Sometimes the dog just can't go along on a trip. Some people are lucky enough to have dog-loving relatives or friends close by who don't mind an extra set of four feet for a few days. If you're not one of the lucky ones, then you'll need to board your dog or hire a pet sitter. Whatever option you choose, make reservations well in advance. Good caretakers are often booked months ahead.
Boarding Your Dog
Some veterinary hospitals have boarding facilities for clients' dogs. If your dog has medical problems and requires special care, boarding at the vet's may be a good idea. On the other hand, good boarding kennels can handle most routine support for dogs with special needs. Consider your dog's overall comfort, the quality of care and attention he'll receive, and the length of his stay. A weekend in a smallish kennel with a few daily walks isn't so bad, but if you're going to be gone a week or two, a place with indoor/outdoor runs and room to stretch his legs may be better for your dog.
To find a good boarding facility, ask your family, friends, obedience instructor, and veterinarian for recommendations. When you have the choices narrowed down, make an appointment and tour the facility. It should be clean and free of feces. Kennel runs should be separated from adjacent runs by a solid wall to prevent contact or fighting with the dog next door. Your dog should have his own private run, unless you're boarding two dogs that get along, in which case you may want them to “room” together. Find out how much time your dog will spend outdoors and how often, where, and for how long he'll be walked. Find out who will handle him and have access to him.
Ask how often the kennels are cleaned and whether they are disinfected between boarders. Kennels and cages should have good dog-proof latches, and should be covered and secure at the bottom to prevent escape. The kennel area should also be surrounded by a fence in case your dog gets loose when the kennel is opened. Ask about security to prevent theft or vandalism, and about fire safety.
With multiple dogs congregated in a small space, disease prevention should be a high priority. Food and water bowls should be cleaned and sterilized daily. If your dog has special dietary needs, ask whether they can accommodate him with a different schedule or his own food. Good boarding facilities require that their guests be vaccinated against common communicable diseases. Find out which vaccinations they require. (Ask your vet, too, if she recommends any other vaccines for your dog while boarding.) If you give your own shots for diseases other than rabies (which must be given by a veterinarian), ask whether your vaccinations are acceptable. Find out what the procedures are in case your dog needs veterinary care in your absence. They should also have an emergency plan in place and someone should be on-site at night and on weekends. Use your judgment about whether you are comfortable with the quality of care. If you're not, take your dog somewhere else.
You'll need to know when you can drop your dog off and pick him up, and be sure that there will be no problem if you're delayed for some reason. You may want to call and check on your dog, so ask about a good time for that.
Some kennels offer extras—more walks, more play times, daily brushing, a bath before going home. Before you decide, ask exactly what is covered in the basic boarding fee—sometimes the extras aren't worth the extra charge.
At-Home Dog Sitters
A pet sitter who comes to your home may be a good alternative to a boarding kennel, depending on your situation. Some sitters will actually stay in your home and take care of your plants, newspapers, mail, and house while you're gone. Others stop in a specified number of times each day to check on things. If you're interested in finding a pet sitter, ask your veterinarian, obedience instructor, and friends for recommendations.
When you have the choices narrowed down, invite the sitter to your home for an interview. Make sure your pets interview her, too! You want to know that she's comfortable with your animals, and that they're comfortable with her. Find out how often she will visit and when. Find out what she's willing to do with your dog—give medication, take him for walks, play and cuddle, groom—and what other tasks she's willing to take on. Ask about her experience both with dogs and as a pet sitter, and get references. Find out whether she's bonded, and whether she's affiliated with one of the national pet sitters' organizations. Discuss emergency procedures, and find out whether she is trained in canine first aid. Does her vehicle look well maintained and reliable? Does she have a crate in which to transport your dog to a vet if necessary? As with all other pet-care professionals, you should feel comfortable with any sitter you hire, and she and your dog should appear to like one another.