Summer Travel Series: Boarding Basics

Now’s the time to squeeze in that last-minute summer getaway. The only prob is that the pup might not be up for your vaca. One great option? Trusting the staff at a reputable boarding facility to care for and love up your furry friend. You probably already know that policies and offerings can vary greatly, but what about what you really want to know? We tapped Metro Dogs Daycare & Boarding proprietor Amy Rosenthal to get the insider dish on the boarding experience — for you and your dog.

What dogs are good candidates for boarding?
If a dog has an easygoing nature, has not exhibited a high degree of separation anxiety, and tends to not get fussy or panicky when exposed to new things, he will likely do well.

What is your No. 1 tip for dog lovers leaving their pup behind for the first time?
Ask questions and take a tour well in advance. If the facility is clean and the management team can answer your questions to your satisfaction, that’s a good start.

At Metro Dogs, we allow anyone who comes for a tour to visit the boarding area. We’re cleaning and disinfecting all the time, so I’m confident in bringing guests there.

There are so many different boarding facilities with so many different offerings. Help!
You need to consider not only what’s the best fit for your dog, but also what’s the best fit for you.

First, your dog: Many facilities combine group daycare play along with overnight stays. If your dog has enjoyed group play at a particular facility, it’s a good choice because it’s likely the overnight stay will not be very stressful. Dogs play, get tired, and go into their little suite or kennel space for supper and sleep.

Some places offer group sleeping arrangements with no kennels or walls separating the dogs, often labeled “cage-free” boarding. While there might be some dogs who are comfortable with this, most pups need their own quiet space to curl up into at night, especially after a day of active play.

Then there are the more traditional boarding kennels with individual runs and no group play. This setup is ideal for dogs who do not like playing with others, are not spayed or neutered, or might have other issues that dictate that they should not be mingling freely with other canines.

Next, you: Consider the services offered by the facility. Do the drop-off and pick-up times fit with your schedule? Is it one all-inclusive price or an à-la-carte menu with pricing for walks, administering medications, providing a bed, etc.? At Metro Dogs, our goal is to make your life easier, and we do that with one-price boarding, including any kennel size, many hours of play time each day, administering medications, and tending to any special needs.

Establish a relationship early on with a quality boarding facility because, like a plumber or an electrician, you never know when you’ll need one in an emergency.

How does Metro Dogs accommodate dogs’ individual needs?

Our intake process is quite detailed so that no individual need would ever go unattended. In just a few minutes we cover diet, medications, food/treat allergies, nap time, play time, evening rituals (some dogs get a peanut-butter Kong after last outs), treat allowances, bedding (dogs who shred things won’t be provided bedding as a safety precaution), requested grooming, post-surgical or post-injury attention in our Quiet Room, and more.

We get very nervous dogs who we can tend to with individual attention and administration of meds. We accommodate senior dogs with a ramp from the boarding room (in lieu of three stairs), extra nap time, and lounging time in the Quiet Room. We also watch every dog’s “intake” and “output” very closely. If a dog has bowel issues, we make sure the whole staff is aware and tends to it. We have a feeding nomenclature that alerts staff that a dog might not be eating, so we add some yummy canned food to her kibble to entice her to eat.

What sort of creature comforts can dogs expect?
On the large scale, you’ll want air-conditioned boarding spaces and playrooms in the summer and heat in the winter, play floors that are safe and not slippery, and enough space for dogs to eliminate away from their bedding if they need to do so during the night.

Individual comfort is in the paw of the beholder. One husky who stays with us often is most comfortable sleeping on the bare floor. Other dogs have to sleep on soft blankets. So there’s not a hard and fast rule as far as comforts go. At Metro Dogs, we want you to bring the things your dog is used to having at home: favorite toys, a blanket that you cuddle in while watching TV, a bed, even a t-shirt that has your smell on it. These things make your pup feel more comfortable and reduce the likelihood of a stress reaction.

Metro Dogs offers a variety of play options. How do you determine what works best for each dog?
We begin that process before we meet your dog. Through our online registration process, which includes a behavior profile, we learn a few key things before she arrives for the first time so that we’ll have an idea as to who’s walking in the door. We’ll know if she’s ever played with other dogs, if she’s shy or fearful, if she is full of energy and rambunctious, etc. To fill in the gaps and learn more, one of our trainers will talk to Mom or Dad for a few minutes before we take the dog off their hands. Once the parents leave, the evaluation begins (and lasts a few hours).

From there, we can determine the best playroom to start in. We have four: Tiny Tots, Littles, Middles, and Bigs. But size is not the only determining factor. After dogs have been coming for a while, it’s quite common for them to move from one room to another because they are ready for bolder play or, conversely, because they appear shyer than originally deemed and might do better in a room that’s less boisterous. Also, on any given day, we might move dogs around based on the personalities in each room. We watch every dog, every day, to keep the rooms balanced and safe.

Boarding a pet can make a lot of dog lovers anxious. How do you and your team make us feel better about leaving our best friend?
Our goal at Metro Dogs is to make every dog’s experience a happy one and to minimize the likelihood of stress during play or overnight stays. We offer group daycare play along with boarding, and that allows your dog to experience life at Metro Dogs while you’re still in town, before your actual departure date.

We want new customers to bring their dogs in for at least one day of play before they leave for their vacation or business trip. Let your dog get acclimated to our playrooms, the sights, the smells, the noises, our people, the routines — even nap time in the boarding area.

And what’s equally important to all this is at the end of the day: “Yay! Mommy comes back to get me!” Your dog sees that you’ve not abandoned him. He had fun AND he gets to see you again. This makes for a more successful boarding experience and minimizes the likelihood of a stress reaction, especially if it’s the first time you and your dog will be apart for any length of time. We also have webcams in all the playrooms plus a phone app, and we send photos and email/text updates. Our customers love watching their dogs having fun!

—Kate Nelson

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