Boarding, Doggie Day Care, and Pet Sitters
Because of a family emergency, business travel, or vacation, there's a good chance you will need to board your dog at some point in her life. You might be lucky enough to have a family member or friend that is willing to keep your dog (or stay at your home with her) while you're away, but it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the facilities and services available in your area before you need them, just in case.
Kennels provide overnight care for your pets. They vary widely in style, price, services, and accommodations, from the most basic outdoor runs to luxury suites. Before booking a reservation, visit the facilities. Make sure you call ahead to see when the kennel allows tours. Most kennels will have specific hours that you can visit during less hectic times of their day. If the kennel doesn't allow tours at all, you're better off going somewhere else, for your peace of mind if nothing else.
The type of kennel you choose depends as much on your dog as it does on your budget. Nervous or shy dogs will often benefit from a quieter, more private setting, while a gregarious or boisterous dog usually does better in a kennel that offers regular access to a run, or offers play time or walks as an additional service.
Doggie Day Care
Doggie day care has become very popular in the past decade or so, as more dog owners send their puppies off for a day of socializing and playing while they are at work. For some people, it's a guilt thing — they feel bad that the puppy would be crated otherwise — but for others, it's all about being practical, as they get to bring home an exhausted puppy at the end of the day.
Some centers offer training as well as playing, including potty breaks and “nap time,” complete with snacks in crates. For most puppies, a more structured program is better than an all day free-for-all, especially if the facility is entirely indoors. No need to set your puppy up for housebreaking problems if he learns that he can relieve himself whenever and wherever it pleases him; he'll see no reason to do anything different at home.
For older, housebroken dogs, more play — oriented programs are generally fine. Observe for an hour or so one day to see if the program is right for your goals with your dog. Does the staff encourage polite behavior, or are they letting dogs jump all over them or playing with them in ways that aren't appropriate or safe? Are the dogs getting along? Does the number of dogs seem reasonable in comparison to the amount of space and number of staff caring for them? Is the facility relatively clean? It's basically a doggie playpen, so you shouldn't expect it to be completely spotless and free of loose hair, but there certainly shouldn't be multiple uncleaned potty spots, and water dishes should look reasonably clean. Are the toys and obstacles safe and supervised? It is possible for your dog to get injured in his romps with his pals, but the equipment itself should be sturdy.
Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers
As an alternative to taking your dog to a kennel or day-care facility, you might also consider using a dog walker or pet sitter. The services they offer vary a good bit, from simple walks one or more times a day to a complete vacation service, including overnight stays, checking the mail, and watering the plants. Some even offer field trips with multiple dogs, taking them to the park or beach to play off leash.
You should always take the time to personally interview a pet sitter with your dog to see if he handles your dog with confidence and kindness. You should also make sure that anyone who is going to have a key to your house is bonded and insured, and when it comes to pet sitters, having recommendations from other happy clients is a big plus. You can find out more about pet sitters at www.petsitters.org.