Clients often ask me where to board their dogs or where to take them for day care services. While I do keep a “short list” of recommended facilities, it’s a pretty exclusive group of mainly home boarding situations run by long time dog pro’s, so the available spots often fill up very quickly. So, for those who may need to step out on their own and evaluate a commercial facility, here are the criteria I would use if I were going to search for a place to board one of my own dogs.
1. Is the kennel facility secure? There should be an extra gate, or door, separating any off leash or kennel area from the main lobby to prevent escapes.
2. Is the facility clean? No kennel can completely eradicate disease transmission, but they should be able to insure that all reasonable precautions have been taken against the most dangerous organisms. Floors and fomites should be regularly bleached, or disinfected with a kennel disinfectant, but there should be no residual fumes while dogs are in the facility. Any dog facility will smell a bit like dog, because many breeds have oils in their skin that get on to surfaces, or the dogs may come in wet, but there should be no odor of stale urine or feces. Needless to say, the facility should keep a file with the vaccination, or titer, records of all the doggy participants, to insure that they are up to date, especially with the rabies vaccination, which is required by law.
3. Is there an attendant on duty or are dogs left alone for extended periods? No excuses on this one, folks, even if the dogs are crated separately. If you are paying for boarding, your dog should not be the only one to hear the smoke alarm if it goes off, nor should he have no one who can respond to a medical emergency, and he should not be left alone in a building known to house expensive dogs, possibly exposing them to theft (according to the American Kennel Club, thefts were up 49% across the nation this year).
4. Is the facility willing to sign an agreement that they will not use choke, prong, or shock collars on your dog? We have had reports from clients that such equipment was used on their dog without their permission! Of course, they terminated their relationship with the offending facility, but their dog, who is regularly walked in a head collar, had to experience the pain of a prong without their knowledge, which might have gone on indefinitely had they not made an unannounced visit. The facility did it as a cost saving measure so that they could walk him with more dogs, and not have to walk him individually. Surprise visits are good!
5. Ask what training the staff have had in animal behavior. Someone with credentials should be in a supervisory role, but staff should also be well trained on basic dog body language and behavior, when to intervene as dogs play, and when to let the dogs work things out. Also, pay attention to how people are speaking to, and interacting with, the dogs. If all you here is someone screaming dogs’ names, or yelling “No!” don’t leave your dog there. Be sure that your dog is arriving home tired from safe play, and not from stress!
6. Ask how the facility staff would break up a fight if necessary. There should be some citronella spray (Spray Shield) or a water supply handy, but if you see spray bottles hanging from every pillar and post, ask why they are there and how they are used. Ask what methods are used to quell excessive barking. It shouldn’t be by squirting your dog repeatedly in the face! Tell the facility that if your dog causes any problem, either by barking excessively, or anything else, that he can be segregated and that you want an immediate phone call, and will come and get him.
7. Dogs should play with dogs that have compatible play styles. Even if your dog plays with some larger dogs at home, consider restricting the dog to playing with dogs its own size, or only slightly larger, while boarding. Screening will not always weed out the bullies, and you don’t want your dog victimized by a much larger dog, or becoming the victim of “predatory drift” either.
8. Speaking of screening, do not leave your dog in a facility that allows intact dogs to participate in group play. While intact male dogs aren’t necessarily aggressive just because they are intact, they sometimes do elicit an aggressive response from other dogs. Your dog doesn’t need to be in the middle of that. Neutered males may still fight over a female in heat, too.
9. What about breed restrictions? My personal comfort level tells me that I would be fine with my big hound playing with dogs of any breed or play style, but my Aussie would find it totally abhorrent to play with any breed of dog which has a typically rough and physical play style. So, it’s not about prejudice against a particular breed, it’s really about play style, size, strength, and the individual tolerance level of the owners and dogs. It’s more important to ask how the facility insures that aggressive dogs are screened out, and not which breeds might be screened out. Aggression happens in all breeds! The application form you fill out should be extremely detailed when it comes to behavior, and should include info on the dog’s reaction to dogs of both genders, and to human strangers, including children!
10. If the day care uses terminology like “pack walks” or “structured walks” and they are taking dogs off the property for off leash excursions, run for the hills!!!! We have first hand knowledge of several dogs being lost by their caretakers who were a bit too confident of their abilities (in some cases the dogs were never found – if you are boarding or using day care, please be sure your dog is micro-chipped first!). Remember, your dog has a relationship with YOU, and even if the dog has a strong recall, he may not come when called by a kennel attendant, especially one who might be irritated or exasperated at not being able to gather everyone up that they left the kennel with.
11. Are the dogs kenneled securely at feeding time? No dog should EVER be asked to eat in direct proximity to unfamiliar dogs.
12. Does the kennel have a policy about emergency veterinary care for your dog? If they don’t, or it’s nebulous, don’t leave your dog there.
13. Remember, no one should take it upon themselves to “train” your dog in your absence without your express permission. We frown on “board and train” or “boot camp” because we’ve found that it is mostly correction-based or harsh training that is described in those terms, and we suggest if you do choose to have your dog trained while boarding, make sure the trainer is a member of a professional group committed to positive training, such as Truly Dog Friendly, KPCT, VSPDT. Don’t ask what the dog will be able to do when you get back to pick him up. Ask what equipment and specifically what method will be used. If you hear any of the following words, run for the hills and take your dog with you: dominance, guarantee, control or remote collar, pack leader, balanced. The buzz words you WANT to hear are: marker or clicker training, positive reinforcement, lure/reward, science-based or progressive reinforcement.
14. Be sure the facility is bonded and insured. Also, if they are sending a dog walker to your home, be certain that they also carry “care, custody and control” coverage.
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