Boarding Kennels and Pet Sitters
If it isn't feasible to take your dog on vacation with you, you'll need to make other arrangements. Unless a friend or relative can take your dog, boarding and pet sitting are your two main options. Boarding a small dog can be a tricky proposition because many small dogs are so strongly bonded to their owners that they don't do well in the kennel setting. Some go on a hunger strike, refusing to eat or drink water, a serious threat to their health. Some become severely stressed in the kennel environment, especially in a traditional layout with many separate dog runs on each side of a main aisle. The noise of barks and howls and metal gates reverberates in such a cavernous facility and can be highly disturbing to a small dog that has rarely been away from home. If your budget allows it, pet sitting may work for you and your dog.
Boarding Your Dog
The best way to find a kennel is by word-of-mouth. Ask your small-dog-owning friends, your vet, groomer, or breeder if they have any recommendations. You may also check the Web site of the American Boarding Kennels Association (ABKA) at www.abka.com for a member kennel. ABKA accreditation indicates a certain level of professionalism and training on the part of the kennel owners. The organization also offers certification to members who complete its training programs and performs on-site evaluations of their facilities.
Some kennels have separate areas for their smaller boarders, and some board small dogs only. If you need to board your small dog at a kennel, make sure you first tour the premises, preferably making an unannounced visit. Make sure it looks and smells clean. Ask to see where your small dog will be housed. Its quarters should be large enough for comfort and free of any sharp objects. It should have a soft place to sleep, preferably its own bed you bring from home. For both safety and sanitary concerns, dividers should be in place between your little dog and its neighbors. The temperature must always be within certain limits, especially crucial for small dogs.
Kennel personnel should be friendly and willing to answer of your questions. They should also be able to provide a list of satisfied customers as a reference. The facility should have stringent rules regarding vaccinations. If it doesn't, your dog could be exposed to dangerous infections. A veterinarian must be on call at all times. Lastly, you may check on the establishment's business history with your local Better Business Bureau. Above all, when boarding a small dog, you should always have a trusted backup person available on very short notice to come to the kennel and take your small dog home if it gets too stressed or has any sort of health crisis in the boarding situation.
Make sure your dog will not be exercised or allowed to play with any larger canines. If it is at all dog-aggressive, it should not get up close and personal with any other dogs, regardless of their size.
If you have determined that the kennel you have selected is clean, comfortable, and safe for your little dog, these hints may help make things easier on both of you when you leave him there:
A practice visit: Just to make sure he will be okay, leave Barney for a night or two before you take a longer vacation. It will be a trial run for both of you.
Check his shots: If Barney's vaccinations need updating, bring him to the vet a couple of weeks before you're scheduled to leave him. He should be immunized against rabies, distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, parvovirus, and bordetella (kennel cough).
Medication: If he is on any type of medication such as a heartworm preventative, make sure it will be given to him while boarded.
Toys: Bring along his favorite toys, a blanket, and your old sweatshirt, preferably unlaundered, so your scent will be a comfort to him.
Food: Keep his eating routine normal, and don't switch his food right before you go. That could add an upset stomach and diarrhea to his kennel stay.
Contact information: Leave information on where you will be staying as well as the phone number of your vet and backup person.
No tears: Try to remain calm and upbeat when you drop him off. No long dramatic parting scenes either. You know how your dog is tuned in to your emotions, so if you act heartsick and upset, he will too.
Using a Pet Sitter
Pet sitters offer another option if you must leave your dog at home. These canine companions are becoming more and more popular as dog owners realize that as long as they have a caring person looking in on it regularly and providing food, affection, and exercise, most little dogs will probably be happier at home. On their own turf they can follow their regular routine with no worries about the trauma often associated with being boarded. They won't be exposed to other animals, and your home will be more secure with someone coming and going in your absence.
"Most pets adjust better to their owner's absence and experience less anxiety when they can remain in their home under the care of a loving professional,” says Patti Moran, president of Pet Sitters International. “There's no stress of a new environment, new food, exposure to illnesses, or travel trauma for your and your pet when he/she can stay at home.”
A reputable pet sitter is a bonded and insured professional, and it is the pet sitter's job to remember every aspect of your dog's care. If you do not know of a reputable pet sitter in your area, ask your vet or groomer or check the Pet Sitters International Web site at www.petsit.com to find a member near you.
You will need to get your dog acquainted with this new caregiver before you go away. Scheduling some midday walks is a good way to start. Make sure the sitter is aware of all your dog's idiosyncrasies, the toys, treats and games it loves, its favorite hiding places, its human and canine neighborhood pals, and the things that make it nervous or afraid. Be sure it has ID tags or is microchipped or tattooed and that its collar fits properly so it cannot escape while out for a walk. Let the sitter know where its health records are kept and how to contact the vet as well as a twenty-four-hour vet emergency clinic. Leave the number of the groomer as well in case your baby gets dirty or needs a flea bath while you're away.
Make sure the sitter knows where you can be reached. Leave sufficient food and regular medications if your dog needs them. Also leave a list of emergency phone numbers for your maintenance people such as the plumber, electrician, alarm company, and home handyman. Let the sitter know if any areas are off limits, and secure these places before you leave.
Because of the nature of their service and number of visits they must make, pet sitters will cost more than a boarding kennel. But for some small dogs, they provide the best possible care when you must be away.