Most of us dog owners, at some point in our lives, will need to rely on a dog sitter; whether it is a trusted neighbor, a family member, a well-established dog daycare, or the local veterinarian, someone else may have to keep watch over our dogs. So what’s the best type of overnight boarding for your dog? What should you consider about your dogs, their habits, and potential care environments? Can your dog(s) handle being alone? Do they do well roaming around unsupervised? Do they get into mischief, or food?
Luna is a very docile and calm dog who doesn’t mind being left alone, and while she doesn’t love crates, she tolerates them well and quietly. Back when we only had Luna, we knew that when we needed to travel, we could simply put her up at our vet’s office (it didn’t hurt that they were totally in love with her, of course). Penny, on the other hand, often gets anxious when we crate her and leave for the better part of a day – even in her own home/surroundings – so ever since Penny has been with our family, we’ve relied on my mother’s careful assistance to watch her when we’ve travelled. Now that we’re a few thousand miles away from mom, we’ve had to reconsider our approach, and develop a ‘Plan B.’ We started talking about what we might do several months ago, knowing that it all hinged on Penny.
Penny seems to feel much more comfortable with company (whether human or dog) than alone, and
she’s been known to bark when confined for a long period of time. Penny will actively hunt for food if left unsupervised, and if she finds it open and available, she’ll eat until she becomes ill and at risk for bloat, so obviously she needs to be in a clean (un-cluttered) area where the chance of her eating something unhealthy is low.
Based on those factors, we decided to find a dog daycare/sitter in the area, and solicited some recommendations from local dog-sperts. Based on their input we selected a sitter, and then spent several days over the past two months getting to know her and her home, even dropping the dogs off for a couple of test-runs. We had several discussions regarding our dogs’ good and bad habits (barking, food hunting), training levels, and personalities, with the ultimate goal of making sure it would be a good fit on both ends. It did seem like everyone was compatible and we were reasonably comfortable thinking about leaving our dogs in her care.
My husband and I decided to take a simple overnight trip to San Francisco last week, marking the first time since we moved to California that we were going to have to execute dog care ‘Plan B.’ Dropping the dogs off was a snap; I provided explicit instructions on feeding them, and reminded the sitter what to look out for (having discussed all of the dogs’ idiosyncrasies, including Penny’s food hunting, during our previous meetings and test-runs). I hopped back in the car, picked up my husband, and we drove up to enjoy a ‘colorful’ night in San Francisco.
Upon picking up our dogs the following day, however, both D and I instantly noticed that Penny was about 50% wider than she had been 24 hours earlier. We pointed it out to the sitter, and she claimed she didn't recognize anything unusual. It looked very clear to D and me that Penny had found, and consumed another dog’s food, and not in moderation. We politely, but quickly, snagged the dogs and headed for home. Fortunately, our route home passed right by our vet’s office. We called up to make an emergency appointment, and the first available was 1.5 hours later, but the tech told us we could drop Penny off for monitoring. We jumped on that offer, and it was a good decision; almost as soon as we walked in, Penny forcefully vomited several cups-worth of yellow- and red-colored kibble. Hmmm… what’s wrong with this picture? Well, Penny doesn’t eat colored kibble for one, and she only gets ½ a cup of food A DAY! The vet administered CERENIA (an injectable solution for the treatment and prevention of acute vomiting) and drew some blood to make sure there was nothing major going on internally (Pancreas and spine are always concerns). Penny’s blood work came back normal, and after a good night’s rest, a MAAAJOR bowel movement, and reduced portions of food and fluids for 48 hours, Penny’s girth is greatly reduced and she is feeling better.
I ultimately believe that this daycare owner generally does a good job providing care for dogs, and that she really does enjoy her business; however, I don’t think she will be able to watch after Penny in the future. While I don’t harbor any ill will toward the dog sitter for what happened to Penny – after all, she (our dog, not the sitter) is rather quick and sneaky when it comes to food hunting – I was surprised that she (the sitter, not our dog) did not recognize Penny’s extreme weight gain. D equates the visual difference to dropping off Kate Moss, and coming back the next day to find Kathy Bates!
So now we’re back to square one-ish… We could revert to Plan A, which would consist of putting both dogs up at our local vet, or opt for Plan C, which would involve flying mom down to love on the pooches! This brings me back to the question of how you decide what type of boarding is best for your dog. I wish that this post could have been a complete and definitive guide to choosing the right type of care. Unfortunately, the process is a combination of balance and compromise, it’s not scientific, and you may get part of it wrong… the key is to only make one mistake, and not to make it twice. While the ‘doggie daycare’ may SOUND like the perfect option for care, not all dogs are suitable for doggie daycare, and not
all daycares are suitable for all dogs!