Dave and I have had dogs all our lives–and long before we went into the profession of caring for dogs, we needed to board ours, once in awhile. We tried a couple of places…and had some variation in experiences. As you might imagine, we can tell you about even more that others have had, now that we are in the business, ourselves. It wasn’t actually until we were going through training to have our own facility that we understood what exactly had happened when our dogs came home tired, stressed and somehow just…different. So, if you’ve ever experienced any of the issues mentioned below, it might be time to consider a change for your dog. The first thing you’ll want to do is set up a time to tour a prospective new facility. Note that although some areas may be off limits on a tour due to reasonable liability issues if you were injured, you should be allowed to see most areas where your dog will be staying, when you ask.
Things To Ask When Touring a Dog Daycare/Boarding Facility
1.) Do you perform an assessment of all dogs entering your facility? If so, which dogs are accepted or not, and why?
If the facility you’re considering accepts all dogs whether they are known to be aggressive or not, or whether they are fixed or not, you need to know this in advance.
2.) Do you separate large from small dogs? How do you determine my dog’s playgroup? How large are your playgroups?
Size and age matter. How your dog plays does, too. Dogs have four playstyles–and sometimes will exhibit more than one. So a knowledgeable facility will place your dog in a group appropriate for the way he plays–whether your dog is a puppy or a couch potato. And there shouldn’t be more than 10 dogs or so in one playgroup.
3.) How will my dog be introduced to the others on his first day?
No matter the dog’s age, playstyle or size, you do not want your dog overwhelmed by being thrust into a strange gaggle of dogs with no warning. Your dog should be introduced to one dog at a time, lowest energy dog first. After all, would you want to be shoved into the faces of a large number of unknown people in a crowded rooom?
4.) How many people do you have supervising your playgroups?
It is simply impossible for one person to properly supervise a group of more than 15 dogs–and ideally the ratio should be 1 for every 10 dogs. In groups of large, active dogs the proper ratio might be more like 1 to every 5. So a lot depends on the size and activity level of the dogs. These staff members should also be inside with the dogs, not observing them with a camera or through a window.
5.) When and for how long does my dog get to be outside? And where do they play when it’s too hot, cold or raining, windy, etc.
Every facility handles this differently. Some have large interior play spaces. Others have more outdoor space than inside. If you dog is going to play indoors when the weather is inclement, how often will he go outside for potty time? Will he have an enclosed outdoor place to go or will someone be walking him? If the only place to play is outdoors for most of the day, and it’s hot or cold, how will he be made comfortable? Is there shade and are enough yard misters present to keep him cool? Is there warm shelter outside in the winter and how long are dogs left outside? Really think about worst case scenario, here. Dogs should not be outside for more than a few minutes in above 100 degree weather–some breeds can only tolerate much, much less. Some breeds don’t tolerate anything below 40 well without protection, while others are good for longer at colder temperatures.
6.) Will my dog get a break from playing? If so, when and where?
Think about what your dog does at home every day. Sure, he plays–sometimes, a lot! But it’s likely he rests a lot, too. And in a large facility, if your dog doesn’t have a place to rest for awhile, he’s likely to go home injured and stressed. So ask about how this is accomplished–will your dog be crated during the rest period? If not, where’s the nap area and–if it’s communal–how is it supervised?
7.) How is my dog fed while he’s with you?
Some facilities do this by crating each dog with his own food. In cage free facilities, dogs should be fed one at a time. Only dogs from the same household that are used to eating together without showing aggression should be fed together.
8.) When my dog boards with you, is there someone on site? If so, where?
Most facilities do not maintain on site staff overnight. The staff leaves the dogs in their own runs for the night and returns in the mornings for cleanup of overnight messes, and to let out and feed the dogs. Some facilities have staff on the premises, but in a separate building or on another floor from the dog guests. A few have staff that remain with the dogs, all night long. No matter which you choose for your pet, be aware that groups of uncrated dogs should never be left in a facility overnight without supervision.
9.) If my dog’s behavior needs to be corrected, how is this accomplished?
All dogs play inappropriately from time to time. The staff in a good facility will be trained to correct problem behavior in a positive manner–such as re-directing your dog to play a different way or with a different playmate. Even time outs are ok, if they are brief with the purpose of cooling down an excited dog. Brief training on the “leave it” command is great. Hitting or the use of devices to deliver shocks are NOT okay.
10.) What certifications does the facility owner and staff have in animal care and safety?
Many people don’t know that several years went by during which the only animal care certifications available for our industry were simply pieces of paper you bought on the internet. Nowadays, thanks to organizations such as the IBPSA and PACCC, and companies such as PetTech and The Dog Gurus, real training and actual certifcations are available, by means of real courses and testing centers.
11.) Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions, such as: What if my dog is injured or becomes ill? How to you handle dogs that climb or escape? How many bites or fights do you see a year? How do you prevent fights? How do you handle a dog fight? What is your emergency plan for this building?
Every facility should know their policies on these matters and be able to explain them. Moreover, they should be able to show you the answer to anything you ask.
Bottom Line–What to Watch For At Your Current Dog Facility
Stress Signs In Dogs On Arrival
Your dog is reluctant to enter, when he wasn’t previously
New stress behaviors such as a tucked tail or submissive urinating
Stress Signs In Dogs When Leaving Or At Home
Your dog has rolling eyes, heavy panting or is hoarse from too much barking
Collar sensitivity–when he previously accepted his collar being handled
New concerning behaviors such as leash aggression or perimeter barking
Your dog can’t ask for himself. Now you know what to ask for him.
Joy Jones, Publisher, is also the Vice President of Your Pet Space, a cage free dog boarding facility serving the greater Las Cruces, NM area. Her urban fiction book Indigo was recently published. When not working at Your Pet Space, she writes a metaphysical column, as well as humor. You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Your Pet Space on Facebook.