Tips to help you find a good boarding facility for your dog

by Carrie Pokrefke

After you move to a new city, you have to find new doctors, a new dentist and eye doctor, just to name a few. If you’re new to the area and don’t know many people, it can definitely be a challenge. I’ve been in Atlanta two years and I still haven’t found a replacement to my dentist! One of my biggest challenges was finding someone to watch my dog when I was out of town, especiallyconsidering I was trying to replace the lady that used to watch her in Missisippi. Even though I didn’t have any plans to travel when I first moved, I believe it’s important to quickly find a vet and a boarder, in case of an emergency.

I was lucky to find a good vet right away, and I started there when I decided to locate a boarder. I am very particular about where my dog stays when I am out of town as I want to make sure she is comfortable, has access to adequate resources and that I can trust whomever with her.

Below is a list of questions I compiled and asked of various boarding facilities during my search. The very act of asking questions, and the facilities’ responses (or lack of response) to my questions proved to be a good filter.

What is your weight limit?

  • I started with my vet, and they had a 25 lb weight limit, which immediately took them off my list. Most places do not take weight into consideration.

What is your fee and how do you determine your fee?

  • Some places base their rate on how much your dog weighs. Others charge the same for dogs, no matter what the rate is. Also, a facility may have different levels of boarding “suites” which may cost different prices.

Do you charge extra for certain things, such as medication or bringing my own food?

  • Some places that I called were going to charge me $2 extra a day to administer medication. Also, one place charged if I had planned on bringing my dog’s own food.

Am I allowed to bring my own dog food?

  • This kind of ties into the above question. I would always prefer to bring her own food since her food is especially for her and her dietary needs. Also, I don’t support switching foods back and forth. Especially for any dogs that have specific dietary restrictions or allergies, the last thing you want to do is switch them to a new food. The place that I called that charged if I brought her food supplied their own food. I am sure it is easier on the employees at the boarding facility, but I wasn’t going to pay for my dog to be able to eat her own food.

Am I allowed to bring my dog’s bed or toys or anything else?

  • I remember the first time I dropped my dog off at a boarding facility. Not only did I bring her food, but I brought a HUGE plastic container full of her toys. I am betting that the container never got opened. The place I currently uses lets me bring her bed, some towels for under her water bowl and some blankets to cover her bed with each day. I supply one toy and some treats, but that’s it. Some places don’t allow toys since they don’t always supervise the dogs.

Will my dog be around other dogs?

  • My dog is a very laid back dog and does well with other dogs. Yes, she might drool on another dog, but that’s her biggest offense. There are other dogs that are dog-aggressive. This question is worth asking, especially if you know that you have a dog that doesn’t play well with others. It’s also your responsibilty to notify the employees at the boarding facility that your dog shouldn’t be around other dogs.

Do you offer pick-up and deliver? If so, what days do you offer this?

  • When I was calling around to find a place, I didn’t ask this question. I never realized how nice this is as an option, especially living in a big city. It’s also nice when you are trying to get things ready for a trip, as it is one less potentially stressful thing to deal with before you leave. The boarder is an hour north of me (that’s with NO traffic), so having them pick-up and deliver helps out a lot. It saves me from having to run up there during the week or having to take her up on the weekend, well before I leave for my trip. (I love having my dog around and the house feels so empty without her!!)

What hours are you open for drop-off and pick-up?

  • This is a good question to ask. Some places aren’t open on the weekend, which means your dog will have to stay extra days if you get home during the weekend, as you will have to wait until the week for pick-up. I am constantly having to figure traffic into my drop-off and pick-up equation, so a smaller window would be challenging. I am lucky that the boarder is available 7 days a week until about 7 p.m. for drop-off and pick-up.

How often will my dog be walked?

  • This is an important question, too. If you walk your dog 5 times a day and they only walk once a day, you could run into some problems. If you’re walking your dog 5 times a day to burn off energy, imagine your dog if he or she was only walked once a day! Also, your dog may be used to going out to go to the bathroom and to cut it down from 5 to 1 would not be good.

What is the surface area of where my do will use the restroom?

  • This may sound like an odd question, but this was one of my top questions I asked. My dog is used to going to the bathroom on grass. She’s not going to go on rocks or bark or concrete until she just can’t hold it anymore. I didn’t want her to have to go through that. Plus, honestly, I only want her to go on grass. There is a pet store half a mile from my house and they “walk” the dogs in a room that is covered with astro turf that gets rinsed off a few times each day. I can only imagine how badly that room smells! Finding a place with grass was one of my top priorities.

What are the different sizes and options available?

  • This was another important question for me. I did not want her to be in a crate all day long. It’s just not how she lives her life day to day. Some places have crates, some have dog runs, some have suites. Some are outside. Some are inside. Some even have cameras in them so you can see your dog on your computer while you are on vacation. You want to know how your dog will spend his or her time when not participating in other activities.

Are other activities or services offered? If so, are there additional fees?

  • If you can imagine it for a dog, you better believe that one resort or another offers it! Sometimes, you will be charged for anything on top of traditional boarding. I have seen special meals or treats as an option, baths and grooming services, or even doggy daycare during the day. (This one gets me – it seems like having to pay extra to get my dog out of her “room” to play is excessive).

You may come up with your own questions to use when you are calling around. You know your dog and your dog’s needs. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions.

When I called around, I was surprised how rude and aggravated some of the people were when I asked questions. I promptly scratched them off my list. I found one place where the manager was patient with me and invited me to come up and check the place out. I drove up there on a rainy Saturday morning and called her (somewhat) at the last minute to let her know I was coming. I wanted to see the true condition of the facility. She welcomed us and showed us all around. She took the time to answer my questions and understood that I was particular about who I trust my dog with while I was gone.

Going and checking out the facility is an important step in the process. There was one place I visited when I lived in Mississippi after doing a phone interview. I pulled up and went inside – I couldn’t get out of there quick enough! The place was a mess. It was a residential home that had been “adapted” to board dogs I can still see that place in my mind. The thought of leaving my dog there….it wasn’t going to happen!!!

Back in Atlanta, I am happy to say that I ended up choosing the place I did an off-site visit on that Saturday. I am charged a flat rate each night and am not charged extra for giving my dog her allergy medicine or her own food. They walk her a lot each day (on grass) and she even gets to go swimming. I keep her spare dog bed, towels and blankets up there and they wash them for her between visits. When she comes home, she sleeps for almost two days because she’s been so active. She is very excited when she sees anyone that works there and gives them lots of wiggles. Yes, it’s an hour away, but the fact that I found a place that loves my dog and that I can trust to take care of her is priceless.