Everyone needs help looking after their dog sometimes. Making sure that your dog is well cared for by a competent professional needs more than trusting to luck.
For occasional and emergency visits, plan at a time when the need is not urgent or even before you have a definite need so that you can try out an establishment and make other arrangements if it is not suitable.
If you are planning to leave your dog with a boarder when you are at work and/or every time that you go on holiday, re-consider dog ownership. Dogs are not just for evenings and weekends. If you don’t enjoy your dog to the extent that you are prepared to go on holiday with him, then probably a dog is not for you.
Every establishment, whether offering day care or overnight boarding, must have been licensed and inspected by the local authority under the auspices of the Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963. The only exception is an individual boarding just one other dog in addition to their own.
The licence will only be granted if the local authority is satisfised that:
- Animals will, at all times, be kept in accommodation suitable in respect of construction, size of quarters, number of occupants, exercising facilities, temperatures, lighting, ventilation and cleanliness
- Animals will be adequately supplied with suitable food, drink and bedding materials, adequately exercised and (so far as is necessary) visited at suitable intervals
- All reasonable precautions will be taken to prevent and control the spread of infectious or contagious diseases, including the provision of adequate isolation facilities
- Appropriate measures will be taken to protect the animals in case of fire or other emergency, including the provision of suitable fire fighting equipment
- A register containing a description of any animal received into the establishment, the date of arrival and departure and the name and address of the owner will be kept and that the register will be available for inspection at all times by a licensing inspector or by a veterinary surgeon or veterinary practitioner authorised by the authority
- A licence may contain special conditions that are only applicable to specific premises.
Premises will also be inspected to check that they have adequate provision in the event of a fire, are clean and have safe food handling practices and that staff have a written training plan. The owner should also have planning permission. If they are not willing to show you up to date copies of their licence and insurance and provide references for you to contact – walk away.
If they are not willing to let you visit and have a thorough look around (preferably unannounced) – walk away.
When you do decide to board, take your dog in for a trial night. Make the minimum amount of fuss when leaving. Ask for a full report of his behaviour throughout the trial period and the routine that was undertaken. Make sure that you are completely happy with everyhting befopre you agree to a longer stay. Many kennels will provide updates, but please bear in mind that kennel staff will be busy looking after a lot of dogs and possibly other animals so they do not need harrassing by an anxious owner. If you do not trust them to look after your dog without making constant contact, do not leave your dog in their care.
Try to make things as familiar for your dog as possible. Take in your own bedding (most kennels will allow this but they may have bio-security concerns) and a favourite toy which is safe for unsupervised play. Some kennels offer to provide food, but remember that a sudden change can upset your dog’s digestion at a time when he will also be coping with being in a strange environment.
If you are boarding more than one dog then it may be safe to allow them to board in the same kennel as long as it is at least double the size of a single kennel. However, if either dog does get stressed, there is always the chance that re-directed aggression may result in a fight. Strange dogs should never be boarded together.
Find out how much exercise dogs get out of the kennels per day. Your dog should have at least two sessions out of kennels either on lead or in a completely enclosed run. If you trust staff to choose dogs that can play safely together then give your permission; otherwise request that your dog does not mix with other dogs but that he has time to play with the staff or just have a wander and a sniff.
Check charges beforehand and compare with other local, similar facilities. Price is not always an indicator of quality and should never be the sole consideration. Never board your dog anywhere that you have not visited and inspected thoroughly or at the very least had a reliable recommendation if in an emergency.
Your dog should be vaccinated fully and treated for parasites. In addition, if you do not choose it as routine, you will need to have a bordetella vaccination administered at least 2 weeks prior to boarding. Staff should ask you to show up to date records. If they do not – walk away. There is always the chance that they have taken another dog on trust that has not been vaccinated and your dog’s welfare and even life could be at risk. Kennel cough can be extremely serious in very young and very old dogs and cases of parvo virus and distemper are on the increase and can be fatal. Ask if any dogs are fed raw and request a written copy of the kennel hygiene routine. Make it a condition of your dog boarding that the strictest hygiene rules are complied with to the letter if raw meat or eggs are fed to any dogs on the premises. Dogs fed raw meat and eggs will be shedding transferable pathogens.
Bear in mind that holiday periods will be extremely busy and book as far in advance as possible.
When considering day care, the above provisions should still apply. The establishment should have a boarding licence and have been inspected by the local authority. Do not accept their word: ask for a copy of the licence and double check the details with the local authority. Ask for a copy of their insurance and check that it is comprehensive. Do not allow your dog to go to a dog walker or into day care if the insurance only covers third party incidents. Your dog health insurance may be invalid in the event of an incident that occurs when your dog is under the care of an establishment that is not operating legally.
Ask what the daily routine is. Make sure that you know about local restrictions such as areas where dogs should not be walked and restrictions on the number of dogs that can be walked at any one time. Many walkers circumvent limitations by walking in groups which means that, although there may be one person to every four dogs, the dogs will be in a large pack. This has consequences for their behaviour and that of other dogs in the vicinity. If the dogs will be collected by car or van, be aware that dogs will be left unattended while new dogs are collected. This may take quite a long time in an urban area, so your dog may be spending a lot of time in a vehicle in close proximity to strange dogs. Dogs have been left to die in hot vans by dog walking businesses and have been stolen when vehicles have been left unattended.
Make sure that the facilities have scope for isolating a dog where necessary and that your dog will have plenty of time for quiet rest. Many dog boarders allow the dogs to run riot all day in the mistaken assumption that they are having fun playing together. Dogs become exhausted and stressed which often goes unnoticed by the dog boarder and by owners who think that there dog is just tired after a fun day with other dogs.