Preparing your canine companion for their first dog boarding experience can feel overwhelming if you do not know what to expect.
So, we put together this helpful list of things to do and consider before boarding your pet. With this guide, and a little pre-planning, you and your pup will be ready for a successful dog boarding adventure when life requires that you travel out of town without your furry sidekick!
1. Make Sure Your Dog Is Up-To-Date on Their Vaccinations
For the health and safety of your dog, as well as all of the other dogs in the boarding facility you choose, pet hotels and boarding kennels require canine guests get certain vaccinations before their stay. Many facilities ask that guests are current on their Bordetella, rabies, DHPP (distemper) and CIV (canine Influenza) vaccinations, but you’ll want to check with your specific boarding facility to verify which ones they require.
Make sure your pup gets their vaccinations well in advance of booking their boarding stay, because some vaccines, such as the one for Bordetella, require an incubation period before they become effective, much like the flu vaccine for humans, which needs a few days to kick in. Depending on your dog’s age, size, and weight, some veterinarians will also recommend spacing out the vaccinations, rather than administering them all in one day, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get your dog the vaccinations they need safely.
While you’re getting your pup vaccinated, you may also want to ask your vet about heartworm preventatives, especially if your dog will be romping around outside enjoying some sunshine and fresh air during their boarding stay. Dogs can get heartworms if they are bitten by an infected mosquito, so they’re at risk anytime they venture outside in an area where mosquitoes live (which is most of the United States). A simple blood test is all that’s needed to check your pet for heartworms and after that you can give them a preventative oral medication, such as Heartguard or Sentinel, once a month. Just note that your vet will need to test your pet for heartworms before starting them on any preventative medications to avoid causing serious harm.
2. Protect Against Fleas and Ticks
Whether you’re boarding your dog for a couple of weeks, dropping them off for a single day of doggie day care, or taking them to your local dog park, you do not want your pet coming home with fleas or ticks. In order for your pet to safely enjoy romping around with other dogs and exploring the great outdoors, it’s a good idea to put them on a flea and tick preventative. There are many options on the market from topical spot-on treatments to repellent collars. It’s always a good idea to consult your veterinarian when selecting a preventative treatment for your pooch.
3. Fill Out the Paperwork in Advance
Your dog’s boarding facility is going to need some information from you before your departure. You can make the process less stressful by requesting the paperwork ahead of time, and filling it out before bringing your dog in for their meet and greet. This will also give you an indication of which vaccinations your pet hotel or boarding kennel requires, so you can bring the necessary documentation from your dog’s vet.
Read up on your boarding facility’s emergency procedures, just in case. You’ll want to make sure to give them your veterinarian’s contact information. If you’re going to be traveling to an area where you do not get good cell phone reception, or if you’re planning a vacation out of the country, you may also want to give the boarding staff the phone number of a friend or family member close by who they can contact if you are not going to be reachable right away.
4. Share Information About Your Dog
Feel free to make notes about your dog’s likes, dislikes, and unique personality traits on your paperwork. The more information the staff at the boarding facility has about your pup, the better they will be able to care for your furry friend and look out for their safety while you’re gone.
Make a note of any allergies and let your dog’s caregivers know if they have any triggers such as food aggression, barrier anxiety, or if they get nervous around larger or smaller pups. If your dog has great leash manners 99% of the time, but they bark and lunge when they see a bunny, it’s good to share that with the staff that will be taking your pooch for a walk.
5. Keep Your Dog’s Diet Consistent
Sudden changes in your dog’s diet can cause them gastrointestinal discomfort leading to diarrhea and/or vomiting. It’s in your pup’s best interest to keep their diet consistent during and before the time you’ll be away. Dog boarding kennels and pet hotels welcome owners to provide enough food for the duration of your furry companion’s stay. Your pet (and their stomach) will enjoy the taste of home and this will help them feel comfortable in their new surroundings.
Another thing to keep in mind in the days leading up to your departure, is that overfeeding or over-treating your dog before you leave can cause stomach discomfort. Sometimes, to show our love for our furry friends, we lavish them with tasty treats, but giving them more bones, biscuits, or treats than usual before your departure can disrupt their normal routine and cause them to have abnormal bowel movements at the beginning of their boarding stay. It’s better to give your dog extra belly rubs, so even if your dog has mastered the art of begging for treats, do your best to resist their adorable pleading face. It’ll be better for them in the long run.
6. Give Your Pup Time to Get Acclimated Before You Go Out of Town
For some dogs, the first time they stay overnight in a kennel or spend the day surrounded by many other dogs in daycare can be overwhelming. Your pup might need time to adjust to all the new smells and sounds. Many pet and dog boarding facilities offer discounted boarding rates or promotions for new customers. It’s a good idea to take advantage of these welcome packages by dropping your dog off for a short stay when you’re not going to be too far away. This will allow you to find out if there are any skills your dog needs help working on before you go out of town for an extended period of time.
If your pooch gets nervous meeting new dogs, consider signing them up for doggie day care a couple of times before you book a longer overnight stay. This will give your pup time to get acquainted with their surroundings, become friends with other dogs, get used to the trainers, and feel comfortable in their temporary home away from home.
Giving your dog regular opportunities to hone their social skills outside of the boarding facility can also help set them up for success when you go out of town. Hosting play dates with friends or neighbors and their dogs is a fun way for your dog (and you!) to socialize. You can also take your dog to a local dog park, join dog hiking groups, or visit a dog beach and let your pooch practice making friends with other cute canines that way.
It’s important to understand that each dog is unique, and for an array of reasons, some dogs just are not good at socializing. If you find that your dog is aggressive, or has extreme anxiety around other animals, don’t push them. Just make sure the pet hotel you choose can accommodate your pup’s needs. Do your research and select a facility like Wag Hotels that welcomes dogs of all sizes, breeds, and temperaments, and can customize your dog’s stay to meet their specific needs.
7. Help Your Dog Get a Good Night’s Sleep
It can be a struggle to fall asleep in a new place, even for us humans, but rest is important for the health and happiness of humans and dogs alike. Getting your dog used to sleeping in similar surroundings to the ones they’ll encounter at the boarding facility can improve their chances of sleeping soundly when you’re away. If your dog will be staying in a kennel at the boarding facility, try having them sleep in a crate at home.
If this doesn’t seem to work for your dog, you may want to select a dog boarding facility that offers private rooms or suites. For the discerning canine companion that’s used to sleeping in bed with their humans, some doggie day care facilities even offer luxury suites with human-sized beds, so they’ll feel right at home when it’s time to drift off to doggy dreamland.
8. Bring Their Favorite Toy
Most dog boarding facilities will allow canine guests to bring a couple of small toys from home. Whether your dog has a favorite stuffed animal they sleep with or a chew toy that they like to carry around with them, bringing an item or two from home can help your dog feel comfortable in their kennel or room when they’re getting ready for bed. Giving your furry friend something that smells like you, such as a pair of socks, can also help them feel secure while you’re away and lessen their anxiety.
9. Exercise Your Pooch Before You Drop Them Off
If you have time before dropping your dog off for their boarding stay, it can be very beneficial to let them get a good workout in. Whether you prefer to take your dog for a run or play fetch in your backyard, giving your pup an opportunity to get some energy out can help alleviate their stress when it comes time to say goodbye. Your dog will appreciate the time together and they’ll be more relaxed when they get to the boarding facility.
10. Show Them It’s Okay
While this one can be a challenge for us dog-loving humans, try to avoid long goodbyes when you’re dropping your pup off for daycare or boarding. Your dog is likely very in-tune with your emotions, and if they pick up on your sadness over leaving them, it can increase their anxiety. Do your best to act as you would if you were only going to be away for a short time.
If your dog has separation anxiety, or gets very stressed when you begin your leaving-the-house routine, it can help to do these things more regularly, particularly when you won’t actually be leaving. For example, if your dog starts to panic the moment you pull out a suitcase, start bringing it out when you aren’t going anywhere. Show your pup that a suitcase doesn’t always mean they are going to be alone, so that when you do need to pack for a longer trip they are not stressed for hours while you’re packing and getting ready. For more extreme or frequent separation anxiety, try getting dressed, putting on your shoes, getting your car keys and then instead of heading out the door to go to work, just sit on your couch and watch your favorite TV show. It may feel awkward, but this can help your pooch overcome their anxiety more quickly.
11. Choose the Best Dog Boarding Facility for Your Pooch
Finally, it is important to choose the right dog boarding facility for your pup. Take your time to select a pet hotel that can give your dog the right combination of exercise, rest, and affection. No one knows your dog better than you do, so share information about your pup’s specific needs and ask the staff questions if you have any concerns.
Before dropping your pet off for an extended boarding stay, take a tour of the facility, schedule a shorter daycare session for your pet to try out the program, and see how they do. If you do not think it’s a good fit, trust your instincts. It’s okay to try out multiple places until you find the right one.
Spending time apart from your furry family member is going to stir up some sadness for your dog and for you. Choose a boarding facility that can give you peace of mind while you’re away. Doing your research to find a pet hotel with staff that you trust to treat your dog like the family members they are will make your vacation or travel more enjoyable.
Page Baird is a guest contributor and the social media manager for Wag Hotels, an awesome dog boarding, grooming and training brand located throughout California.