I will never forget the anxiety my wife and I felt when we had to put our puppy into boarding kennels for the first time. It wasn’t something we wanted to do, but we had no choice due to a family bereavement and then having to travel abroad.
It was the first time we had ever had to use a kennel, as usually we were able to rely on a mix of dog sitters and family. On this occasion however, we had to board our puppy for the first time, and as you can imagine, were justifiably nervous.
In the end it all worked out fine. Claude the puppy stayed in some local kennels for 7 days with no issues and what seemed to be a fun experience for him. But it might not have been that way if we had not prepared our dog for boarding properly or not done our own research and due diligence.
I’ve compiled what we learned about boarding kennel preparation into this helpful guide. It should contains a lot of what you need to know before boarding your dog, including what you need to bring with you. It’s based on our personal experience of putting a puppy in boarding kennels plus tips from friends and experts.
11 tips on boarding a puppy for the first time
Here’s my advice on how to prepare a dog for boarding in kennels. The stay doesn’t have to be stressful, and when handled correctly could actually be an enjoyable experience for your puppy boarding for the first time.
1. Do your research and choose wisely
You’re just about to entrust someone else with your beloved puppy, so do as much research into the kennels as you can. Look for online reviews and if possible, or only book your puppy into boarding on a recommendation from someone you know and respect.
When choosing a boarding kennel for your puppy, you should choose one that offers:
- Daily walks and regular exercise.
- Modern, spacious, and clean kennels.
- Well-established with a visible online reputation.
- Fully insured and licensed.
- Registered with the local authority.
- Has an outdoor play area for the dogs.
- Heating and air conditioning when needed.
Handy Hint: For more advice on choosing a kennel, read this guide which explains what to look for in a dog boarding facility.
2. Visit before you book
Once you have settled on what you think is the best, or perhaps you have a shortlist, make sure you visit them and take your puppy with you.
By doing so you can check to see how friendly and knowledgeable the staff are and get a good (or bad feeling) about the place. I also recommend you smell the place. Bad smelling kennels are down to a lack of cleaning which can possibly spread bacteria and sickness – meaning your dog will smell just as bad when you bring him home.
It’s also imperative that you take your puppy with you so they can get used to the smells, sights, and sounds of a busy boarding kennel. You can also see how your dog interacts with the staff and how they treat your dog. Dogs often have a sense about people, so it will be telling if your puppy immediately seems at ease with the kennel employees.
3. Book a short overnight stay if possible
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 for the first time.
If your puppy is able to stay one night, and then you pick them up in the morning it will help them associate a good feeling to the place… also knowing you will come back and get them afterwards, and you are not gone for good.
4. Make sure your puppy is insured, wormed, vaccinated, and microchipped
I don’t really need to tell you why all this stuff is important. The boarding kennel might not even let your puppy stay with them if you don’t tick all of those boxes.
In terms of vaccinations, most puppies should have had all their injections to guard against parvovirus, hepatitis, leptospirosis, and distemper. Kennels will not accept your puppy into their care until 1 to 2 weeks after final vaccinations.
You should also consider a kennel cough vaccination. It’s a quick and painless spray up their nose, no injections needed (find out more on Vet4Life.co.uk).
And with worming and flea treatments, make sure those are current too as it’s courteous to all the other dogs staying in the kennels.
5. Start sleep and crate training
Once you’re settled and booked up, you might want to consider getting your puppy used to sleeping by himself if he isn’t already doing so. Puppies that sleep with their owners will find it a lot tougher acclimatizing to boarding kennels.
I recommend you start this process a couple of weeks before boarding because sleep training can be very traumatic. I remember our own puppy crying all night from his crate when we left him down in the kitchen – it was tough, but worth it and helped with his first ever boarding kennel stay.
6. Get socialization training mastered
Your puppy is going to be up close and personal with dogs of all shapes, sizes, and temperaments. If your puppy hasn’t been socialized yet, then you need to get it done as soon as possible.
Many vets offer puppy socialization training classes. We used to take Claude the dog to classes in the evenings. If you can’t find classes near you, get outdoors and walking where you are going to meet other dogs and people.
7. Spend more time together
This tip on how to prepare your dog for boarding kennels is probably more related to dealing with your own guilt. When we dropped Claude the puppy off at kennels for the first time, we drove off to the airport feeling like the worst doggy parents in the world.
Handy Hint: Did you know that some researchers believe that dogs think human owners are their real parents. Read more about what your dog might think of you.
You can go some way to making yourself feel less guilty by spending more time with your puppy before boarding, perhaps by even indulging his every whim.
Of course, it will also do your puppy good to have quality time with you before the potential stress of staying in boarding kennels for the first time.
8. Consider dog calming chews on the day
We didn’t give our puppy anything to calm his nerves, but I’ve heard it can work really well. A friend of ours gave their dog calming chews bought on Amazon, and they told me their dog went off into the boarding kennels for the first time without a care in the world.
There are no guarantees of course, but if calming chews can help just a fraction of the anxiety in your puppy, then it’s money well spent.
9. Do a morning drop-off (not late in the day)
If you can, 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 get used to the noises, smells, and strange people or dogs.
If you drop your puppy off on your way to get a night flight, it’s unlikely the dog will sleep and the anxiety levels could be off the scale.
10. Leave your puppy with a distraction
Puppies love to play and will often not have a care in the world if distracted with something awesome and tasty. You can take advantage of this part of their character by taking something like a new toy and filling it with something tasty.
We did this when we dropped our puppy off at kennels, with a large red Kong toy filled with xylitol-free peanut butter (view on Amazon). According to the lady who ran the boarding kennels, Claude was occupied with it for two hours before he even realized we had gone!
11. Mastering the stress-free drop off
As well as the distraction technique and calming chews, there are other considerations. The all come back to the same thing though; keep the excitement and emotion levels down.
You should arrive at the kennels, say bye to your dog outside, and let the staff take your dog from you without making any big fuss. Dogs can pick up on your tone of voice and body language, so the handover needs to be as calm and matter of fact as possible.
Handy Hint: I’ve written a guide to boarding kennel stress in dogs, which includes tips on how to reduce their anxiety and fear levels.
What to bring when you board your dog the first time
Now you and your puppy are prepared for their first boarding kennels stay, you need to pack your dog’s bag with all the essentials. Everything below will make your puppy’s stay in kennels as comfortable and hopefully stress-free as possible.
Handy Hint: I’ve prepared a dog boarding checklist which contains a list of everything you need to pack for your dog’s overnight stay.
1. Collar with an ID tag
Most dogs are microchipped these days, but it’s sensible to also has a visual identifier and contact details on your puppy. It’s not unheard for dogs to escape from boarding kennels, and whilst extremely rare, should it happen you need to make sure your dog is quickly identified by anybody who finds him.
Boarding kennels will often need procedures in place for escapes. The procedures will be terms of their license in order to operate as kennels, and part of that will be to ask you to make sure a collar and ID tag is on before your puppy boards.
2. Any medication and a list of possible allergies
We had discovered that our puppy had an allergy to a certain food types, so made up a quick one-page document for the boarding kennel with the details on this. We also wrote down any other little quirks about him we could think of.
You should also pack any medication your dog is on before they go to the kennels.
3. Vaccination documents
Your puppy will be in close proximity to other dogs in the kennels which increases the chances of illness and infections spreading.
Thankfully boarding kennels won’t let your puppy board with them for the first time without proof he is fully up to date with injections. The boarding kennel will want documented proof from your vet that your puppy has the all clear.
4. Insurance details
Whilst all boarding kennels are insured (or at least they should be, please check), many of them will also require that you provide proof that your dog or puppy is insured.
5. Preferred food and snacks
Most kennels will provide food if you want them to, or alternatively you can provide your own. I would always recommend you pack your own puppy food because a change in diet can often lead to an upset stomach.
You also want to make your puppy’s first time stay in kennels to be as relaxed as possible, with as many memories of home as possible. Having them eat the food they are used to will help this to a small degree and is one less change for them to be worried about.
6. Dog leash
Boarding kennels will have a supply of leashes to take your puppy out on walks, but in the spirit of making things as familiar as possible, pack your own.
7. Favorite toys
Your puppy will inevitably be spending less time having one on one attention compared to what he would at home. It’s an unfortunate necessity of boarding kennels that they might not have the time to 100% focus on one dog all of the time.
To help your puppy in his first-time boarding experience, pack a couple of his favorite toys. This will give him something familiar to chew on and keep him occupied when away from home for the first time.
8. Bed and blanket and something with a familiar smell
Your dog will miss you and home when he’s in kennels. You can help to reduce their stress by giving them familiar bedding 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.
9. Emergency contact information
And lastly you should give the kennels an emergency contact which isn’t you. For example, my wife and I had to go abroad, so it made sense to be able to leave a phone number for a friend in case the kennels needed to contact someone about our puppy and could not get through to us.
Handy Hint: Are you worried that your dog will miss you when in boarding kennels? I looked at scientific research to see what the reality of dog’s missing their owners is when you’re away on vacation. You can click here to see what the science says.
What to do after a stay at boarding kennels
Many other doggy websites offer advice on how to prepare your dog for boarding, but none of them give you any tips about what to do after the time away.
For me it’s just as important a consideration and getting it right will help your puppy get used to life back at home. It will also help for the next time you board your puppy or dog.
Here are some short tips on how to welcome your puppy home:
- Give them a bath at home just in case there are any ticks or fleas picked up.
- Let your dog rest and get back into their routine. Just like us, it’s tiring when you’re away from home, even if it was a vacation.
- Spend lots of quality time with your dog, they will appreciate it, and let’s be honest it will help with how bad you felt about leaving them!
Will my dog be ok in boarding kennels?
The truth is, you don’t actually know until you try boarding a puppy for the first time.
All you can do is do your research properly, prepare your dog for their boarding stay, and then try to relax that you’ve made the right decision.
Having said that, some dogs are simply not suited for boarding kennels, and it could have a bad effect on them. I am thinking dogs with behavioural problems, particularly relating to separation anxiety or aggression.
Handy Hint: Did you know that it’s very common for dogs to come back from boarding with diarrhea? Click that link for some things you can do to reduce that happening in the first place.
How much does it typically cost to board a dog?
Price should never be a factor when making your decision on which kennel to choose, but it will help to have a broad idea of what you might typically expect to pay to board a dog. I found some average costs online for the US, UK, Canada, and Australia.
- Australia: $28 a day.
- UK: £17.50 a day.
- USA and Canada: $40 a day.
Boarding a puppy for the first time doesn’t have to be stressful. I won’t lie though, the first time we did it, we were guilt-ridden for a lot of time away. Whilst many of the tips I’ve published here today we used, some of them we didn’t know at the time. I lost count of how many times we said sorry to our dog!
However, it’s key to remember that dogs of any age love to meet other dogs. Their time in boarding kennels, if a reputable and caring establishment, could be the time of your puppy’s life. I don’t believe you should put a very young puppy into boarding as it will be stressful for them. Here’s a guide to how old puppies should be before they board.
Providing you have taken steps to prepare your dog for boarding properly, with due diligence and care, there’s no need to feel bad when you drop them off.
You might also like…
I’ve written lots of guides about taking care of your puppy, all based on personal experience. Here’s a selection of some guides I think you might like.
- What to look for in a boarding kennel before you book
- Why your dog gets sick after staying in kennels
- Why your dog steals your spot when you get out of a chair
- Knowing when to feed your dog before or after a walk
Header image licensed from StoryBlocks.com