Here we are, right in the heart of the summer vacation season. While many of us will pack up our best friends for camping trips or cross country treks, furry family members often end up in some sort of boarding situation while we have our fun in the sun.
So, if you are looking for a place to take care of your dog(or cat) how do you find a good, safe facility? It can be harder than you think.
Start with a tour. You won’t earn any goodwill by stopping by during rush hours (usually from open to about 10 am and 5 to close), but a good operation should allow tours at nearly any time they during business hours. If a place severely restricts the times you can visit, requires advanced notice, or outright bans visits, be very cautious. An exception to this can be very small operations. If it is just a few people, handling a few dogs, they may be able to give pooches some fantastic care and attention, but not have time or staff to handle extra time and effort of random drop-ins. Use good judgement deciding if the facility you are looking at falls into this category.
During your tour think like your dog. Use all your senses; use your eyes, use your nose, and use your ears. Is it clean? Check the corners and the edges of the areas. Don’t just look where the tour guide points, but look around, look at the sinks and tubs, and don’t forget to look up. Dogs make messes and you may catch a place in the middle of a busy time so you may see some of that mess, but take note of what you see. Has that pile been sitting so long it has dried up? Is the urine a stain on the floor? Is there a layer of grime on the upper light fixtures? Details matter and if a place is ignoring the nooks and crannies, it can be a bad sign.
Does the place smell? If you can smell urine or feces, remember your dog has about 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in us. If it smells bad to you, it is awful for them. There is also the other side to that equation. Many places use bleach or other harsh chemicals to kill germs and bacteria, but that can be overpowering to a dog and extended exposure can even cause health issues.
Is it loud? Are the other dogs in the facility barking? Howling? Is there a grooming area with loud dryers? That noise can become a serious stressor to a dog and could leave you with a sick dog when you come to pick up. Various kinds of music and talk radio has been shown to help ease stress in dogs. What music is playing at the facility you are visiting?
Don’t forget the sense of touch. What will your dog be touching, stepping on, playing on? Tile floors are terrible for for dogs and the facility staff, cement is not much better. Rubber flooring is about the best you can do for playing dogs, or the holy grail of doggy daycares, kennel grass.
What will your dog do while in their care?
Many places have daycare along with boarding, and some high-end places seem like a Club Med for Mutts, with swimming, walks, park outings, fitness rooms, and more. These can make it an awesome stay for your pup and help burn off energy and keep their mind occupied. However, if your dog does not usually do some of these things, make sure you don’t overwhelm them during the visit. This can be even more stressful than sitting in a kennel if a dog is not used to it and can leave a dog, especially an older one, feeling those same aches and pains a person feels after over-exerting themselves.
If your dog does daycare, ask questions.
Do you have a ratio of staff to dogs in daycare?
How do you screen the dogs? How do you decide on playgroups?
How do you train the staff?
What happens when there is a dog fight? What corrections do you use?
When was the last time a dog had to be sent to the vet for an injury from daycare?
The thing is, no one can guarantee there won’t be a fight, or an accident, or an injury. Risk is a fact of life, especially when dealing with dogs, but listen to the responses. Do they seem honest? Does it seem like the staff is really making efforts to keep pets safe? Does it sound like they don’t know how to answer or hesitate? Do they change the subject or not answer at all? Again, these things happen at even the best facility, but how they handle it separates the quality places from the ones you want to avoid.
What about a petsitter?
Another trend in the petcare world is the petsitter. In the old days, you might ask the neighbor, a relative, or a neighborhood kid to watch your pets, but today in-home dog sitting is becoming big business. The big names right now are Rover.com and dogvacay.com. (Actually owned by the same people.) With these services you can find someone who will watch your dog in your home or theirs, walk your dog, care for them in all kinds of situations. We have used Rover and had great success. We also met a few people whom I would not let care for a stuffed Snoopy doll, much less my beloved dogs. The thing to keep in mind with any individual offering care, is that next week, they may be gone. That can be a problem if you need last minute petcare, or if you had a concern, such as an unexplained injury or illness in your pet. With a facility, at least you know (or would believe) they have been through a permitting process in most places, have a static location, and a license to conduct this business. A sole person can disappear pretty easily if trouble arises.
Dog boarding and daycare is a booming business today with the industry seeing strong growth year over year for the past decade. There are new places popping up everywhere from urban centers to rural communities, and the level of service ranges from basic kennel and feeding to luxuries even us humans would be jealous of. As with any serious endeavour, do your research, ask your friends for suggestions, and use your head and common sense when deciding who to let care for your pet.