It’s the holidays and the time that many of us have to leave our companions in another’s care while we visit friends and relatives. Here is an overview of some common options.
Veterinary Hospitals — Most veterinary hospitals have standard square stainless steel cages for the dogs to stay in and then provide more spacious accommodations for potty times or use a slip lead to walk the animals outside. Many hospitals have a-la-cart services to provide more stimulation or exercise for your dog, but either way your dog is basically in a crate all day and night. Most owners are surprised to learn that besides 24 hour emergency clinics, most vet hospitals do not have overnight staff to check on your pet.
The pros — regardless of the lack overnight supervision, vet clinics are still generally the safest option for your pet. There is just not much trouble a dog can get into there. They are usually best at following rigid medication and feeding protocols and will ensure that your dog eats, sleeps, pees & poos all on schedule and keeps a consistent weight. They provide thorough documentation and can accommodate most owner requests.
The cons - a steel crate can be extremely mentally and behaviorally damaging for long term use. It is generally agreed that anything longer than 2 weeks in any type of kennel set-up, even with some enrichment and exercise, becomes a behavioral crisis so it is best for short-term use. Also, despite most veterinary staff being well trained in handling issues, due to limited interaction with your dog, the subtle warning signs of more serious problems can still be missed.
Traditional Kennels — Most traditional kennels are comprised of long concrete, brick, and chain link buildings housing multiple indoor/outdoor kennel runs. There is generally a small heated indoor space and a larger outside space divided by a guillotine door. Dogs stay mainly contained to their kennel runs unless an owner purchases add-on services like play time or a walk. Besides an occasional on-site supervisor, dogs are generally unsupervised all night.
The pros — your dog has more space to move around than at a veterinary hospital and has varied access to outside sights and smells and potty areas. These places are generally cheaper than other options. Some kennels now offer luxury indoor rooms as an alternative to runs. Kennels can sometimes handle aggressive dogs or very large breeds (that don’t fit in box-style kennels) that other facilities have trouble accommodating.
The cons — The idea of your dog being able to see the action of neighbor dogs or staff moving animals around in the halls sounds appealing, but in combination with little attention and exercise it is the perfect storm to create serious barrier and frustration issues in just a short period. Dogs develop severe aggression through fences or a plethora of other frustrated stereotyped behaviors like methodical barking, spinning, or jumping in place. Because of this there is a higher risk of injury from jumping, climbing, or just beating a tail against concrete all day than in a vet-style cage. Also these facilities frequently don’t ever have to handle your dog or remove it from its run so they can be slower in spotting odd behaviors that may signal illness or injury.
In-home Caregivers/Housesitters — There are lots of networks developing to provide in-home care for your dog while you’re away like Rover.com and SleepoverRover.com. Your dog goes to live at someone else’s home or someone comes to stay at yours. These are great options for well-rounded easygoing dogs or people with multiple pets and can create a homelike environment. Caretakers and pricing varies greatly from cheap and inexperienced homes to expensive and educated enthusiasts who are prepped to handle challenging dogs.
The pros — closest thing to your dog’s regular home environment. In-home caregivers usually get familiar with your pet and can be better at noticing odd or concerning behaviors. This can be a very low-stress option for many dogs and the only option for dogs with severe separation issues. Some caregivers are truly outstanding knowledgeable dog lovers and go the extra mile.
The cons — anyone can be a caregiver… anyone. Generally you need little or no experience with dogs to care for other people’s. Dogs can get lost, get in horrific fights with host dogs, be allowed to practice unwanted behaviors, or be subject to inhumane training methods seen on TV with little accountability. Many individuals and smaller companies have few systems in place should problems arise. This is why it is important to thoroughly screen all caretakers or go through a credible company even if it is more expensive.
Daycare Boarding — This is usually just an extension of dog daycare so if your dog enjoys daycare, this can be a great option. Overnight care varies between facilities but is a must for kennel-free set-ups.
The pros — your dog usually gets ample space, freedom, free access to potty areas, and social interaction with both people and dogs all day. Because staff members spend a lot of time with your dog, they can be better at noticing changes in behavior that might signal something more serious.
The cons — not all dogs are suitable for large loosely-structured group play. Boarding can be exhausting even for regular daycare visitors and some dogs develop mild behavioral and stress-related health issues consequently. Few daycares can accommodate dogs that have to be kenneled or removed from play. Kennel-free overnight care can cause added stress when dogs do not have the option to retreat to a quiet space unbothered.
Which one to choose? That depends on you and your dog’s values. For mellow well-socialized dogs that enjoy the company of others, your options are endless. For high-energy dogs or dogs that have specific behavioral requirements, a credible organization or experienced facility is a must. Be prepared to pay more for well-trained staff or overnight care. Keep in mind that for most dogs, being away from you for any period of time is upsetting so aiming for a completely stress-free experience may be unrealistic. Strange behaviors can crop up even in the best of situations which is why educated staff is important. Either way, more than two weeks in any kennel situation is mentally damaging and must be remedied.