When you leave your dog in boarding kennels it can often be a leap of faith that he’s in good hands. You can never be 100% certain that your dog will enjoy his stay, but there are things you can do minimize the risk of choosing a bad boarding kennel or an unsuitable environment for your pooch.
In the last 5 years I’ve had to put Claude the dog into boarding kennels on two occasions. Before I did it, I asked my friends with dogs and a trusted vet what to look for in a dog boarding facility. They gave me a list of what to look for and things to check, and I also refined and added to it myself after the first stay.
The bottom line is, you will never be able relax completely about your dog when you’re away. But it will be a lot easier once you’ve done your own due diligence when checking the dog kennels… and part of that is knowing what you should look for in a boarding kennel.
What should I look for in boarding kennel?
It goes without saying, but you should always visit a boarding kennel before booking your dog in. If you cannot do that, you will not be able to satisfy all the things you need to look for in a dog boarding facility.
Here’s what you need to check for. Tick off the following things below that explain what to look for in a boarding kennels, and you should be able to relax just that bit better when leaving your dog.
1. Ask for licenses and certifications
The first thing you should look for is whether the boarding kennels are licensed and certified to care for dogs. They way in which dog boarding facilities are licensed and checked depends on where you live.
For example, in the United States, each state has a different set of regulations. Whilst they might be similar from area to area, there will be subtle differences about how dogs are kept and what the kennels need to do to remain licensed.
Always ask to see licenses when you visit the kennels and walk away if they try and put you off or can’t provide official documents.
In the UK there are very strict regulations that were updated in October 2018 to be even more stringent. Any person wanting to look after dogs will need to hold Animal Boarding Establishment License issued by their local council.
2. Ask about their insurance policy
Another documentation request here, but just as important really; are the kennels insured to look after your dog and have a policy to cover all eventualities?
Their insurance should cover them for incidents such as:
- Your dog having any medical problem or injury whilst in their care.
- Your dog attacking a person or another dog.
- Losing your dog.
3. They need to have access to a local vet 24/7
They should have access to a local vet who will be on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.
Once you have the vet’s details, you can also call them yourself for added peace of mind that they are indeed partnered with the boarding kennel you are considering.
4. Check what their vaccination policy is
Before you book your dog in for a stay, they should ask you for proof of your dog’s vaccinations. You should also be asking them what their vaccination policy is.
For example, boarding kennels should insist that dogs staying with them have had all their injections and regular boosters for sickness such as parvovirus, canine distemper, and rabies.
Handy Hint: Here’s a list of all the things dogs can catch at kennels. Some illnesses are more common than others, whilst others are very rare providing dogs are vaccinated.
5. Modern and spacious kennels
One of the simplest things to look for in a dog boarding facility is the kennels themselves. You can check most of this with your own eyes, so don’t forget to ask to see where your dog will be staying and sleeping.
The regulations on kennel space will differ between the US states, but the in the UK, the legal requirements are that dogs can sit and stand at full height, stretch and lie down, walk and turn around freely.
Other important aspects to their living and sleeping accommodation are:
- Your dog has access to their own sleeping area and toilet at all times.
- Your dog has access to an area with no other dogs or people if needed.
- Your dog has access to toys and stimulation.
- Your dog has their own kennel unit unless you have given permission for them to share with another dog from your household.
- The kennels should also be heated and air conditioned to account for all weathers and seasons.
6. The boarding facilities are clean with no bad smell
You can forgive a boarding kennel for having a slight doggy smell due to the nature of their business, but other than that the place should be ultra-clean with no nasty stink.
If your dog comes back from a kennel smelling bad, it’s a possible sign that there were bacterial problems at the kennels, which can also help spread sickness and disease.
7. There are outdoor and indoor play area for dogs
Without exercise your dog will be bored and possibly stressed. Boarding kennels should have easily accessible indoor and outdoor spaces for the dogs to exercise and socialize.
8. Your dog gets daily walks and exercise
Kennels should be walking your dog at least once a day, preferably twice. They should also have an area where they can have free running to exercise when needed.
9. Look for a visible online reputation and online reviews
If you cannot find a digital presence for the boarding kennels walk away. It might be that they are new and don’t have reviews yet, but even then, you don’t want your dog to be their test case.
Established boarding kennels should have visibility on Facebook, Google, possibly a website, but above all, positive reviews. It it so important that you look for this in a boarding kennel.
You might also want to take things one step further and ask the boarding kennel for the phone number of some existing customers who can provide a testimonial.
10. Ask for their policy on identifying and treating kennel stress
Another thing to look for in dog boarding is how they deal with stress in your dog. Boarding kennel stress affects many dogs during their stay, some worse than others.
Many dogs might have a little separation anxiety for a day or two, but others don’t cope at all well so will need extra support from the staff.
There can be a lot of dogs boarding in one go, so it can be easy for your dog to be missed and not get the attention he needs. Ask the kennels what they will be doing to keep an eye on things, and what their policy is if your dog does get stressed out.
Handy Hint: Some dogs will get boarding kennel stress so it’s up to how you deal with it and prepare your dog for a stay. Here’s my guide to boarding kennel stress including what signs to look out for.
11. They should make you fill out a doggy fact file
There is no way a boarding kennels can properly care for your dog without knowing about his personality and temperament. You need to look out for them giving you a fact file to fill out about your four-legged friend and his visit.
The fact file includes many pieces of important information, including details such as:
- Your dog’s likes and dislikes.
- Your dog’s medical history, allergies, and any health issues.
- Your dog’s current medication they might be taking.
- Your dog’s sleeping patterns and habits.
- Your dog’s preferred food and dietary requirements.
The fact file should also include an emergency contact number of a trusted friend or family member the kennels can phone in the event you are unreachable.
12. The staff are friendly and welcoming
How did the staff welcome you to the kennels and were they friendly? Small details like this can be very insightful as to how your dog will be treated during the kennel stay.
13. Your dog reacts well to the staff
How well your dog interacts with the kennel staff is often very telling too. Multiple studies have found that dogs can sense bad people, or at least those who they can’t trust or with angry faces. According to the BBC:
“It now seems that they can sense when a person is untrustworthy. Once a dog has decided a person is unreliable, it stops following the cues they give.” (view source)
14. Staff are fully trained, qualified, and experienced.
Check that the staff are also experienced and trained. Admittedly the experience and training can vary wildly, as many kennels will hire temporary staff during vacation seasons so it’s not always possible.
However, there should be at least one member of staff in charge who has qualification to care for animals.
At the bare minimum, all staff should have a degree of animal first aid training.
15. You can book in one-night stay to test
They should also be fine with you booking a one-night sleepover for your dog. Doing so will let your dog get used to the facility, and potentially reduce the chance of kennel stress, but let you test the water with them.
Don’t expect this to be a free stay. It’s something you should pay for, but they might even offer a reduced rate if you explain why you want to do it.
Before we put Claude in kennels, I wondered what I should look for in dog boarding and was lucky enough to get some tips from my friends.
I hope you have found their original advice doubled up with everything I learned above helpful in making your decision.
It’s very likely your dog will enjoy his stay if you take the time to choose correctly and ask all the right questions before you book.
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Now you know what you should look for in a kennel stay, please do some more due diligence. Check out the following guides which are ideal for beginners to boarding.