While it is lovely to be able to holiday with your dog, realistically, this is not always possible for everyone. Perhaps you are planning a trip abroad, or maybe you are attending a family event that dogs are not allowed to be at. Sometimes it may be a work commitment or even a family emergency.
Even if you always try to include your dog in everything you do, no matter how hard you try, there may come a time when you need help with care for your dog overnight.
It is good to plan for this eventually. Having a backup plan that you know works for your dog can be a comfort.
If you have obliging family members, friend or neighbours that your dog knows and trusts then that can be extremely useful and very lucky. If you are not so fortunate, or you do not want to assume that they can always step in, then you will need to consider your other options.
The three most common alternatives are dog boarding kennels, having your dog boarded in someone else’s home, or having a pet sitter come to look after your dog in your own home.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each and it will depend on the individual dog, your budget, what you feel comfortable with and what is available in your area.
Don’t forget too that any good kennel or boarder will often book up months in advance. It is important to be organised. Don’t start looking for somewhere for your dog to stay a week or two before your planned trip, you are likely to be disappointed and could end up hiring someone without doing the proper due diligence in your panic.
This article will hopefully help you consider the pros and cons of each to allow you to make a more informed choice.
While some dogs settle just fine in a good dog boarding kennel, some may be more suited to being looked after in a home environment
Dog Boarding Kennels
Before the days of home boarders and pet sitters, this was the main option if you had to leave your pet overnight. While there are lots of excellent establishments out there, there are also some that are not so reputable and, even, if the kennels are very well run it does not necessarily mean that your dog is going to be suited to that type of environment.
What Are the Advantages of a Boarding Kennel?
Boarding kennels are often cheaper than having your dog home boarded or looked after in their own home. They can also be a good option if your dog does not like direct contact with other dogs (often in a home boarding environment there may be another resident dog or other dogs being boarded at the same time).
Will Your Dog Be Relaxed in a Kennel Environment?
For some very laid back dogs, they may not be phased by a stay at kennels. They may enjoy watching the comings and goings, settle fine in their kennel space and enjoy the interactions that they have with the staff.
For others, it can be an extremely stressful and unsettling experience, no matter how well they are being cared for.
For dogs that have been used to home comforts, a specific daily routine where they have company in the home, and a tranquil environment, then the noisy and very different space can be a shock to their system.
While they are well cared for, they may get a lot less interaction with humans, they will be staying in a very alien environment and there is often a lot of barking and noise that could unsettle them.
If you have a dog with a very sensitive or fearful disposition, one that doesn’t like other dogs, or is used to cuddles on the sofa much of the day, then having them board at a kennel may not be the best option.
For some rescue dogs that have had traumatic backgrounds, the boarding kennel environment may be reminiscent of their time in a pound and this could also be too much for some dogs.
Conversely, there are some rescue dogs that settle just fine at boarding kennels.
Depending on your dog’s personality and past experiences, the kennel environment can sometimes be too alien and stressful for them
Trial Stays are Very Important
If it is something you plan to consider, then a trial night is extremely important to see how they get on. Putting your dog in straight away for a fortnights stay could be detrimental to their well being if they are going to be extremely unsettled and stressed the whole time.
Don’t forget to provide their own bedding and some familiar items for them to have in the kennel with them as additional comfort.
Even if the staff say that your dog has been fine, you should be looking out for signs of stress when you leave them and pick them up. Are they panting excessively, when you collect them are they desperate to leave, have they eaten, have they barked themselves hoarse?
If they have an upset stomach or diarrhea this could be a sign of stress.
Of course, some dogs may settle after a day or two, but if they seem extremely distressed or the staff have let you know that they have not settled, then it may be better to consider alternative options.
A good kennel will be transparent and will advise you if your dog has been showing any signs of distress and give you a detailed update on their time there. If you do not hear anything, see no photos and get a very rudimentary report on your return, this is not a good sign.
What To Look For In a Good Boarding Kennel?
If you decide that your dog is going to cope with the kennel environment, there are a number of things that you should be looking for when seeking a well run boarding kennel.
What Are the Actual Facilities Like?
The staff should be happy to give you a tour of the facilities, even if you show up unannounced, and, if they show any hesitancy or refuse, then you should look elsewhere.
The kennels should be clean. When you are getting a tour, of course, there may be messy kennels from recent accidents but there should be no evidence of old faeces that have not been picked up for some time, the runs should be well maintained too. Especially strong odours are worrisome and, if the kennels are damp this is also not a good sign. They should be dry, well-ventilated and spacious.
If temperatures are extreme, does the kennel have air conditioning or heating? Some kennels will have safe glass doors rather than just mesh and this can help with noise-proofing and help to reduce any potential stress levels.
If you have two dogs, are the dogs allowed to be kenneled together and is there sufficient space for them both?
The facility should have a good level of cleanliness and hygiene and the kennels should be well-ventilated, the right temperature and the right size
What Are the Staff Like?
There should be an appropriate ratio of staff and they should have relevant experience. Don’t be afraid to ask about this too. When you are getting a tour, make time to speak to the staff and watch their interactions with the dogs in their care. Ask about the training they receive and whether they use force-free and non-aversive forms of training for the interactions with the dogs.
While kennel staff do not have to have any specific training, if none of the staff has a sound knowledge of dog behaviour and training this is not a good sign.
What Enrichment and Interaction Will The Dogs Receive?
Is there access to outdoor runs? What about freedom fields, for some off-leash free time? Some kennels provide daily walks for the dogs. Do they get playtime, or cuddle time with staff?
Some kennels will allow group play. It is important to ask how this is supervised and the numbers of dogs that will play together and whether they will be separated by size. If your dog does not like other dogs, the kennel staff should ensure that your dog has other enrichment options. Will they allow them interactive treat toys for example?
Make sure that you see the outdoor space they have access to. Is it appropriate in terms of size, is it free of any hazards and is it fully secure?
Will your dog have access to secure outside space and get regular opportunities for play and enrichment?
Are the Dogs Supervised at Night?
There are some kennels that do not have staff available through the night. For emergency situations, including potential medical conditions, it is important to make sure that the kennel has staff on site round the clock, or at least the owners living on site.
What Are Their Emergency Procedures?
You should always ask about how the kennels would deal with an emergency. Do they have contingencies in place and what are they? How would they deal with your dog if they become sick or got injured? Make sure you are aware of what vet they would use and provide them with emergency contact details too.
Make Sure You See Their Licenses and Do Background Checks
It is important that the kennels have the appropriate licenses. Don’t be afraid to ask to see these. It is also important to do some background research. You want to look for a kennel with lots of positive reviews. Is it one that has been recommended to you. Often your vet or local trainer may be able to provide some suggested recommendations.
They Should Always Ask to See Your Dog’s Vaccination Paperwork
To minimise the risk of diseases being transferred, reputable kennels always ask that the dogs in their care are vaccinated and they should always want proof of this. If they don’t ask for this, it is a sign that their levels of care or due diligence are not satisfactory.
Home Boarding involves your dog going to stay at someone else’s home. This can be a better option for a dog that would be stressed out in a kennel environment.
Often, your dog will still need to get on with other dogs as there may be a resident dog or other dog’s boarding there.
Sometimes, your regular dog walker may offer a home boarding service. This means your dog knows them, they know your dog and your dog will likely get on with any dogs they may be living walked with them. This is often an ideal situation.
If you do not use a dog walker or they do not offer a home boarding service, then this is when you may have to do a bit more research.
A home boarder allows your dog to stay in their home for the duration of your holiday and this can be less stressful for some dogs than a kennel environment
What to Look For In a Good Home Boarder?
Do They Have The Right Licenses and Insurance?
Home boarding regulations vary from country to country and state to state. Whoever you are contacting should be aware of their local regulations and have any license needed to support this. Often the licenses will have involved an inspection of their property and will expect them to conform to certain rules in terms of the number of dogs being boarded at once and how they maintain their property.
A home boarder should also have an appropriate insurance policy and should have transparent contracts for the owner to sign.
How Experienced and Passionate is the Home Boarder?
You want your dog boarder to really love dogs and, perhaps surprisingly, some of them don’t! It is also important that they have a solid understanding of dog behaviour and dog body language. If they don’t it could lead to misunderstandings between them and your dog or misinterpretation of interactions between dogs staying together.
If you are having an initial consultation it is important to look at how they interact with your dog. Do they mind when they get a big slobbery kiss, are they happy to wait for a nervy dog to come to them?
If they have a background in working with dogs or are able to show any training they have done, all the better.
Your dog and the boarder should be comfortable around one another
Do They Promote Force-Free Training Techniques?
We would always recommend looking for an individual that understands the importance of using science-based, non-aversive methods if they are looking after your dog. If they promote the use of choke or shock collars, then, in our opinion, it is time to look elsewhere. You want your dog to enjoy their stay and develop a trusting bond with their boarder, not only obey them out of fear.
How Many Dogs Do They Look After At Once?
Some home boarders can take on too much. If they already have three dogs of their own and are trying to look after another four, for example, you should be asking yourself if it is the right place for your dog to stay. Even if they are experienced and well-meaning, if something goes wrong it would be difficult for one person to control the situation with so many dogs. How would they be exercised, how would they deal with any dogs not getting on?
What is the Home Environment Like?
The home that your dog is staying in should be clean, free of clutter, have enough space for the dogs that are staying and have appropriate outside space too.
Enquire about where your dog will sleep, what will be the arrangements during the day and at night, will the dogs be left alone unsupervised (if they are preferably they should be separated to avoid any incidents, especially if they have not met previously). If your home boarder is a dog walker too, will your dog accompany them on their walks?
If there are children in the home, how young are they? Will they be appropriately supervised with the dogs? If your dog is very nervous around young children, then to avoid any stress or possible risk, it may be better looking elsewhere.
If your dog will be going in their vehicle, how will they be restrained? Will they be in a crate or restrained with a doggy seatbelt.
If there are children in the home do they know how to interact appropriately with dogs and is your dog comfortable around them
A Good Boarder Will Ask For Your Dog to be Vaccinated?
Most dog boarders, if they have other dogs in the home at least, will expect your dog to be up to date with all their vaccinations, or at least titre tested.
A Good Boarder Will Recommend a Trial Night or Two
As well as meeting up with you for a free initial consultation, a good boarder will always suggest a trial night or two (not for free though!). This will allow your dog and the boarder the chance to see if they are a good fit and test whether your dog will likely settle well with them. While some clients may initially be frustrated at the extra expense of an overnight stay when they do not “need” it, it is the sign of a responsible boarder.
Pet Sitting in Your Own Home
It is also possible to get a pet sitter that will come and stay in your own home.
When Pet Sitting Can be Beneficial
Pet Sitting is often considered helpful for particularly anxious dogs that do not like changes to their routines or new environments, for dogs that do not like other dogs, or for dogs that have particular care requirements. For some elderly dogs they may be better at home or if you have a blind dog, for example, staying home will be less disorientating. It can also be useful if you have other small animals in the home that also need care.
It can also offer extra reassurance that your home may be more secure and maintained, particularly if you are away more than a week or two. It can sometimes be possible to set out a contract of agreement with your pet sitter to help with other services alongside the care of your dog (often at an extra charge). This may include garden maintenance, plant watering or general cleaning.
It is generally a more expensive option than kennels or home boarding though and you are, of course, trusting the person to live in your house.
If your dog has particular requirements that would be best managed at home or they just don’t like the company of other dogs, then having a pet sitter look after your dog in your own home could be the best solution
How to Find a Reputable Pet Sitter?
There are companies that allow people to advertise to pet sit for free. While these can be popular, it often means that you may not meet the person in advance, they may not be properly insured, have the right experience or training and it can be harder to check up on any testimonials.
There are two agencies in the United States that provide details of certified pet sitters. While this is not a guarantee of someone reputable, it can be a good place to start: The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters and Pet Sitters International.
Word of mouth can also be helpful, as can speaking with your local vet, groomer or dog trainer.
What To Look For In A Good Pet Sitter?
Many of the things that you should check for a pet sitter are the same as those of a home boarder. You want to know their experience, their background and their passion for dogs. You also want to check if they will be around for your dog all the time, if they are happy to accommodate your dog’s routines and any quirks or specific requirements they may have.
They should be respectful of any requests you have (perhaps you don’t want your dog let off the leash, maybe they should not be interacting with other dogs).
They should also be respectful of your requests for the care of your home.
It is extremely important that you do background checks and follow up on testimonials and you should always meet the person in advance and allow them to meet your dog too.
Don’t Forget to Be a Good Client Too
It is important that you are a good client too. Not only will this mean that, if you like the Pet Sitter, they are more likely to work for you again but it is fairer on your dog too.
Make sure that you are transparent about your dog’s quirks, routines and requirements. If they need daily medication explain what this involves carefully, if there are certain quirks with your house these should be disclosed too. Make sure that you leave emergency contact details and that they have someone to be in touch with if there are any problems. Why not leave some basic supplies and explain what you are happy for them to use and not use.
If your dog has separation anxiety and needs someone around most of the day, be upfront about this with the Pet Sitter.
Don’t just head off on holiday and leave them all to their own devices. Regularly check in and hopefully, your sitter will also reciprocate with regular updates on your dog’s progress.
Make sure that you let your neighbours know so that they are not surprised by some stranger coming into your house!
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.