going into boarding kennels will be an assault to their senses. They will be trying to make sense of where they fit into the new hierarchy of smells. This will play havoc with their sense of who they are and any potential threats they perceive.
- Unfamiliar people: Whilst most dogs love any human who gives them attention, some dogs are anxious around new people. The person looking after them could change hourly in a kennel, thus ramping up the dog’s stress levels further.
- Lack of usual exercise: Not burning off enough calories is shown to raise a dog’s stress. If your dog isn’t walked as far as usual or refuses to come out and play in the kennel’s open areas due to fear, then boarding stress can increase.
- Sudden change in diet: Different food can induce sickness in a dog, but also raise their anxiety as it’s another change to their routine. Nutrition is also an important factor as it helps to keep canine immune systems functioning properly. If your dog loses his appetite, his nutrition levels will drop.
Questions to ask your boarding kennel
Boarding staff have the best intentions, but don’t always know how to deal with anxiety in dogs. Very often they will have so many dogs to look after, that the one dog with kennel stress could be missed and not get the attention and help they need.
Please don’t take it for granted that your dog will be in good hands.
To put your mind at ease that your chosen kennel not only recognizes and deals with stress, but also has the systems in place to reduce the risk, ask the following questions of them (here are loads more too).
- Ask what training and certification staff have to deal with stress and separation anxiety.
- Ask how the dogs are housed and whether they are in close proximity to each other.
- Ask them how much exercise your dog will get, as this is known to reduce stress.
- Ask if staff are always present when different dogs are playing in communal areas.
- Ask if big and small dogs are allowed to run and play together.
- Ask if they can keep to your dog’s feeding and sleeping schedules.
- Ask them if they have an emergency plan and vet on hand to deal with kennel stress.
- Ask them what their minimum age is for a stay, anything younger than 3.5 months is probably too young.
Handy Hint: I’ve put together an extensive guide on what you need to check and look out for in kennels before you book your dog’s stay.
How to reduce your dog’s kennel stress
Once you’ve got the satisfactory answers to your questions and you’ve settled on a boarding kennel, you can also take steps to reduce the risk of kennel stress.
1. Organize a pre-visit and possible sleep over
I appreciate that this won’t always be possible but it’s probably the most important thing you can do to help prepare your dog for boarding.
If your dog is able to stay one night before the main visit, and then you pick them up in the morning it will help them associate a good feeling to the place. It can also help them understand that you will come back and get them afterwards, and you are not gone for good.
2. Start sleep and crate training
If your dog has not slept in a crate before then now is a great time to do so. They will have more room in kennels compared to a crate, but crate training in a different room of your house can help prepare them for the stress of a smaller living environment.
Dogs that sleep with their owners will find it a lot tougher acclimatizing to boarding kennels, so start this this process a couple of weeks before boarding.
If you don’t do this, you might find that your dog is very sleepy and lethargic after boarding.
3. Socialize your younger dog
Younger puppies might not yet have the experience of interacting with other dogs of all shapes, sizes, and temperaments, so make sure they have mastered socialization training before a boarding stay. I don’t recommend any puppy younger than 6 months of age should stay in boarding kennels, but that’s a personal opinion. Here’s what other people say about minimum age limits.
4. Consider dog calming chews
I have never used these with our dog as he’s not had boarding kennel stress, but I’ve heard it can work really well. You can buy the calming chews on Amazon.
There are no guarantees of course, but if calming chews can help just a fraction of the anxiety and stress in your dog, then it’s money well spent. Give them to your dog one on the day they arrive, plus they might help once they come home after the stay.
5. Pack familiar smelling items
Your dog will miss you when you’re gone, so you can help to reduce their kennel stress by packing familiar bedding for them to get comfortable on.
To further help with any possible separation anxiety and homesickness, pack something with a familiar smell of you on it; perhaps a t-shirt or blanket you both cuddle up with at home.
Handy Hint: Not sure what to bring for your dog? Worry no more, with this checklist of what to bring to boarding kennels for a happy dog experience.
6. Drop your dog off earlier in the day
Try to drop your dog or puppy off at the kennels early in the morning. This will let them have the whole day to get used to the new surroundings and become familiar with the new noises, smells, and strange people or dogs.
If you drop your dog off on your way to get a late evening flight, it’s unlikely the dog will sleep properly, and their anxiety levels could be off the scale.
If they have a day to acclimatize, it could help reduce any kennel stress they have.
7. Get your dog active after a kennel stay
If you see signs of boarding kennel stress after your dog’s stay (I’ve listed them below), one of the best ways you can get them back to their usual self is by exercise. Physical activity can be an effective stress reducer, just like it is with humans.
Your dog might just want the comfort of a safe place though so take little baby steps at first and try to keep volume levels to a minimum.
8. Seek an expert opinion
If your dog’s stress hasn’t resolved within 24 hours of coming home, book a vet’s appointment. If it is behavioral as a result of boarding, your vet might refer your pet to a trainer or dog behaviorist.
Handy Hint: I’ve written an extensive guide on how to prepare your dog for their first ever stay in boarding kennels. It includes additional tips for reducing anxiety and worry on both sides of the fence.
Signs your dog has kennel stress
If you have just got your dog home from boarding kennels and notice changes in his behaviour, then check the following signs of kennel stress.
1. Pacing or shaking
If boarding was stressful for your dog, then shaking is one of the most obvious signs to look for. Many mammals shake when nervous, and dogs are no different. It’s all to do with adrenaline. Here’s what the Science Focus website says:
“Adrenaline works directly on receptor cells in muscles to speed up the contraction rate of the fibres, ready for fighting or fleeing. High levels of adrenaline can therefore lead to muscles twitching uncontrollably, making us shake when scared.”
2. Whining or barking
Dogs communicate with behaviors, so aside from their body language, the other way they have of showing they are stressed is by vocalization.
Barking or whinging isn’t just something they do to get your attention to show something is wrong, but they also do it to soothe themselves when unhappy.
Stress whining will often come in combination with other signs of anxiety including cowering, ear flat to the head, and a tail between the legs.
3. Yawning, drooling, or licking
Nervous dogs tend to lick themselves and drool when anxious. They can also yawn more than usual too. It’s not a normal yawn either but shows an open mouth for longer than a typical tired yawn would.
4. Changes in eye and ear positions
If you can see the whites in your dog’s eyes, then it’s a worrying sign. Looking startled is a key indicator for stress, as well as the eyes appearing to be dilated with a rapid blinking motion.
Kennel stress can also manifest itself with changes in how your dog’s ears are positioned. Canine anxiety will often show with ears flattened to the head versus their normal appearance.
5. Changes in overall body language
Is your dog cowering from you? Does he appear scared after a boarding visit? If so, this obvious change in body language is a huge indicator of boarding kennel stress in dogs.
As well as cowering and fearful body positions, you might also see them shifting their weight from leg to leg and tucking their tail between their legs.
6. Shedding of hair
We’ve all heard how humans can literally have shock hair loss after a stressful event. Well, it’s the same with dogs, and they can start to shed hair or even bald patches when experiencing boarding kennel stress.
Hair loss due to stress can also be a by-product or your dog pawing or scratching at himself which they will often do when anxious about something.
Dogs can also show stress by panting despite the fact they haven’t taken part in any exercise. The Spruce Pets website says:
“Panting may have nothing to do with body temperature. Many dogs will pant when they experience fear, anxiety, or stress. Examples include car rides, fireworks, separation anxiety, vet visits, and other stressful events.”
8. Changes in toilet habits
Dogs with boarding kennel stress will often show a change in their peeing and pooping. For example, your dog might come home and start pooping around the house. He could even have diarrhea (very common after boarding), or he might start marking his territory with urine.
The territory marking is classic stressful behavior and is easy to understand. Your dog has been in a strange place with different dogs trying to assert their authority. As a result, your dog will come home from kennels and immediately want to re-establish that he’s back in his own territory, with urine marking being his way of showing that.
9. Avoidance and lack of interest
Stressed dogs can also retreat into their shell and act avoidant. Boarding kennel stress can manifest itself with things such as wanting to be alone, avoiding eye contact, not wanting to be petted, and a lack of interest in play.
Often the avoidance will pass, as like humans sometimes your dog will just want his own space to calm down and get over any trauma he has felt whilst boarding.
10. Hiding and escaping
The last sign of boarding kennel stress in dogs is hiding or running away. They do this by hiding behind their owners for comfort, or even trying to escape your house once you get home from kennels.
If your dog repeating tries to dig under your fence to make a bid for freedom when you get home, it’s quite a concern. In cases like this, I would recommend you see your vet immediately as it could be the sign of a traumatic event at the kennels.
Credit: The symptoms of boarding kennel stress shown above were inspired by the expert veterinarian content published on the VCA Hospitals website.
Will a stay in kennels stress your dog out?
Honestly, it’s hard to say. All you can do is take the necessary steps and due diligence of the kennels to make sure the chances are low. It should go without saying really, but very young puppies should not stay in kennels, with my recommendation being that 6 months should be the minimum age.
Even if your dog does develop temporary stress it should resolve in a day or so. In fact, some stress isn’t always a bad thing. The VCA animal hospitals say:
“Remember that stress isn’t always bad. Fear is a stress-related emotion that prompts us to avoid potentially dangerous situations. So, stress may actually be a protector.”
You might also like…
I regularly blog about boarding kennel experiences and tips. You can read some of my latest advice pieces below.