Choosing the right place for your dog to stay while you’re on holiday is an important decision. To ensure the best experience for your dog, you’ll probably want to choose home dog boarding rather than kennels. (Not sure? See “Is home dog boarding better than kennels?“) But amongst all the home dog boarders in your area, how do you find the best one?
You could Google “best dog boarding near me” and take a chance. Or you could check all the prices and go for the cheapest. But the fact that you are reading this tells me you’re not the type of person to leave your beloved pooch with just anyone!
To help you decide, here are 12 key questions to ask a home dog boarding service to get the very best holiday for your furry friend…
Q1: Are you licensed?
In the UK, this is unquestionably essential. If someone offers to look after your dog overnight for money and they can’t show you a dog boarding licence from their local council, then please give them a wide berth. For the benefit of other owners, you should also report them to your local dog warden. (If you don’t want to do this directly, send their details to me and I’ll do it for you.)
It is important that whoever looks after your dog understands and implements all the relevant animal welfare regulations. The only half-decent way to check this is to see a valid licence. Don’t take their word for it: ask to see it. If you have doubts about someone’s licence, your local dog warden will tell you whether they are genuine.
THINK: “The best dog boarding near me is licensed. Always.”
Q2: Are you insured?
If your prospective dog boarder has a valid licence then they should also be insured. But policies do lapse, so ask them to show you their current insurance certificate or schedule. Check the dates, and make sure it’s not just any old public liability insurance from a general business insurer.
THINK: “The best dog boarding near me is fully insured with a specialist pet services insurer.”
Q3: Are you a pet first-aider?
Your dog’s health is important to you, and it should be to your chosen dog carer, too. Good home dog boarders will have an up-to-date pet first-aid qualification. This helps reassure you that they know a) how to look out for medical problems and b) what to do in an emergency.
Your home dog boarder should have a pet first-aid certificate from a well-known animal welfare organisation or charity, such as the PDSA. If not, steer clear!
THINK: “The best dog boarding near me will have an up-to-date pet first-aid certificate.”
Q4: What paperwork will I need to complete?
Regardless of whether your dog is staying for one night or a whole month, your home dog boarder should collect a lot of information from you to do their job properly. If you are not given any forms to fill in, it’s a dead give-away!
The number and type of different forms will vary from one home dog boarder to another, but you should expect to have to take a fair amount of time to fill in all your details. As a guide, take a look at the application forms we use here at Gail’s Home Dog Boarding. They ask for loads of details! However, Gail has it set up so that you only need complete the forms once. The next time you go on holiday you can book much more easily and quickly.
Amongst the forms, you should particularly look for one that creates a proper contractual relationship between you and the person providing your dog care. At Gail’s Home Dog Boarding this is covered by the Service Agreement.)
The best home dog boarders will use comprehensive paperwork to ensure your dog has a safe and happy stay. Read the forms and ask yourself, “Are there enough questions here to know my dog well enough to care for them?” If the answer is no, cross them off your list.
THINK: “The best dog boarding near me will ask me for loads of information about my dog.”
Q5: Will other dogs be present?
Like Gail, many home boarders are dog owners. After all, would you want your dog looked after by a non-dog-owner? Most only have licences for a small number of dogs; typically their dog plus 1 to 3 others. For example, here at Gail’s Home Dog Boarding, Gail is licensed to board up to 2 dogs from the same household, alongside Max, our rescued terrier. So with us, your dog doesn’t have lots of other dogs to deal with (like they do in dog boarding kennels.)
However, you might want your dog to be cared for without having to live with any other dogs. And that’s fine – just ask! We have an arrangement with a family member who will take Max for us if we need to board a dog or pair of dogs on their own (and he loves going, too!)
The key here is flexibility. The best home boarders will offer you the alternative of exclusive care. If your chosen home dog boarder seems unwilling to accommodate your needs, choose again!
THINK: “The best dog boarding near me will give me the option of exclusive boarding.”
Q6: Will my dog be left unsupervised?
According to the Guidance Notes to the 2018 Animal Welfare Regulations published by DEFRA:
“Dogs must have human company. Dogs must not be routinely left alone for more than 3 hours in a 24 hour period, or shorter intervals as necessary for the individual health, safety and welfare of an individual dog.”
So any home dog boarder should not “routinely” leave your dog in their house unsupervised for more than three hours…
Check what other services your prospective home boarder offers. Do they provide daytime dog walking services? Do they do pet-checks: going into people’s homes to feed, water and toilet their dogs or cats? If so, it’s worth asking if they have a helper to stay with your dog while they go out to do their other jobs. Don’t assume there will always be someone there with your dog – ask them.
At GHDB, Gail provides dog boarding services only. This enables her to give a 24-hour Supervision Guarantee: there is always someone in the house with your dog. (Except in an extreme emergency, and we haven’t had one yet.) Gail and I live with the dogs during the day and sleep next door to their room at night. If Gail needs to go out without them, I stay in, and vice-versa. Whilst we don’t fuss and bother them all day when they just want some peace, one of us is always there for them when they want or need us. And when they don’t, we just get on with something else.
THINK: “The best dog boarding near me will supervise my dog for every moment that I am away.”
Q7: Can my dog and I visit you before I make a booking?
This one shouldn’t even be a question – it should be part of the process. Before someone agrees to look after your dog, they must arrange to meet them and you beforehand. Otherwise you can’t possibly know if you are a good match.
Good dog boarders will meet you and your dog well before their stay, allowing you to see their home and assess their suitability. And remember they are assessing you and your dog, too! Don’t be too upset if they refuse to board your dog. Home boarding establishments know which dogs will suit their service and environment and which would be better elsewhere.
After receiving application forms and before confirming a booking, Gail arranges a Meet-and-Greet for every new dog and their owner. They go for a short walk along with Max (if appropriate) and then come in for a tour of our home and garden. I usually make a cup of tea or coffee and they can ask as many questions as they like. Prospective customers can also make an appointment to visit and look around before they apply.
Note: Gail’s Meet-and-Greets are always free of charge. Beware of home boarding establishments who charge you a fee for their meet-and-greet. Taking your money even if they refuse your dog or if you decide they’re unsuitable…that, in my opinion, borders on “sharp practice.”
THINK: “The best dog boarding near me will make sure I bring my dog for a free visit and answer all my questions.”
Q8: Where will my dog sleep?
Home dog boarding establishments have different ideas about how and where dogs should sleep. Some go to the lengths of extending their home to add heated enclosures similar to boarding kennels. Others might just tell you to bring your dog’s bed and put it in the corner.
Which is best? Probably neither! I’m not keen on putting dogs in enclosures because I think you might as well send them to the kennels. That’s not really “home” boarding, is it? But equally, your dog must have their own space for eating, withdrawing and sleeping as required. The animal welfare regulations refer to this as a “designated space.” We have set aside the rear room next to our bedroom for this purpose.
Find out where your dog will sleep, and make sure it’s a safe space with plenty of room and comfort. Are there any electrical appliances they could knock over? Are there any trailing wires? Can it be easily heated and ventilated as needed? What bed options are there? Gail provides dog beds and bedding for our doggy guests, but they are equally welcome to bring their beds, crates (if they are crate-trained) and blankets – or just snuggle up on the dog-sofa that’s specially placed there. It even converts to a bed, so if they need to sleep next to a human, Gail will move in with them! In our house, where dogs are concerned, nothing is too much trouble.
Think: “The best dog boarding near me will adapt to suit how my dog prefers to sleep.”
Q9: How will my dog be exercised?
All home dog boarders will exercise your dog by taking them for walks during their stay. And unlike some dog kennels (!) they won’t charge you any extra for it. When you’re trying to decide where to send your dog, it’s worth finding out:
Is there a suitable garden for regular toileting and some run-around play?
When you visit a dog boarder’s home, make sure you go into the garden as well as the house. It should be a secure area, with no means of escape (check if there are bins or garden furniture near the boundary that they can use as a step up) and no hazards such as glass greenhouses or sudden drops. We’ve installed dog-friendly artificial grass which the dogs love to play on. We can sweep it, disinfect it, hose it down, pressure-wash it or even vacuum it!
How frequent and how long are their walks?
As standard, expect a good home dog boarder to be offering two walks (not one) per day, for at least 30 to 40 minutes each. Gail’s regular walks are twice a day for a minimum of 45 minutes, although she loves it so much that sometimes she’s out with Max for hours!
What if my dog needs walking less than, or more than, the usual?
Most importantly, the best dog carers will be more interested in what times and how often you walk your dog. One of the best ways to make a dog feel at home is to keep as close as possible to their usual routine. This flexibility should also extend to dogs who for whatever reason (age, illness, disability) cannot walk as far. Gail always takes time to discuss walking and/or other exercise routines with owners and makes sure that her walks match the dogs’ fitness levels in frequency, length and pace.
THINK: “The best dog boarding near me will offer well-planned exercise adapted to my dog’s specific needs.”
Q10: What enrichment activities do you offer?
Is home dog boarding simply a matter of feeding and walking someone’s dog while they’re away? No! Quite apart from physical exercise, dogs need mental stimulation to stay healthy, too. Ask your prospective home dog boarder what enrichment activities they offer. If they don’t even seem to know what “enrichment activities” are, this might be a warning sign!
Good home dog boarders will offer inside and outside play, including toys, games and treats. There’s a great article over at PuppyLeaks all about canine enrichment; expect a good boarder to mention at least some of these ideas or similar. Gail is always on the lookout for new games and puzzles for dogs, so if you know of any interesting or unusual ones, please Leave a Reply at the bottom of this post!
Enrichment activities are particularly important for dogs who for whatever reason cannot go out for a walk. If your dog is in this category, make sure you discuss this with your home dog boarder and share your thoughts and preferences.
THINK: “The best dog boarder near me will offer a range of suitable mental stimulation activities for my dog.”
Q11: Will I get updates on my dog?
“Say cheese!” (Max loves cheese.) These days it’s usual for home dog boarders to take photos and/or video of your dog while you’re away and post them on their Facebook pages. It’s a great way for you to keep up to date with your dog’s holiday while you enjoy yours. Expect a good boarder to be “clued up” about online content and at least have a Facebook page, if not a dedicated website and other social media accounts. Gail has this covered; she’s a bit of a technophobe herself but she’s married to a techie – me!
But hang on…what if you don’t want your pooch plastered all over social media? Some people don’t like to advertise that they’re on holiday, for security reasons. Or maybe you just don’t use Facebook? (Hard to imagine, but there are people out there who don’t!)
Again, flexibility is the key. A good home dog boarder will ask about your online preferences and give you the choice between receiving public or private updates. I update all of Gail’s online media according to her instructions; she offers all owners the choice of public posts on Facebook and/or Instagram, or private updates via WhatsApp and/or email.
THINK: “The best dog boarding near me will ask for my permission before posting my dog on Facebook!”
Q12: Do you have reviews or testimonials from other owners?
Reviews and testimonials are everywhere online these days. Google, Yell, TripAdvisor, Amazon and others encourage us to comment about and check each other’s experiences of products and services before we buy. Overall, reviews are useful, provided that we don’t rely on them completely…
Unfortunately, no-one can prevent home dog boarding websites from using fake testimonials. Google reviews are a better indicator (very difficult to fake and Google removes thousands of suspect reviews) but there’s nothing to stop rival businesses from adding poor reviews to lower someone’s rating. Even when Gail provides the best service possible, there’s no guarantee her customer will leave a review (people are so busy) and frustratingly, according to the rules, she’s not allowed to ask for them.
Nonetheless, it’s still worth a look to see if your prospective home dog boarder has any reviews or testimonials on their website or any of the major review engines like Google and Yell. Don’t just look at the number of stars; go in and read their reviews. And if you can find a way to verify some of those reviews, even better. Gail has excellent reviews from people who would be happy to contact any prospective customers and confirm how good she is.
THINK: “The best dog boarding near me will have good reviews that I can verify.”
Is there a Q13?
No, but if I was going to add one, it would be, “What is my gut telling me?” In your search for the best dog boarding solution, you’ll speak to and meet various people. You know your dog and you’ll very quickly get a feel for whether they are a good fit or not. If you’re uneasy, perhaps look a little further.
Some of these 12 questions will provide crystal-clear answers: dog boarders that are not licensed, not insured, not pet first-aiders or have no paperwork should be avoided like the plague! Others may need more consideration.
Importantly, I think you should look for flexibility in the answers. If your chosen home dog boarder tries to make you fit in with their way of doing things, then they might not be quite right for you and your dog. But if they show a genuine willingness to be adaptable and sensitive to your dog’s needs, then you may well have succeeded in your Google-quest to find “the BEST dog boarder near me”!
Talk to me!
Please would you tell me about
- your experiences of home dog boarding?
- what you think makes a good home boarder?
- any unusual canine enrichment activities you have discovered?
Simply LEAVE A REPLY below and share your thoughts.
If you’ve had a bad experience of home boarding, please comment but no names, please. Personal attacks on named people or establishments will be removed. Thank you.