The world is not a dog’s oyster— unfortunately. The majority of offices, restaurants, hotels, museums and even national parks fail to welcome our canine companions with open arms. Until a major paradigm shifts, we’ll have to leave our dogs behind, sometimes, for work and travel. Happily, many dog-loving entrepreneurs are creating wonderful boarding and daycare environments for our furry friends. There are many and they aren’t all created equal, so we’ve pulled together some questions to help guide your selection process.
One note, while dog daycares and kennels serve different functions, we combine them for this tip sheet because they have many issues in common, several facilities offer both daycare and boarding options, and it all comes down to the same difficult decision—where to leave your best friend for a few hours, days, or longer.
1. Does the facility pass the sniff test? Follow your nose. A kennel will obviously smell doggy but it shouldn’t be stinky nor should it smell like a bleach spill. Daycares and kennels should be disinfected routinely. Ask about cleaning procedures and products, especially if your pup is sensitive.
2. What about the non-negotiables? In addition to a sanitary environment, there are a few other essential criteria for leaving your dog in the care of others. Dog daycare expert Robin Bennett , CPDT, says facilities should require proof of up-to-date vaccines; provide enough space (70 to 100 square feet per dog for off-leash play); segregated areas for large and small dogs; and employ knowledgeable employees and enough of them (around one person for every 10 to 15 dogs). She also recommends asking if employees have education in behavior, positive training and first aid. (Read Bennett’s advice for The Bark, “10 Things to Look for When Selecting A Dog’s Daycare. ”)
3. Can I observe and visit? Don’t just hit and run; hang around. Drop by when you aren’t expected, and be sure you have a chance to observe your dog in the mix. Most facilities require trial runs and some sort of temperament evaluation if dogs will be mixing. If they don’t, that’s not a good sign.
4. Is the joint escape proof? You’re leaving your dog behind, and he may want desperately to get back to you. Some dogs can be ingenious about launching their own incredible journey. The Pet Care Association of America  recommends looking for sturdy, well-maintained fencing, gates and dividers between runs. Don’t rely on staffers to realize Houdini has special skills. If he’s an escape artist, fess up so they can take extra precautions.
5. How did my dog perform? Engaged supervisors will be happy to provide a report when you pick up your dog (and they’ll pay more attention to your dog in the future). You’ll learn a lot about attentiveness based on what they tell you and you might discover if something is amiss. Some facilities will send emails while you’re vacationing with information about your dog’s status.
If your dog just isn’t herself in group-play or when she returns home—something might be going down when you’re not looking. Bark columnist Karen B. London, PhD, says bullying can be a problem in off-leash daycare and boarding environments, especially if supervision is lax. Learn to recognize the signs and sources of bullying in “Daycare Difficulties,” The Bark, May/June 07.
6. What do other clients say? Phone or Internet directories are just a starting point, you need more information than a listing or an advertisement can provide. Some facilities are accredited by the Better Business Bureau , which is a good start. You can ask for references, but honestly, is a daycare going to give you the name of someone who might report a bad experience? Your best bet is asking your friends in Agility, obedience class, at the dog park, your pet supply shop and so on. Also, tap other folks in the know via Twitter and Facebook.
7. What’s my emergency plan? Line up your kennel before you need it. Don’t make such an important decision when you’re under pressure. Also, if you know you don’t have friends or family who can help you out in a pinch, it’s good to be ready with a local kennel you’ve thoroughly checked out in case of emergency. If you need to leave home quickly, the last thing you need to fret over is this important decision.
8. What do I need for my peace of mind? A color TV and ocean views may not really matter to your dogs, but they matter to you. It’s perfectly normal to want your dog to have the just-like-home experience when you are boarding them. These days, kennels go the distance to alleviate your worries, especially about whether your dog is getting enough human touch. You might find (and pay a little extra for) bonus options, like “cuddle services,” massage and bedtime stories. (Read more about the frontier of high-end boarding kennels in “The Suite Life” in The Bark, July/Aug 2007.)