As lockdowns lift and summer approaches, travel plans are brewing for many dog owners. If you’re taking your dog away with you, check out our recent guide to airline pet policies. But if the pup needs to stay home, you’re left with a different set of questions: where should you leave her, and with whom? How can you make sure that he’s well cared for in your absence? And what about dogs with separation anxiety?
Here’s everything you need to know about preparing for your dog’s care when you leave town.
Kennel, Private Boarding, or a Sitter in Your Home?
These days, dog owners have many options on where to board their pets. What are the pros and cons of each?
A good kennel can sometimes provide more structure than a private home, with multiple potty breaks a day and a team of workers tending to the dogs. Kennels can also be very sociable spaces, giving dogs an opportunity to play with other pups, which might help to distract them from your absence and ease any separation anxiety.
If you choose to go the kennel route, which type of kennel should you choose? As Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist Dr. Mary Burch points out, “Old dogs or dogs with serious health problems requiring medication might do better when left in a boarding kennel at a veterinary clinic.” Knowing that there’s medical expertise on hand in case of emergency can be a balm for anxious owners too.
But as Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer of AKC, points out, while “some dogs love going away to ‘summer camp,'” others “can get homesick, just like children, and may fare better at home.” Paying someone to stay in your home with your dog—typically the most expensive pet-care option—gives your pup the security and comfort of staying in their own familiar environment. It can be a great option if you have more than one pet, since you’d otherwise be paying for multiple boarding stays, and they can keep each other company in the home.
Alternatively, boarding your pet with a private sitter in their home can give a similar level of one-on-one attention, often at a lower price.
However, if you’re away for an extended stay, it’s best to avoid leaving your dog home alone and having sitters and walkers drop in. Dogs are social animals who bond closely to their families. Even with multiple visits a day, a dog living alone is likely to get lonely and anxious and may become destructive.
Finding the Right Kennel
Experts agree: when it comes to finding a place to board your dog, the key is preparation, preparation, preparation.
If you’re going the kennel route, Dr. Mary Burch advises asking your veterinarian and your social network for recommendations of places that will take good care of your dog.
Once you’ve found a promising facility, make sure to visit ahead of time. They should allow you to inspect the facilities and see where the dogs are kept and run. Pay attention to the demeanors of any dogs already boarding there. Do they look happy? Stimulated? Comfortable? While you’re there, make sure to ask how often your dog will get to go outside if boarded there, whether they’ll be allowed to have any of their own possessions (such as a favorite blanket), how much time they’ll get to socialize with other dogs, and whether they can accommodate any particular needs your dog has, such as bedtime potty breaks.
If you have time, Dr. Mary Burch also recommends boarding your dog for one night in advance of your trip, to see how well they fare on a short stay before committing to a longer one.
Finding the Right Private Dog Sitter or Boarder
If you’re going with a private sitter, the same applies: make sure to prepare ahead. If you don’t already have a network of dog walkers and sitters, there are now plenty of apps and services that can help connect you to experienced pet carers in your area.
Before leaving your pet in anyone’s care, it’s essential to ensure that they’re trustworthy and that they will be able to bond with your dog. Even if the service you’re using promises to perform background checks, there’s no way to know how a person will interact with your dog until you see them together. Asking for references and talking to other owners who have used the sitter’s services can also help you build a fuller picture of the person you’re entrusting with your pet. And meeting up with your pet sitter in advance will also enable your dog to begin to form a bond with them, which will put them at greater ease when they’re alone together.
If you’re leaving your dog at a private home, make sure to visit the home ahead of time. If there’s a yard, check that it’s securely fenced, with no place your dog could escape. If there’s no yard, ask where you dog will be able to play and walk.
Finally, make sure that your dog’s schedule works with your sitter’s. If your dog is used to having someone home all the time, they might struggle in a home where the humans work out of the house all day. How often will your pup be able to take bathroom breaks? And do the rules about, for instance, pets on the furniture match the rules in your own home?
Before You Leave: Medical and Care Checklists for Your Dog
You’ve picked the right care for your dog, and you’re getting ready to pack your bags. How can you make sure Fido is ready for his vacation, too?
If your dog is going into a kennel, they’ll be in close quarters with other dogs, raising the risk of disease. Make an appointment with your veterinarian before you leave, to make sure they’re up to date on all vaccinations and boosters and check for any underlying health issues. Reputable kennels will require you to show vaccination records showing treatment against distemper, parvovirus, bordetella, canine influenza, and rabies, plus confirmation that the dog is free of parasites. Dr. Klein also recommends bringing in a fecal sample for examination. And make sure to give the kennel a supply of any medications your dog is taking, including flea and tick medication if they’ll need a reapplication while you’re gone.
If your dog’s staying with a sitter, leave contact details for your family veterinarian, the nearest emergency vet, and any friends or family members who are experienced in your pet’s care. The sitter will also need written instructions on your dog’s routine, including feeding times and quantities (plus the type of food, if they’ll need to replenish it), how and when to administer medications, how many walks and potty breaks they need a day, and any food allergies or behavioral notes, such as avoiding large dogs at the dog park, fears of loud noises, or similar.
Dealing With Separation Anxiety
For owners of dogs with separation anxiety, vacations can start to feel like an ordeal for the dog and the owner alike—but there are ways to ease your pup’s discomfort while you’re gone. Dr. Mary Burch notes: “Dogs with separation anxiety may do better if they are left at home when you travel,” and that “lots of fun activities should help your dog relax.”
Dr. Klein agrees, going so far as to say that “sometimes, a little separation can be good for dogs.” Anxiety often results from boredom and dependency, he explains, so “if the dog is able to engage with other dogs in playtime, perhaps some of their anxiety due to boredom can be repurposed.” However, he adds that if the dog goes off their food, the kennel or sitter should weigh them every three to seven days to check for weight loss, and adjust feeding accordingly.
And if it’s your own separation anxiety you’re worried about, make sure to have your sitter send a photo of your pup every day. You’ll be home with Fido before you know it.