When it comes to service providers for your pets, how do you choose? How do you find a good boarding facility or dog walker? While there is no perfect answer, I want to share some questions you might use to help interview a business.
The new trend in boarding is that many boarding facilities also offer dog daycare. This falls into a tricky category for me. I don’t think they are all bad, but I do know from personal experience some of the downfalls. I personally worked at two different daycare boarding facilities prior to becoming a dog trainer. I actually worked for three if you count one that I quit working at after 2 days once I’d determined the place was very poorly run and I wanted no part of that. My decision was more than justified when they were shut down two weeks later. The biggest problem that I saw in those places was that the staff is not always well trained on dog body language and behavior. Even if the facility was beautiful, and the hearts of the staff were in the right place, the lack of behavior knowledge was problematic.
My best advice for finding a good facility would be to schedule a meeting with a manager for a tour and to discuss what sort of training the staff receives. Questions I might ask:
Are the staff trained on dog body language? I would follow up by asking, “how are they trained?” Video? Handouts? Are they mentored by a more experienced employee in real time?
Do they get training on how to handle a dog fight should one break out?
What tools are at the disposal of the staff at any given time to help control play?
How to do they interrupt or prevent problems between dogs?
Do they have emergency procedures if there is a need to suddenly evacuate the entire facility?
Are staff educated in pet CPR or first aid?
How long have the staff members been in service? What I’m looking for with this question is whether most of the staff are long time employees or are most of them relatively new and only been on staff 6 months or less. This will give you an idea of the turnover rate of staff and how much training the facility probably has put in to training and maintaining staff (my theory is happy workers = happy dogs).
How will your staff help to maintain my training? This is a big one for me, as you might guess. I don’t expect kennel or daycare staff to train my dog, but I DO EXPECT that they will not deliberately reinforce bad behaviors. A common one I saw a lot when I worked in dog daycare was staff repeatedly encouraging dogs to jump on them. This would be a deal breaker for me.
If a medical emergency should arise, how will you handle it?
Do you limit the number of dogs in daycare on any given day? Is daycare reservation only? How do you make sure to have enough staff? What I’m looking for here is how they know/prepare to ensure they have enough staff for a given day of daycare. The last thing I want is for staff to be stressed out and overwhelmed while my dog is in their care. If they suddenly have a large number of dogs dropped off for daycare on a given day with no prior registration, they might be understaffed, which would be extremely stressful for the staff and problematic if all of those daycare dogs are going into group play. Suddenly play groups may have to be larger, or kennel staff, which would normally be doing individual walks, are forced to help with group play, leaving less time for boarding dogs, cleaning, or care taken in following feeding instructions. Stressed staff = mistakes and cutting corners.
How do you handle peak times like holidays?
It also never hurts to ask if you can watch the daycare for a few minutes to see the staff interacting with the dogs so you can get a feel for the environment. Does either the staff or the dogs seem stressed? How many dogs are under the care of a single staff member? Does the play seem loud and out of control?
Some of these facilities will also allow you to opt out of the play portion of the boarding in exchange for private walks/playtimes with staff members only. This may be an additional fee. I think that would be, in many cases, a safer option to ensure you dog isn’t being stressed out with lots of that dog-dog interaction all week. I like a party, but I don’t want to be at a week-long party! I think dogs get worn out with play all the time, especially if that isn’t their normal routine. Secondly, you don’t have to worry about bad interactions or inexperienced staff running group play if your dog is not participating in those sessions.
While many of the same questions above can also apply to a dog walker, there are a few more I would add specifically for them:
Are you insured?
How would you handle a situation where my dog got off leash?
What was your scariest moment as a dog walker? What happened and how did you learn from that situation? Many dog walkers are a private business and they learned from doing, not because anyone trained them on how to be a dog walker. With this question, I want to gauge a person’s honesty, willingness to admit fault when they make a mistake, and see how they have improved themselves for the future.
Do you walk dogs individually or in a group?
What sort of equipment do you prefer to walk the dog on? Collar? Martingale? Harness? Head collar? Will you use my equipment or bring your own? Have you ever used a choke chain, prong collar, or shock collar on a dog? If so, who recommended it and why did you use it? Did you discuss it’s use with the dog’s owner prior to using it on their dog?
While walking my dog, how do you handle situations where a people or people with other dogs want to initiate a greeting with my dog? Do you allow leash greetings with dogs? Do you allow strangers to pet dogs in your care? Can I opt out of those things and how will you handle it if someone comes up to you?
What will you do if my dog does something you don’t like? Jumping up? Stealing food? Pulling? Etc. I want to know that this person is not going to resort to hitting or otherwise physically punishing my dog for bad behaviors in a way that I disagree with.
Would you be willing to come to a session of our dog training class with us, to learn what we are working on, so you can help us reinforce good habits? While many dog walkers won’t have time to do this, it never hurts to ask! Ideally, anyone spending time with your dog should be in on the training!
While the answers to these questions may not immediately reveal deal breakers, they should give you an idea of how the facility or company operates and how far they go to avoid problems. Feel them out and go with your gut.
You have every right to be concerned about leaving your dog in someone else’s care! HOWEVER, be a good customer! The best time to investigate a business is when they have time to spend with you. Asking to speak or meet with a manager anywhere near a holiday weekend isn’t playing fair. Avoid trying to visit facilities during their peak hours (early morning and evening drop off/pick up times or lunch hours). Whenever possible, call ahead and ask if you could stop by for a tour in the next 20-30 minutes and be prepared and gracious if they say that “now isn’t a good time.” The other option is to schedule a full meet and greet with a manager to ensure you get to ask all your questions. It is hard to leave our pets with anyone and a good company will understand your need to see the facility and ask questions about the staff.
I wish you the best of luck on your search!
Nicole L Yuhas CPDT-KA
This blog is intended to be informative as well as entertaining. It contains my opinion which may not reflect the opinions of any organization I may be affiliated with. My opinions should not be interpreted as those of my coworkers, family, friends, casual acquaintances, and certainly not the opinion of my cat, although my dog probably agrees with everything I say, if for no other reason, than because I provide the treats and meals (cats are less inclined to agree with anyone but themselves). Information provided here is accurate and true to the best of my knowledge but, as information and opinions change, neither the facts nor the opinions expressed here may be true or accurate at any future date. As I don’t currently own a time machine, I cannot be responsible for things that prove to be untrue, or opinions I change my mind about, should those changes become apparent in the future. It should also be noted that, as I am human, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes in the information provided here. Frankly, even if I were a computer, it is likely there would be errors, as computers, in my experience, can be a royal pain in the butt. This blog may contain affiliate links which you are under no obligation to click. If you click them, they will hopefully take you the place I intended. But they may not. As I’ve said, computers can be a pain. If you find yourself somewhere you don’t think I intended, click your ruby slippers three times together and say, “there is no place like home.” If you do that, and click the “back” button, you should be safely returned. Computers can, at times, have a mind of their own. Any training suggestions or opinions expressed here should be taken as information only and should not be seen as advice particular to you or your dog’s unique situation. Please consult with a training professional before taking any action.