What Is Pet Boarding?
Pet boarding is a service that is traditionally offered by professional pet kennels, where a pet owner can leave their pet in the care of the boarding service while they’re away. Boarding your pet can be a daily service (e.g., while you’re at work) or for longer periods of time (e.g., vacation, work travel, hospital stays, etc.).
According to Rover, there are over 8,500 traditional dog boarding kennels to choose from in the U.S., not to mention the thousands of professionals providing non-traditional pet boarding services like vet stays, in-home boarding, and pet hotels.
Note: We chose to focus this article on dog boarding because it is the most common type. However, it is important to mention that there are boarding options for many different pets, including cats, reptiles, birds, and amphibians. If you’re looking to board a cat or exotic pet, try starting with the PetSmart pet boarding service or The Spruce Pets’ list of exotic pet boarding facilities.
Should I Board My Pet?
Deciding whether or not to board your pet — and choosing the right type of boarding — depends on the needs of the individual pet. You know your pet best. Before committing to boarding, assess your pet’s personality and needs. Pet boarding isn’t for everyone; behavior and emotional issues could prevent your pet from succeeding in a boarding scenario, as could a troubled or traumatic past. Many pets have increased anxiety and stress when they’re taken from the comfort of their homes. In these cases, having a trusted pet sitter stay at your home may be the best option to ensure that your pet feels comfortable and secure.
That said, many pets succeed in (and even enjoy) traditional pet boarding. In traditional kennels, pets receive expert care from experienced caretakers — particularly helpful if your pet has medical issues that require monitoring or medication — and ample time for socialization with other pets. Traditional boarding is a great option if you have an active, social pet that might benefit from being around others or from maintaining a consistent feeding and exercise routine.
If you have any questions about your pet’s compatibility with a boarding environment, consult your veterinarian; they should be able to provide advice and examples of trusted options in your area.
Types of Pet Boarding
Free-range kennels are the most common type of pet boarding and the option most often associated with the term. Free-range kennels typically offer open spaces that allow the dogs to play with each other all day, usually until bedtime. The dogs’ days typically include:
- Individual feedings
- Individual attention for special needs or treats
- Morning and afternoon playtime
- Bedtime in a sheltered area
Typically the dogs sleep in individual rooms near the new canine friends they met during the day and are grouped by age, size, and temperament. It’s a low-maintenance formula that allows the dogs to play and interact while also remaining safe and protected. Because of this, kennels are best for active and socialized dogs that play well with, and enjoy the company of, other dogs. For dogs that aren’t comfortable with or ready for socialization on this scale, there are kennels that offer single-room options, which will allow your pet to find peace and quiet in their own room until they become more comfortable.
Of course, there are downsides to traditional kennel boarding. Most kennels don’t have staff on site overnight, and larger facilities invite greater opportunity for dog fights. Dogs with emotional issues may struggle with kennels, due to the stress of staying in an unfamiliar environment and the lack of a personalized touch from options like pet sitting and in-home boarding. And even though vaccinations are typically required for kennels, it’s important to note that the proximity of other pets could expose your pet to illness or injury.
According to the PetCareRx experts, pricing for overnight boarding in a kennel is usually around $25 to $45 per night, making it one of the cheaper options, although there are generally age and breed requirements. For more information about preparing your dog for traditional kennel, check out our kennel checklist below.
An increasingly popular method of boarding, in-home boarding, involves choosing a registered dog sitter who welcomes your dog into their home while you’re away. It is common for registered dog sitters to house several dogs at once. Many dog owners prefer this method to free-range kennels because it could be less stressful for the dog — fewer dogs means it is not as loud or chaotic, and the in-home boarding environment is less clinical than a kennel or vet office. This allows the dog to enjoy its routine and its comforts in a home setting without much disruption.
In addition to active, social dogs, dogs that are in the twilight of their dog-years and pups whose dog-years have only just begun are prime candidates for the in-home boarding option because they need more specialized care. In-home boarding allows for closer monitoring of your pet, making it easier for the sitter to administer specialized care to puppies or older dogs.
That said, the sitter’s residence is still an unfamiliar environment, which could induce stress in more sensitive dogs. In addition, the sitter will often board multiple dogs at once, most of which are unfamiliar and unacquainted. The dogs are usually not separated by size, temperament, and age; instead, the dogs share the same space and the same schedule. Because of this, in-home boarding may not be the best option for dogs who have trouble socializing or those at risk of illness. It is best to discuss your pet’s behavioral or emotional issues with the in-home sitter beforehand so they better understand the pet’s needs.
With pet sitting, the pet owner arranges for the registered sitter to stay at the owner’s house while they are away. Pet sitters typically come into the pet owner’s house several times per day for feeding, walks, playtime, and specific needs. Pet owners can also make arrangements to have the pet sitter stay overnight if necessary. Dr. Ken Tudor of PetMD.com advocates for the use of a pet sitter because it causes the least amount of stress to the pet by keeping it as close to its familiar environment as possible and maintaining the pet’s diet and routine.
Because pet sitting is highly individualized and maintains a familiar routine, pet sitting is great for dogs that are not comfortable around other dogs and those that prefer little stimuli. Dogs with behavioral or emotional issues or those with a traumatic past would also benefit greatly from the one-on-one care this option provides. What’s more, because the dog is not exposed to others, the risk of illness is greatly minimized.
There are fewer drawbacks to hiring a pet sitter than with other options, but they are worth taking into account. For one, certain pets may not react well to a stranger, especially if the pet owner is absent for extended periods of time. In most cases, pet sitting also involves periodic checks, not 24/7 care — and hiring a pet sitter for overnight stays racks up the price quickly. There’s also a human factor at play: Even if you don’t hire a stranger, it may be worrisome to give someone access to your home while you’re away.
As for the cliché about teenage pet sitters, it’s important to recognize that many pet sitters don’t have the same certification as kennels or vet clinics. To find a reputable pet sitter, try starting out with sites like Wag! or Rover, or try a pet sitting locator.
Boarding at a veterinary facility leaves your pet in the care of professional caretakers for the duration of your leave. The chief benefit of boarding at a veterinary facility is that your pet is in the most qualified hands, best equipped for specialized care and emergencies. As such, this option is best for dogs that need to be observed closely and those that need frequent medical attention.
In addition, there are no frills to a vet stay, and therefore it is one of the cheaper boarding options available. If you’re looking to board on a budget, a veterinary facility may be your best bet. Plus, if you board with your usual vet, you know you can trust the service given, even at a cheaper price.
However, the most glaring downside of a veterinary facility is that it lacks the basic comforts of home. These boarding environments are usually overly sterile in an effort to ward off germs, and dogs typically spend more time in their cage than socializing with other animals. Because of this, veterinary facilities likely aren’t a good fit for anxious dogs. Another major drawback to boarding your pet at a veterinary facility is that medical and surgical events assume higher priority, so it is likely that your pet won’t get the attention and care it would with another boarding option.
Trendy pet hotels are gaining traction as people look for every opportunity to spoil their pets. At most pet hotels, a slew of luxury perks are offered alongside general care. Some of more extravagant dog hotels in the nation include perks like canine sports clubs, beach excursions, blueberry facials, aromatherapy, and even “collection service” in a Rolls Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, Porsche, or Lamborghini.
Aside from the royalty treatment, pet hotels also provide the necessary caretaking services of other pet boarding options, like exercise, outdoor play areas, and individual care and attention from qualified staff. Because dogs are more closely attended to, pet hotels are best for dogs that require a lot of attention and aren’t used to spending their time alone — or simply those that are more pampered than the rest.
Pet hotels, despite their luxurious amenities, aren’t the perfect fit for every dog. They still disrupt the routine and environment your pet is accustomed to, which may increase anxiety or stress. If the pet doesn’t react well to change, or if it is uncomfortable around unfamiliar people or pets, an alternative choice of pet boarding may be a better fit.
And, of course, the luxury price tag is included: Pet hotels run anywhere from $50 to several hundred dollars per night, so it’s important to weigh costs and benefits for your dog before committing to any extended stay.
How to Choose a Kennel
Once you’ve decided on your preferred type of pet boarding, there are still many factors to consider before selecting a service, particularly when seeking out a credible pet sitter or kennel.
For pet sitters and in-home boarding, the most important factor is to meet your candidates in person. While it’s convenient to open your home to a trusted neighbor, that may not always be an option. For those times when you need to hire a stranger to look after your dog, trust your gut. Check for references, certifications, and experience. For detailed advice on selecting the best sitter for your pet, check out the American Kennel Club’s guide to selecting a pet sitter.
For kennel boarding, it’s best to start your search with your veterinarian — they likely have some recommendations for kennels in your area that are best for you and your pet. You can also start your search by simply Googling “dog kennels near me.” Online reviews are a great resource; you can use them to narrow down your search to the most promising options.
Once you have a few options in mind, we recommend showing up unannounced and asking for a tour. If a boarding company is reluctant to provide a tour of its facilities, that’s a red flag. While touring the kennel, make notes of anything that seems unsafe or unsanitary, like unpleasant smells, grimy floors, or the presence of non-pet-friendly cleaning solutions. Confirm that there is adequate security and that the space accommodates your dog’s needs: The outdoor play facilities should have ample space, shelter, and fencing, and pets should be divided by age, size, and temperament, both in playgroups and in nighttime housing.
The tour will give you the best idea of how the kennel feels, but it’s also important to quiz the staff on more detailed procedures. Ask the staff for:
- A detailed evacuation plan for emergencies
- The pet-to-staff ratio (no more than 15-to-1 is ideal)
- On-site staff hours (to determine how long your pet will be unsupervised)
- Procedures for a sick or injured pet
- Confirmation that the staff is certified and able to administer any necessary medication
Remember, when checking in your pet, a trusted kennel will also ask you to provide paperwork documenting your pet’s vaccination history. Most kennels require up-to-date vaccinations to decrease the risk of pets contracting potentially serious illnesses. If the staff doesn’t ask for vaccination paperwork, choose another facility.
Nervous about vaccinating your dog? Many traditional kennel boarding services require vaccinations. If you’re uncomfortable with vaccinating your pet, try looking into in-home pet sitters. Although not every pet sitter will watch an unvaccinated pet, many are happy to provide their services as long as you make them aware of the situation in advance.
How to Prepare Your Dog for a Kennel
Boarding your pet can be stressful (for you and your furry friend). To prepare you and your pet for a successful boarding experience, it’s best to take a few preventative measures — especially if you choose to board with a traditional kennel.
Because kennels are highly social environments, try putting your dog through socializing training to ensure that it is comfortable around other animals. This can be as simple as taking your dog to the park, to a dog-friendly bar, or to the home of a friend or family member with pets. You may also choose to practice crate confinement at night and to leave your dog alone for longer periods of time during the day to help it feel more independent. If nothing else, train your dog with “stay” and “sit” commands so it is able to follow instructions properly while under the supervision of an unfamiliar caretaker.
When you check in your dog at the kennel, make sure you bring its favorite food, toys, treats, and bed (if required). To ensure a successful boarding experience, provide the caretaker with your dog’s eating, exercise, and bedtime routine; keeping your dog’s routine consistent is paramount to lessening its stress, anxiety, and confusion. Keep in mind the requirements of the kennel, as well: Most reputable kennels require dogs to be vaccinated, registered, and ID’d.
Most importantly, stay calm and make things quick when dropping off your pet. Leaving your pet, even for a day, is tough. However, emotional goodbyes or outward distress will likely make your pet feel fearful, stressed, or anxious. Try not to make a big deal of picking it up at the end of the day, either; save the excitement for when you’re back home so the kennel begins to feel like a normal part of your pet’s routine.
To make sure your dog is prepared for its kennel boarding experience, keep this checklist handy: