How to Prepare Your Dog for Going to Kennels
Advice on how to help your dog get ready for kennelling over the holiday period
It’s great when our dogs can come with us on trips, but I know that’s not always the case. Many of our canine pals are sent to stay at kennels over the holidays, so here are some tips on how you can prepare your dog for the experience to make it as smooth and stress-free as possible!
Check out the kennel
You’ll want to know your fur child is going to be well looked after, so get to know your kennel operator and how they run their place. Go and check it out before you book – talk to management and staff, look at the dogs’ quarters, enquire about feeding and exercise routines and see how the people there interact with your dog. I generally feel that the fewer dogs are at the kennel, the better. Unless your dog is hugely social with dogs, I recommend that kennels don’t mix dogs of the same sex (especially entire males) or to just mix the dogs in small groups, unless under direct supervision of an experienced staff member. They should exercise the dogs twice a day, and avoid exercise straight after feeding – especially for big chested dogs as it can lead to twisted bowel gastric torsion, which is extremely dangerous. A reputable kennel should have 1 year vaccination standards for Parvo, Distemper and kennel cough, and they should be particular about this. Ideally they should also have an isolation area for at least a few dogs.
Do a practise stay
Dogs don’t naturally like being away from their family, unless they’re well-adjusted to doing so. If your dog hasn’t yet been to kennels, take them for a visit before their stay so they can get to know the place and the people who work there. You may even want to initially organise a short stay of a night or two, so they become familiar with the place before you leave for a longer period of time.
Solve separation distress
When dogs are over-dependent on us, they become distressed and anxious when separated from us – this is essential to solve before your dog goes to kennels, or you’ll need to manage this carefully with the kennel operator. Addressing this issue involves building confidence and independence, by implementing a desensitisation training plan which involves graduated departure (separating from your dog for increasingly extended periods, as a friend rewards them for calm behaviour during the experience). You can learn how to do this through my Dog Zen Adult Dog School.
Make sure they’re socialised
Take your dog out to socialise with new dogs regularly before your trip, rewarding them for good “meet and greets” and nice behaviour. The dog “handshake” involves both dogs sniffing each other’s groin and rear areas so this should be encouraged, in turn encouraging your dog to meet and respond well to other dogs while at the kennel.
Information is power
Your kennel operator should ask for lots of information about your dog:
- Are they sociable with all dogs and people?
- Does your dog have any injuries, medical conditions, medication or special dietary requirements?
- Is your dog vaccinated?
- Does your dog have any behavioural issues? Especially any aggression or separation distress?
- Does your dog have any fears or phobias?
Make sure these questions get asked so that you have an opportunity to tell the kennel operator anything they may need to know about your dog specifically. It’s also a good sign for a kennel operator to ask these questions as it shows they are committed to keeping your dog safe and happy!
Top up on training
Do some practise on all the important training basics before you go away, such as “come”, “sit”, “down” and “stay”. It will make for a much more pleasant experience for all!
Do a health check
Ideally vet-check your dog before you leave to screen for any issues, and don’t take your dog to the kennels if it has an infectious condition. Dogs can catch kennel cough or a virus while staying at a kennel, but this is less likely at well-managed facilities – good kennels should have an isolation facility for disease management, so that’s something to look out for!
Dogs can lose weight while staying at kennels, so you may want to increase the amount you are feeding them the week before you go.
Have a happy drop off
Remember to remain calm and positive when you drop your dog off. Some people find it very upsetting to leave their dog behind, but your dog will sense your emotions and react to them – so the calmer and happier you are, the calmer and happier your dog is likely to be!
Good luck and enjoy your holiday!
If you want to teach your dog all the most important commands, if your dog has persistent behavioural issues, or if you simply want your dog to listen to you more, my interactive Dog Zen Virtual Dog School covers how to train your dog and solve common behavioural issues. Find out more here.
Mark Vette is one of the world’s leading animal psychologists and behaviourists, who has been studying and training dogs for more than 40 years. He has seen – and solved – every behavioural issue imaginable using his proven, science-based techniques that allow you to achieve amazing results, lovingly.