What to look for in a pet boarding or doggy day care facility

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With the holidays fast approaching many people will be traveling and may need to leave their pets behind while they enjoy time with family and friends. Choosing a good boarding or day care facility is important. Choosing the right facility for your pet significantly decreases the risk and stress for both of you. It’s always better to come home to a happy, healthy, clean and well-rested pet.

Any facility should be happy to discuss their policies with you, and allow you to tour the facility. Does the facility look and smell clean? Include outdoor potty areas in your tour, are they picked up regularly to help prevent the spread of parasites and disease? Does the facility have adequate, safe containment for large and small dogs, dogs who dig and dogs who climb or jump? The last call you want to get while on vacation is that your dog has escaped their boarding facility and is injured or missing.

Ask questions. Does the staff have training in reading and responding to canine body language? Does the facility have a plan for emergencies or injuries? Many veterinary hospitals also offer pet boarding. It can be an advantage to have a veterinarian on staff should a pet be injured or become ill. If the facility does not have a veterinarian on staff, they should be able to tell you if they’ll take your pet to your regular veterinarian in case of a problem, or if they use a veterinarian close by.

Most facilities will require that your pet be current on certain vaccinations (the specific vaccinations may vary), or titer tests to ensure that your pet and the others in the facility are protected from infectious diseases. Some may require a health check from your veterinarian, or that your dog be current on deworming, or have had a fecal test run recently. Many facilities will require that any vaccines given were administered by, or under the direction of a licensed veterinarian to ensure that the vaccinations were stored, handled and administered properly.

Routine can be very helpful in preventing or lessening the stress commonly associated with boarding. You’ll want to know if the facility has set times for allowing dogs outdoors to relieve themselves, feeding, and cleaning. Make sure that the longest period between scheduled outdoor times (usually over night) seems reasonable to you. Adding the additional stress of not being able to get out to go to the bathroom as often as needed is unpleasant for your dog, and may mean a smelly mess for you when you arrive to take them home. As a bonus, some facilities may offer additional “walk” times for puppies or dogs who may need to go out more often due to health or age.

Meal times should be clean and organized. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times. It should be easy for the staff to locate your pet’s food and feed them the amount you’ve specified. Everything should be clearly labeled, and there should be fridge space available for those animals who are on canned or fresh food diets.

If the facility you’re considering employs the use of punishment, including the use of shock, spray bottles, or choke chains I would run, not walk, away and find a better option. Being away from you is stressful enough, you don’t need your pet to have a truly traumatic experience at the hands of someone else while you’re away.

Concerns specific to day care facilities

Dogs should be divided into appropriate play groups according to a number of factors including age, size and play style. Each group (assuming they’re out during the same time periods) should have their own attendant/supervisor and each play area should have clear boundaries that keep each group contained. Dogs in play groups must be constantly supervised. Things can go wrong in a instant. It’s best if trained staff is there to interrupt and redirect problem behaviors before they cause serious trouble. Being in the building, and checking on the dogs at intervals, is not enough. The dogs must be supervised at all times when they’re in groups.

There should be structured breaks for the dogs rather than all play, all the time. Break times should include meal or snack times, any time an attendant can’t be with the dogs, and nap or rest times. You want your dog to come home from day care tired and happy, not exhausted and stressed.

One final note: schedule early! Great boarding and day care facilities book up quickly for major holiday and vacation dates, and you don’t want to get stuck with a less-than-ideal facility. Here’s to a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season for you and your family, including the furry and four-legged kind!