Fido’s Home Away From Home for the Holidays

6765396The holidays are here, and with the holidays come vacations and the need to board your four-legged friend. There is no reason why your dog can’t have as wonderful a vacation as you with the right preparation. I’ve worked in the pet care and boarding industry for 15 years and I’ve cared for thousands of boarding dogs over the years. I now own and operate a large cage-free training, daycare, and boarding facility in the Birmingham, Alabama area. Here are a few tips I have learned over the years to help prepare your pet for the best experience possible.

What kind of care options are best for your dog?

Every dog is different and, fortunately, there are many care options available for your dog while you travel. All of them have merits and it’s up to you to select the best option for your furry friend.

1. Traditional Boarding at your Veterinarian

This is a wonderful option for pets who need extra medical care. While most professional pet caregivers are very comfortable giving daily medications and even injections; if your dog needs extensive care such as subcutaneous fluids or involved skin/wound/eye/ear care, your vet may very well be your best option. Many veterinary offices have built beautiful boarding facilities within their practice that have many of the amenities we will discuss further down in the list. Reputable veterinary boarding facilities can provide peace of mind for an owner of a special needs pet.

2. Private In-Home Pet Care

In-home pet sitters are a wonderful option for older dogs who have anxiety about leaving home. For dogs who do not need a lot of exercise but are seeking the comforts of their quiet bed at their own home, this is a great choice. It is important to ask good questions of your pet sitter. How many times a day will you come? How long will you stay each time? And, very importantly, are they insured? It is extremely important that your in-home pet care professional be just that - professional. Insurance and excellent references are a must.

3. Traditional Non-Veterinary Boarding Facility

There are many wonderful boarding facilities available. These facilities often offer extra amenities like play time, walks, and luxury suites. A professional boarding facility should be able to offer references on request and allow tours of their facility during business hours.

4. Non-Traditional Boarding and Care Facility

Non-Traditional boarding facilities come in all shapes and sizes. Most are “cage-free”or “suite only”in style and offer a luxury experience for your pet.

  • This is the type of facility I own and operate, and it can be a wonderful option for many families.
  • This type of facility is a ideal option for a social dog that enjoys playing with other dogs and people.
  • This can also be a nice option for an older pet or a puppy who needs extra TLC if your local facility offers special play groups for geriatric pets and nursery care.

If you are considering a cage-free facility, please read this article on “Daycare – A How To Guide.”This type of facility should offer references upon request and allow tours of the facility during business hours.

What to bring?

Each facility has their own set of rules and regulations about what items you are allowed to bring with your pet. However, there are a few items I recommend you always bring for your dog to help them have the most stress-free vacation possible.

1. Food From Home

I recommend that owners always bring their pet’s food from home. The easiest way to bring this is in individual baggies measured out for each meal. This helps your pet’s caregiver keep your dogs eating routine as close to normal as possible. One of the biggest issues dogs have while boarding is stomach upset. While stress can be a factor in this, many dogs get upset tummies just because their owner did not bring their regular food from home.

2. Medications

Bring your dogs regular daily medications from home. If your dog has had stressful boarding experiences in the past, call your vet before you leave and discuss options for short-term anti-anxiety or gastrointestinal upset medications for your pet and whether your veterinarian feels that might be a good option for your individual pet to have these medications while you are away.

3. Safe, non-edible, toys/treats

If your chosen facility allows it, I recommend bringing safe toys for their suite, run, or crate. Toys such as Kongs, Nylabones, or other non-edible toys are best. You can bring your Kongs pre-stuffed in a small baggie so it’s easy for the staff to give them to your dog overnight to ease anxiety. Stay away from rawhides, bully sticks, or plush toys as these can pose a choking hazard to your pet.

4. A t-shirt or small bed but only if your dog doesn’t eat these items

A shirt, blanket, or bed from home can help your dog feel more comfortable; however, if your dog tends to eat or shred bedding while you are away, it is not recommended to bring these items. Many facilities do not allow these items from home but do provide their own comfortable bedding, so check with your individual facility.

5. A Brief List of Instructions

A brief, one-page summary of your pets feeding, medication, and care routine is a great resource to bring to your dogs caregiver. Do your best to stay away from lengthy instructions that will be difficult to read quickly and reference frequently. Your caregiver would love to know that your pet eats one cup of food twice daily and is afraid of thunderstorms. Your caregiver will often feel overwhelmed if you leave an exhaustive list of your dog’s favorite “pet names”and moment-by-moment daily rituals.

What NOT to Bring

1. Your dog’s entire toy box

One or two safe toys are a great addition to your dog’s overnight bag, but less is more in this case. Not only will all those toys crowd your dog’s sleeping space, but they can also be very hard for your caregiver to keep track of and monitor. Bringing one or two carefully selected toys will make it easy for your caregiver to monitor and make sure your pet is chewing appropriately and not ingesting inappropriate toys.

2. A giant dog bed or comforter

Professional animal caregivers are obsessed with cleanliness. Giant beds and comforters make daily disinfecting and cleaning very difficult. Many caregivers like to wash bedding daily or weekly, and it is very hard to do that when every owner brings a giant bed. Stick with a t-shirt or small blanket that smells like home.

3. An exhaustive instruction manual

As mentioned above, a concise instruction sheet is very helpful to your caregiver but a cumbersome document is not. It can often be very difficult to find pertinent information when your caregiver has to read through pages and pages of overly detailed instructions.

4. How to Practice at Home

One thing I wish I could share with all of my clients is that practicing boarding skills with your dog at home really does make your dogs experience so much better!

a. Crate Training

Even if your dog does not stay in a crate when you are away from home or sleep in a crate, practicing crate skills can make boarding much less stressful for your furry friend. Much of the anxiety that we see with our boarding dogs comes from dogs who are never confined at home. At my facility dogs are only in their suites overnight and the suites are the size of a small room, but dogs who have never been confined can still become anxious. Our clients whose dogs have been taught calm crate behaviors are typically much happier and less anxious when boarding.

b. Daycare

If your chosen facility offers daycare, and your dog enjoys daycare, this can be a great way to make boarding less stressful.There is no question that my clients whose dogs come to daycare just a few times a month prior to boarding show little to no stress when they are boarded at my facility.

c. Happy trips

If your chosen facility does not offer daycare, or your dog does not enjoy daycare, taking short trips a few times a month to your chosen caregiver can be a great way to make boarding less stressful. Ask your caregiver if it would be ok to stop by regularly and just give some yummy food treats in the lobby and have a meet and greet. Before to long your pup will love going to visit all his friends. If you are using an in-home caregiver, hiring them to come and play with your dog a few times before you go out of town can be a great way to make that transition much less stressful for your dog.

Abigail (bottom left), her parents (top left), and some of the Roverchase staff on Thanksgiving 2014

Abigail (bottom left), her parents (top left), and some of the Roverchase staff on Thanksgiving 2014

Just like people, every dog has his or her own personality. While my friend may think a vacation hiking the Appalachian trail and camping would be amazing, I much prefer a quiet resort with a spa. While I love staying with family and friends when I travel, some people prefer the quiet and predictable environment of a hotel room. Your dog will also have preferences and, fortunately, our four-legged friends have many vacation options from which you can choose. I always feel very honored when my clients choose to allow me to care for their dogs for the holidays as we have such a wonderful time with them! I wish you all a very happy holidays filled with friends and loved ones. I wish your dogs an equally wonderful boarding experience filled with fun and friends.

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Positively Expert: Abigail Witthauer

Abigail resides in Birmingham, Alabama where she owns Roverchase, a large dog training and care facility. Abigail has been training dogs professionally for 15 years and resides with several animals, most famously, Mr. Big the Chihuahua (Instagram @MrBigChihuahua).


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