It's not always possible or desirable for your Lab to travel with you. Business trips, cruises, and honeymoons to Hawaii are just a few examples of trips on which your Lab is best left at home. For those times, you'll want to have the phone number of a good boarding kennel in your address book. By finding a boarding kennel in advance and preparing your Lab for being boarded, you can jet off knowing that your pal is in in good hands.
Boarding kennels have several advantages. Your dog will receive daily attention from people who love animals, and he'll be in a secure place — so you don't have to worry that he's destroying or escaping from your home or yard. Finally, many boarding kennels have staff, or even a veterinarian, who are trained to spot health problems.
Finding a Boarding Kennel
Word of mouth is the best way to start your search for a boarding kennel. Ask your veterinarian, trainer, and dog-owning neighbors or coworkers for recommendations. You can also check the Yellow Pages, under “Kennels.” Once you have some names, set up interviews so you can make sure the kennel you choose is a place you'd feel comfortable leaving your Lab.
Evaluating the Kennel
Start by taking a tour of the facility. It should look and smell clean. Check to see that kennels have sufficient ventilation and light and are maintained at a comfortable temperature. Most kennels have indoor/outdoor runs for dogs, so they can enjoy pleasant weather and escape from inclement weather. If no outdoor run is available, ask how often the dogs are taken out for exercise. Kennels that house dogs outdoors should offer protection from wind, rain, and snow. Ask whether bedding is provided, what kind it is, or whether you must provide your own bedding.
Mealtime is another issue to consider when placing your Lab in a boarding kennel. Ask how often dogs are fed. If your Lab is on a special diet, find out if you can provide your own food. Some kennels charge extra for feeding a special diet.
Expect the kennel to require a copy of your Lab's vaccination records. Dogs being boarded must be current on their vaccinations, including the bordetella (kennel cough) vaccine, for their protection and the protection of other dogs. If you have your Lab on an alternative vaccination schedule, ask if the kennel will accept a letter from your veterinarian stating that the dog is protected from disease.
Find out if the kennel belongs to the American Boarding Kennels Association (ABKA). The ABKA promotes professional standards of pet care and requires members to follow a code of ethics. ABKA inspects kennels on a voluntary basis — meaning the kennel must request the inspection — and offers accreditation to kennels that meet its standards of professionalism, safety, and quality of care.
Other questions to ask include whether there is a veterinarian on staff or on call; whether other services, such as grooming, training, and day care, are available; and how rates are calculated. As you conduct your interview and tour the kennel, make note of staff attitudes. Do the staff members seem caring and knowledgeable? Can they meet any special needs your Lab may have, such as giving medication or insulin injections on a regular basis?
Preparing Your Lab for Boarding
Basic socialization is the easiest way to ensure that your Lab will breeze through a stay at a boarding kennel. If he's used to meeting new people and dogs, and going to new places, staying at a kennel will be fun for him, especially if there are daily activities to keep him occupied. Nonetheless, it's a good idea to work him up to a long stay by starting with a short stay of a day or a weekend. This will give you an idea of how he reacts to being boarded. Many dogs enjoy boarding, just as kids enjoy a stay at summer camp.
Before you leave for the kennel, make sure you have everything you need:
Food, if you're providing a special diet
Medication, if needed
Favorite toy or bedding
Itinerary, noting where you can be reached in case of emergency
Phone numbers for your veterinarian and a local contact in case you're unavailable
Find out if your state requires boarding kennel inspections. If it does, ask to see the license or certificate of the kennel you're considering. Make sure the dates are current. You can also check with your local Better Business Bureau to see if the kennel has any complaints against it.
Take your Lab in, get him checked in with the staff, and say a quick goodbye. Just as you do at home, make your departure unemotional. If you sneak a peek as you go out the door, you'll probably see your dog happily going off to his kennel, without a care in the world. Enjoy your trip, secure in the knowledge that your Lab is well cared for.