Preparing to leave home for a vacation or business trip is always stressful, and if you are boarding your dog for the first time, that stress can be even worse. In order to reduce the stress of your first trip away from your best friend, there are steps you can take to make things easier for both of you.
Choose the Kennel Early
As soon as the trip dates are confirmed, begin looking for a kennel. Your veterinarian can recommend a good location, and if you have friends who own dogs, ask them which kennels they recommend. Visit potential locations before you book to get a feel for the atmosphere of each, and reputable kennels will be happy to give you a tour and let you meet their staff. Once you find one that you like, take your dog out for a "test run." Many locations provide day care services and this will get your dog used to the facility and make the transition easier when it's time for vacation.
Don't be afraid to ask questions regarding exercise, staff to dog ratios, feeding schedules, medicine distribution, special needs, etc. Kennels are used to dealing with doggie parents and will not be put off by your inquiries. The more information you have, the more comfortable you will be while you are away.
Book the dates as soon as you can. Good kennels fill up early, especially in the summer months and over holidays.
Get Your Paperwork in Order
Kennels require that dogs be up to date on all immunizations. Vets are usually up to speed with the vaccinations needed for boarding which includes a Kennel Cough vaccine. Just to be sure, ask the kennel what shots they require, and take that list to your vet. Make extra copies of the vaccination records to take to the kennel.
Some kennels also require proof of the dog's license. Some do not, depending upon the laws and regulations of your state, county and municipality, but responsible pet owners should always maintain an up to date license for their dog. Check with the kennel ahead of time to find out if they require that your dog be licensed.
Flea and Tick Prevention
Even if your dogs vaccinations are up to date, you'll want to put him on a preventative flea and tick regimen before it's time to be boarded. Other dogs may bring these pests into the kennel environment, and prevention is always the best medicine. Frontline and Advantage are common preventative measures, and just to be safe, some owners put a flea collar on their dog as an added barrier. Your veterinarian can provide you with good advice on parasite prevention.
Don't Disrupt Food
Some kennels offer dog food, but it's a good idea to keep your dog on his own brand of food while you are away. Switching food can cause intestinal upset in dogs, and this can increase his stress while you are away. Either pack food in zip lock bags in pre-measured servings, or fill a plastic container and clearly label the container with serving size.
Pack Blankets and a Familiar Toy or Two
Make sure to send your dog's favorite blanket and a familiar toy or two. Familiar items that smell of home can ease the dog's stress level. Be aware though, some dogs who are not normally destructive chewers may rip up blankets or toys. Don't take it as an indication that you should never leave your dog again, it's just a natural stress reaction in some animals.
Make Drop Off Day Fun
Dogs pick up on your emotions. If you are overly stressed the day it's time to leave for the kennel, he will pick up on that and become stressed, too. Make sure to be happy and excited as your prepare to leave. Lots of people refer to the kennel as "camp," and that helps keep them in a happy frame of mind. Take your dog on a nice, long walk before you leave to ease his energy and stress levels, but don't alter your normal routine the day you drop him off. Dogs can pick up on the slightest changes in schedule or even body language.
As an added service, many kennels provide webcam access to group playtime or they post photos of dogs online so that owners can check in and see how their pet is doing. Most kennels are also very understanding if you need to call every few days to check in on your pet. They know how hard it can be on owners the first time they leave their dog, and will be perfectly patient with your calls.