Boarding Options — Pros & Cons

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 and  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.

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