How to choose a pet sitter/kennel

We recommend searching for a pet sitter or boarding facility well in advance of when you need it.  Here at Sympa Shelties we do pet sitting in our home and we always prefer to leave our dogs with a home setting rather than a kennel.  If you can not find a pet sitter or a kennel is your only option, here are some tips...... 


"We're going to leave Sport in a kennel while we travel this summer."

A common statement, but one not so easily accomplished in many cases.

What makes a good boarding kennel? Depends on what you are looking for. Sure, the good ones are clean and well-ventilated, offer protection from the weather, provide adequate space for the size of the dog, and guarantee medical care if the dog gets sick in their care. Most of the good ones offer 24-hour coverage with someone living on the kennel property.

However, after these basics,"good" is often in the eye of the beholder.

Some dog owners like frills. They prefer a kennel with "suites" instead of kennel runs, plush beds instead of blankets, and daily walks or romps as well as roomy accommodations. Others don't mind the austere vacation spot for Misty as long as the basics are provided and the staff is kind and gentle.

For example, are you looking for a bare-bones kennel that provides a run, daily feeding and exercise, and a watchful eye for illness? Or do you want a "doggy resort" where the dogs are walked and played with daily, provided fancy bedding and toys, have music piped into their kennels, and can attend a brush-up obedience course?

Boarding kennels run the gamut from filthy to austere to luxurious. If you've never left Sassy in a kennel before, you should decide what you expect of a kennel before setting any appointments. If Sassy is a pampered pet and you cannot forgive yourself if you send her to live in a cage for a week or two, either hire a house sitter or bring her along. Don't expect a boarding kennel or a visiting pet sitter to give her the same care that you do. It just won't happen. If Sassy knows she's a dog, not a furry child, your choices are much broader. A visiting pet sitter, someone who comes to the house two or three times a day to walk the dog, play with her a bit, and make sure she has food and water, may be your answer. The pet sitter can also bring in the mail, water the plants, and provide security checks.

If you choose a pet sitter, ask for the names of other clients as references.

Types of kennels

Boarding kennels can be roughly divided into two categories, those that provide basic care and those that offer some fancy frills

.A basic care kennel usually

  • Has indoor-outdoor runs or indoor runs and an exercise plan.
  • Hoses the runs every day (dogs are outside when inside runs are cleaned, and inside when outside runs are cleaned).
  • Cleans with disinfectant
  • Provides good ventilation.
  • Makes provisions for a variety of diets.
  • Feeds the pet on its own schedule with its own diet.
  • Provides some sort of bedding to keep the dog off the concrete floor.
  • Keeps bedding clean,
  • Gives necessary medications,
  • Contacts the pet's own veterinarian if necessary and give a bit of extra attention to old dogs.
  • Checks the dogs several times daily to make sure they are well.
  • Requires that pets are current on all vaccinations, including Bordatella vaccination for kennel cough for dogs.
  • May require that the pet be flea-free or be dipped for fleas before they can stay in the kennel.
  • Usually charges a bit extra for giving medication and for the bath given before the pet goes home.

A fancy frill kennel may include any or all of the following:

  • Grooming or bath before the dog returns home
  • Pick-up and delivery service
  • Daily walks
  • Special housing for sick or elderly dogs
  • Toys
  • Exercise areas for dogs that can be penned together for short periods
  • Obedience training
  • A gift and supply shop
  • An intake examination of the dog
  • Plush bedding
  • An opportunity to visit with kennel staff in a lounge area.

Most dogs do well in a kennel with indoor-outdoor runs, feedings twice a day, and a caring staff that pays close attention to the animals. Most dogs also do well in a kennel with indoor runs if they are walked twice a day. Kennel frills are for the owners, not the dogs. Music, walks in the woods, structured playtime, fluffy blankets, and other amenities may relieve the owner's sense of guilt at leaving the dog in the kennel, but they generally add to the cost.

When you know which type of kennel (or pet sitter) appeals to you, choose several and start calling. Make appointments with a couple that meet your requirements and have space when you need it. Then visit them.

Check a kennel out first

  1. Call now to arrange a visit to see the kennel. Ask for an appointment in mid-week; good kennels are very busy on Mondays and Fridays as dogs come in or go home. If you can't get an appointment to see the facility, you should cross that kennel off your list.
  2. First impressions are important. When you arrive for the visit, check to see that most of the runs are clean -- it's almost impossible to keep all the runs clean all the time, so cut some slack for a few dirty runs here or there.
  3. Sniff the air. The kennel should have a clean smell, not one generated by stale urine or old feces. If sour kennel smells waft into the office while you're chatting with the owner or manager, you'll probably want to go somewhere else. You'll be able to tell the difference between a kennel that has urine and decay soaked into the woodwork and a kennel that is basically clean with a run or two that was dirtied after the morning scrubbing.
    • If the kennel yard is full of debris, if the building is in need of serious repair, if the food bowls are dirty and the water bowls scummy, go to the next kennel on the list.
    • Take a look at the kitchen where the dog meals are prepared; it should be clean, food should be in barrels or in the refrigerator, etc.
    • Ask questions about feeding schedules, extra charges to give heartworm pills or medications, or anything else you wonder about.
    • If you like the kennel and it's booked for the time you'll be away, get put on a waiting list and make a reservation at your second or third choice. If a space becomes available, don't forget to cancel any other reservations you have made.

After your first impression look specifically for:

  • Clean and clean-smelling kennel runs, hallways, feed storage and preparation areas, etc.;
  • Clean bedding;
  • Good ventilation and light;
  • A comfortable temperature;
  • A knowledgeable and caring staff;
  • A breakdown of costs (most charge extra to give medications, for a going-home bath or grooming, etc.)
  • A list of required vaccinations (many kennels now require Bordatella vaccination against kennel cough).
Once you've eliminated the obviously inadequate kennels from consideration, you have to decide which level of care you want for your family pet, how much you want to pay for that care, and how comfortable you are with the people who will be providing that care.

Ask questions

Whether you are interested in basic care or some degree of frills, don't hesitate to ask questions about the care your pet will be given. Make sure you know if your pet will be housed in a separate run, and that if you pay for a run, the dog is not crated because the kennel is overbooked. If the dog will be crated during part or all of his stay at the kennel, find out about the exercise schedule. If it's important to you that someone be on the kennel property all night, make sure this is the case.

Ask questions about feeding schedules, extra charges to give heartworm pills or medications, or anything else you wonder about..

Talk to the kennel staff

On the other hand, make sure you give the kennel all the information necessary to properly care for your pet while you are gone. If Digger has ever bitten anyone, say so. If Dancer is an escape artist, say so. If Muffy vomits for the first three days you are gone, say so. If Fluffy has worms or is under treatment for a chronic noncontagious disease, say so. If Rambo is a jerk on a leash, say so.

If Rambo is a jerk on a leash or if he barks incessantly, there's still time to teach him some manners before your vacation. An obedience class will help with the leash problem, and many trainers can help with a barking problem.

If you like the kennel and it's booked for the weeks you will be away, get put on a waiting list and make a reservation at your second or third choice. If a space becomes available, don't forget to cancel any other reservations you have made. Don't make multiple reservations and cancel all but one the week before you go.

Make sure you drop off the dog and pick him up when you say you will do so or that you notify the kennel of any change of plans.

Prepare your dog

To prepare Sassy for her stay in the kennel

  • Her health check, vaccinations, and heartworm medication should be up-to-date.
  • Make sure she is flea-free
  • Teach her to sit before being petted or fed so the kennel helpers won't have to worry about her darting out the gate or spilling the food;
  • Teach her to walk quietly on a leash if the kennel staff will take her for a walk;
  • Socialize her to the attentions of strangers, especially if she needs medication or grooming;
  • Make sure she's accustomed to a crate in case she needs to be transported to the veterinarian or housed in a crate at the kennel.
  • If she has any health problems, is not reliably housetrained, hates men or other dogs, is likely to eat the kennel run, or has any other problems or idiosyncracies, you should alert the kennel staff.
  • If the kennel doesn't feed the food you use, bring along a supply that will last 'til you get home.
  • A few basic manners won't hurt, either. Sassy should sit and stay when asked so the kennel worker can open the run to give her food and water, pick up feces, or give her a pill. If she's going to get a daily walk, she should be trained to walk without tugging on the leash. If she's supposed to be groomed or get a bath before you get back, make sure she'll stand quietly in the tub and won't try to bite the groomer who trims her nails.

Dropping your dog off

On kennel arrival day:

  • Exercise Goldie before you turn her over to the kennel staff.
  • Leave the kids at home, put the dog in the car, and drive to the kennel.
  • Walk into the kennel office, give Goldie a firm pat, tell her you'll see her in a week or so, and let her go. Hugs and tears stress the dog. She's not going to forget you in a week or even a month, and she's not going to hate you for leaving her home while you have fun.

Be prepared to provide

You'll need to bring

  • Food if Sassy is on a special diet;
  • Up-to-date shot records;
  • Heartworm preventive and any other medications Sport requires along with a dosage schedule;
  • An emergency contact besides the veterinarian;
  • Sport's behavior history (don't let the kennel staff find out the hard way that your pooch bites when frightened, digs at concrete 'til his paws get bloody, howls incessantly, climbs out of his run, fence fights, etc.) Many kennels will handle difficult dogs if they know up front what the problems are.

If you are coming back earlier or later than expected, don't forget to call the kennel about your change of plans.

And Finally. . . .

Successful boarding of a pet should include homework to select the right kennel; good dog manners and socialization; honesty with the kennel staff and no guilt for leaving Ranger behind while his family enjoys a well-earned respite from daily life.

No matter when the vacation is scheduled, start now now to prepare.

If you make an informed choice of a boarding kennel and follow these common sense suggestions for using the services, your experience — and Fancy's — should be a good one.


Norma Bennett Woolf