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Getting sad puppy eyes from your dog every time you pack your suitcase is the worst. One thing that makes saying goodbye easier is knowing that the boarding facility you chose goes above and beyond for your pet. Sure, boarding isn’t ideal, but if a pet sitter isn’t available, these are the questions you should ask to ensure the safest and most enjoyable experience for your sweet pup.

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“Can I get a tour?” The International Boarding and Pet Services Association recommends dropping by to tour a potential boarding facility...and if it's an unexpected pop-in, even better. (If you’re denied, toss them out like a cheating ex.) Kennels should be more than willing to show off their facilities at any time. When you check it out, use all five of your senses. Foul odors, poor lighting, dirty floors and crazy barking are all signs a kennel should be avoided.

“Which vaccines does my dog need?” A kennel is like the first day of kindergarten: lots of excitable cuties sharing germs. Vaccines help protect dogs from catching and spreading disease. If the facility doesn’t require vaccines (specifically canine distemper, infectious hepatitis, canine parvovirus and/or rabies, notes Henry Schein Animal Health), it’s probably not super safe for your pet, even if Cleo is vaccinated. Some facilities ask that pups get vaccinated for kennel cough, or canine infectious tracheobronchitis, a common infection dogs pick up during boarding. This vaccine calls for two doses, two to four weeks apart, depending on the method. Plan ahead if your kennel requires this, so you aren’t scrambling on drop-off day.

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“What certifications do the staff and facility have?” This is an important question, because regulations vary so much. If a boarding kennel is certified by the Pet Care Services Association (PCSA), it’s a great sign. This means they’ve volunteered themselves to be rigorously judged in 17 unique areas of pet care facility operation and met 250 facility standards. Not all kennel staff and assistants are required to have any animal-specific education or licensing—but at the very least, all staff should be trained in dog first aid. Beyond that, make sure at least one person with an official license or certification in animal care will be on staff at all times, recommends vet tech Liane Ehrich. In addition, there should always be one staff member (or more) per ten dogs at any given time.

“What about insurance?” Most boarding kennels and doggy daycares are bonded and insured. This means if your dog gets into a scuffle with or causes injury to another dog (or a staff member), the facility’s insurance foots the bill. If you’re considering a place without insurance, you might want to rethink it. It’s like car rental insurance: the one time you don’t get it, you’ll get into a fender-bender.

“Where will my dog sleep?” Every facility varies, so make sure you know what type of bed your dog will sleep on at night and whether he’ll be shacking up with other animals. Kennels should also be climate controlled with good ventilation. It’s not common for staff to be on site 24 hours a day, but it can’t hurt to ask if staff is around at night. Which leads us to our next question … 

“What is the facility’s plan in the event of an emergency?” If staff isn’t on hand 24/7, what is the kennel’s protocol if something goes wrong in the middle of the night? This could mean anything from a flash flood to a choking scare. Ask whether the dogs are monitored via webcam or if a security system is in place. Ideally, a kennel is part of or run by a veterinary hospital. This makes treating any ailments that pop up so much easier—not to mention a faster response time.

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“What will my dog do all day?” Frequent (at least three and ideally five) bathroom breaks and quality exercise time every day should be the norm, notes Henry Schein Animal Health. Some venues offer cage-free options, in which dogs roam around common areas most of the day rather than chillax in crates or small rooms between walks and designated play time. 

“What does play time look like here?” Speaking of playtime, we’re guessing you’d like to ensure maximum fun for your pet, yes? Depending on where you and your boarding facility are located, there could be outdoor or indoor play areas—or both. Multiple (or separate) play areas for dogs of different sizes and ages is a sign the facility takes unique pup personalities into account. Playtime should be monitored by staff (rather than letting the dogs run loose on their own in a large, unsupervised space) and be free of dangerous objects or broken equipment. Ask about individualized attention versus casual observation, especially if your dog gets anxious around other animals or doesn’t play well in groups.

“Can I bring my own food?” Kennels should allow you to bring your own food for your dog’s stay, as changing up diet could cause an upset stomach or increased separation anxiety in animals. (It’s also smart to ask when and how often dogs are fed, to see if there are any drastic changes compared to your dog’s current routine.)

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“How will you accommodate my dog’s special needs?” If your dog takes meds twice a day or has an arthritic hip, make sure the kennel has the bandwidth to take on these special needs. The facility should also have methods of checking in with your regular vet if need be. "One large advantage would be a boarding facility that is run in tandem with a [vet's office or hospital]," suggests Noah's Ark Veterinary Hospital. "This way, if something happens, they can receive immediate access to veterinary care."

“How did my dog do?” If, upon pickup, the staff offers no feedback about how your dog did during her stay, find a new kennel that cares about your BFF as much as you do. Great kennels keep tabs on every animal, ensuring safety, happiness and health.

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