What to Look for in a Boarding Facility

We all know how stressful the holidays can be. Worrying about where your pet is going to stay shouldn’t be.

Know What’s Right for Your Dog

The first consideration should be any special medical needs or behavioral issues that your dog has. While some dogs are well adjusted to being around new people and environments, others may suffer from stress or anxiety. There are several types of boarding facilities; professional, luxury, in-home or “home style” boarding; make sure you visit your options! Always call to take a tour of the kennel or boarding facility so you know the conditions are clean and you have a good feeling about the place. Make sure get answers to all of the questions you may have.

Behavioral Screening

Many Kennels will require a temperament test to see if your dog does well in the general population. Testing dogs helps insure the overall safety of guests during group walks and play. If your dog has behavioral issues, such as aggression, don’t be discouraged. There are facilities out there that offer individualized kennel space along with one-on-one time with staff. Keep in mind that with increased facility requirements for your dog comes increased expense.

Different Types of Boarding

Traditional Boarding Facility

This type of boarding typically consists of a facility often capable of housing up to a hundred dogs at any given time. Kennel options range from small crates to large private dog runs. Exercise depends on space, but often is limited to indoors only or walking in the surrounding areas. Some kennels have large outdoor play and exercise areas to accommodate dogs with higher energy levels. Some offer heated indoor pools for swimming with staff supervision. Traditional boarding facilities should be insured and licensed. When booking, be sure to ask what amenities are offered by the facility. If you have two or more dogs, confirm that the dog is able to accommodate them together in the same space.

Luxury Boarding

Luxury boarding can simply be described as over-the-top “pampering” for your pet. Most luxury boarding facilities will charge more for what they claim to be extravagant extras. Extras can include time for your pet to play with his favorite toy or a “spa” menu featuring items such as grooming, doggy ice cream cones and extra petting. A relevant question comes to mind: How much will your dog be pet if you don’t pay the $15 for it? In general these facilities are typically well monitored and well staffed. Be aware that they may offer a ridiculous price for “extras” that may be commonly free at other boarding facilities. However, if you are the type who really likes to spoil your poor dog, then by all means.

Keep in mind this is typically not the type of facility for dogs who have aggression issues or need to be alone. Isolation may not even be an option at these type of facilities due to the design and lack of knowledge when dealing with potentially hazardous situations. Your holiday travel plans could be severely impacted if your dog is asked to leave a luxury facility. And yes… This has happened before. Be sure to ready ALL the fine print.

Private Boarding Facility

Private boarding facilities are an oasis for dogs who don’t do well away from home. Typically private boarding is designed to mirror all of the comforts of home. Some may have kennel type facilities on the premises but are housed on the owner’s property; at their residence. Most often they have a dog or two of their own as well. Some of the best private facilities we have seen are owned by trainers. A good facility of this kind will take on almost any kind of dog; taking special 24-hour care of any medical needs as well as working with your dog on most behavioral issues. Dogs at private facilities are treated as members of the family while you are gone; being in the home, sometimes the car or playing in the back yard. Be sure to be very honest about your dog’s behavioral or medical issues.

Ask questions about what your dog will be doing during the day. Set boundaries if you are not comfortable with some of the integration with other dogs and children. Make sure there is a very clean contract in place releasing you from any liability to injury to an overly-confident care taker. Private boarding is best for dogs who have separation anxiety or who become unusually anxious in large kennels. If your dog is not neutered or spayed, private boarding is potentially your only option so make sure to ask.

In-home Pet Sitting

Last but not least; in-home pet sitting is a great option for dogs and owners who are nervous about the boarding process altogether. This type of service allows your dogs to be in the comfort of their own home while maintaining their own routine. It’s not always easy to find extremely knowledgeable dog people to provide in-home service; typically found on craigslist or pet sitting sites. It’s common to find pet sitting services to be offered without insurance, so confirm this with your care taker prior to service in case of accident. Also check thoroughly for reliable references; meet with the person prior to your trip; make sure you get a good feeling from them. You would expect them to be prompt, prepared, and good with your dog. They should also come with a list of questions of their own so they know how to take the utmost care. If you have any doubts, keep shopping.

What to Remember When Planning Your Pet’s Care

Your dog will need the following shots to board at most boarding facilities – some required by law, others for the health of and protection of other dogs:


If the Bordetella vaccine has never been given, or has expired, it needs to be administered at least 7 days prior to arrival to become active before possibly infecting other guests. Contact your vet for up-to-date records; they can typically fax or e-mail the records directly to facilities with software that automatically tracks expirations, alerting you to a required renewals ahead of time.

Keep in mind most boarding facilities will not board dogs under the age of 4 months due to the fact that they are too young to receive their second round of boosters. The shots need to fully activate in the dog’s system before they are protected from contracting or promoting dangerous diseases such as Parvo and Distemper. If you puppy is under 4 months, you might consider in-home style pet sitting as you can be sure to keep exposure to other dogs at a minimum.

Holiday booking, much like hotels for humans, will start to book up as early as Thanksgiving for the Christmas season. However, availability always depends on the size of your dog and length of stay so be sure to call early and ask. Boarding facilities that do book up quickly are smart enough to have a wait list. GET ON IT even if you are shopping for other facilities. Don’t be left without options but do be sure to remove yourself from wait lists once you book to make room for others.

What Does the Facility You Choose do in an Emergency?

This is one of the most important questions to ask when you are leaving your pet with anyone. Make sure to ask about the facility’s emergency procedures. What hospital will your dog be taken to? (If you do not like the default facility, be sure to provide detailed information about your preferred emergency vet as well details on medical issues your dog may have). How will they transport the dog? What if the dog is badly hurt and should NOT be transported? All of these questions should be answered with clear and careful explanation so that you know that there is a plan in place for every possible incident that should occur.

Remember; accidents happen. After confirming your pet is safe, get a clear understanding of why and how the incident occurred. Try not to get upset until you know all the details. Dogs sometimes don’t get along; this is inevitable. When all dogs have been cared for, sit down with the owners of the boarding facility and discuss the details. The possibility of incident is exactly why it important to be honest about your dog’s temperament as well as what the facility in question does when there is an emergency.

What Should I Leave With My Dog?

Most boarding facilities are rather accommodating of personal items such as toys and blankets. If they are a cage-free boarding facility, dog beds may be prohibited as some dogs can exhibit possessive behaviors in large groups. Typically beds are provided in these environments. Make sure to ask if there are any limitations to what you are allowed to bring.

A good TIP: Make a list of everything you drop off things can often get lost. Having a record for the facility will help them stay organized. Be sure to let them know how many treats you would like your dog to have in a day, especially if your dog is on a diet. If you have special food and serving sizes, be sure to carefully explain these to the staff. Did you know… A lot of dogs will inevitably be stressed in the most accommodating environments, eating a bit less to help regulate their stress. Don’t be alarmed if your dog eats less in the first few days. Do ask to be updated on their progress.

Have family and friends around to check in or walk your pet? Some facilities will allow you to provide them with the contact information of a friend or family member you would like to drop in and visit. This is a wonderful option for someone you know and trust to give you an update on how your dog is doing while you are out of town. It’s also nice for the dog to have a familiar face during her stay. A quick walk during the day from a person they know… Your dog will be incredibly grateful. Some facilities may not allow this because of insurance purposes or will require you to sign a liability waiver.

Drop Off and Pick Up Times

This is a BIG ONE requiring close attention. Some boarding facilities are open late while others require pick ups no later than 5-7pm. Depending on your travel schedule, you may not be able pick up your dog in time. Make sure you know your options and plan accordingly. An established facility will sometimes offer an additional late pick up option with small fee. Some larger facilities have a drop off service so your dog can be delivered to your home just hours before you arrive home from your trip. Failure to make accommodations could result in arriving home to a closed facility with your pet staying an additional night. Make sure to have a plan!

Breed Restrictions?!

Sad, but true. Although not as common here in the Bay Area, breed restrictions are sometimes prevalent for a number of reasons. The number one reason is actually due to insurance companies; cheaper insurance will provide restrictions based on breed. You are more likely to see this with private facilities on personal properties. Be sure to confirm any restrictions immediately in order to save time.

Bottom Line

You know your dog best. Make sure you get a good feeling from the facility you choose. It doesn’t matter how busy things get: It’s important for you to feel as though your dog will be well cared for. Do yourself a favor and look into multiple facilities well before you leave. Even plan an overnight for your dog before you leave to see how your dog does. Choosing the appropriate facility for your dog can be stressful but proper preparation and asking the right questions will make the choice more manageable.

Happy Holidays and happy boarding from Refined K-9!



  1. I’m going on a short vacation in a few days, and I’ve been looking for a boarding facility to leave my dog. I like how you mentioned that we should ask what would the facility choose to do in an emergency. I will make sure to ask that question. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Ellie Davis
    April 10th

    I like that you mentioned private boarding facilities being better for dogs that may struggle to be away from home. My husband and I are going out of town next week for the first time since we bought our puppy. I’ve never boarded a dog before so I am not aware of the best place to do this. I am going to have to do some research and find the best boarder in my area.

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