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a dog’s life

Kaylyn Bondar plays with dogs at her Wag Awhile Doggie Daycare in Newmarket, Ont.Mark Blinch/The Globe and Mail

Ask 10 people, "What is the best vacation?" and you'll get at least 10 different answers.

Wandering about in new places, with no schedule or set destination, is heaven for some travellers, and a nightmare for others. Some people love the social benefits of travelling in a group, enjoying the near-constant contact with their new-found friends. Other people prefer – even require – peace and quiet, with minimal stimulation and interaction. That's why there are so many vacation options available – because everyone's idea of a perfect getaway is different.

If all these differences are true of us, why would it not be so for our pets? Some dogs thrive on plenty of contact and activity with their four-legged friends, and others prefer a quieter, more laid-back setting. Let's look at the options for your dog's "vacation" when you're going away yourself.

Traditional boarding kennel

What is it?

A traditional boarding kennel provides your dog with a private room, usually with access to a fenced-in outdoor space, called a run. This set-up allows your dog to have outdoor access for bathroom breaks, and keeps them from interacting with other dogs. Some kennels offer a daily walk or other activities, sometimes included in the nightly rate, or as an add-on option. Be sure to pick a kennel that limits the number of dogs it takes at a time (approximately 10 to 12), as these businesses can provide more one-on-one attention to your pet, with more outside walk and play time. Also, the fewer the dogs, the less barking there is, so stress levels are kept to a minimum.

Who benefits?

Dogs who have any kind of social problems – over-reactivity to other dogs, anxiety in new situations, trouble dealing with overexcitement – can do well in a traditional boarding kennel. So, too, can older or younger dogs, or dogs with any medical issues. Often, these operations are larger scale, and are among the least expensive options when finding someone to look after your pet.


Most dogs often need more social stimulation than a boarding kennel can provide. Often, these facilities can be loud with barking and howling, which can stress your pet. Depending on the set-up, some kennels fail to provide easy visual access, meaning the staff can't easily and quickly see the dogs in their care. If there's a sudden illness, it might take a while to notice. Also, unless the company adheres to rigid cleaning and sterilization procedures, illness can easily and quickly spread to all the dogs in their care.

What is the HTE (human travel equivalent)?

Picture going to a hotel room, and staying there. All day. Every day. You might venture outside for a walk or a breath of fresh air, but then it's right back to your room. Oh yeah, and you can hear the neighbours.

Bottom line

Recommended for dogs who require solitude with minimal to medium levels of interaction.

Cage-free or free-range-style boarding

What is it?

Some facilities advertise as being cage-free, providing a wide-open setting where multiple dogs roam, play and sleep together. There is a romanticized idea of happy doggies playing together all day, every day, and free-range boarding attempts to provide such an environment.

Who benefits?

High-energy, well-balanced and socialized dogs may do well in this setting. Owners who believe their dog would prefer having few limits and free reign to run and play might be attracted to this choice.


Throwing a bunch of strange dogs together and constantly changing the dynamic of the group as boarders arrive and leave is risky. While behavioural assessments are usually completed before a dog is welcomed into a free-range setting, it's difficult to predict how all dogs will react in their new setting. During longer stays, a dog's baseline stress level can easily get elevated, and ordinary events may provoke an exaggerated response. In other cases, certain dogs simply do not like each other, just as there is unexplained tension between some people. This means that fights can happen and injuries can occur. Depending on how well-trained and available the staff are can mean the difference between a loud argument or a fight to the death. In addition to social problems, illness can spread quickly. These types of facilities are often among the most expensive boarding options for your pet.

What is the HTE?

Imagine going on a group tour with a bunch of strangers. You'll eat all your meals together, and participate in all activities as a group. At the end of the day, everyone will go into the same room and try to find a comfortable place to sleep. No privacy. No downtime. No way to escape that loud, annoying person who talks too much.

Bottom line

The risks may outweigh the benefits.

Daycare plus boarding (blended option)

What is it?

Many dog daycare facilities also offer overnight boarding. In most cases, dogs will play with other dogs during the day, and then have their own room (or run) to sleep in at night.

Who benefits?

High-energy dogs who are well-socialized will probably enjoy this setting. Owners looking for continuity of care will enjoy boarding their dogs with the same daycare they use on a regular basis.


The longer the stay, the more likely it is your dog will become tuckered out by all the activity. A well-trained staff can identify these signs in your dog and provide enough play breaks to keep everything going smoothly. As with any environment with multiple dogs, illness and injury can occur, but a regular daycare facility usually has a more stable group of dogs who are familiar with one another. Be sure to choose a facility that either has a human present 24 hours a day, or who has live video cameras for every room that houses a dog.

What is the HTE?

Think cruise line or all-inclusive resort. You can play and interact with others all day, but retire to your room at night (or whenever you need a break).

Bottom line

Recommended for most dogs, provided age, physical limitations and social issues do not present any problems.

Veterinary boarding

Straight to the bottom line

This is exactly what it sounds like: staying at an animal hospital, and being kept in a cage at all times, surrounded by loud, sick, stressed-out pets. It's only recommended for dogs needing specialized medical care. Many qualified boarding kennels can cater to the specific needs of almost any pet.

If you evaluate your dog's needs honestly – and that may require an opinion from an educated outsider, like a trainer or veterinarian – you can find the right boarding solution for your pet. See our online edition for more things to look for when considering vacation options for your dog.

Four considerations when choosing the best boarding option for your dog

Know your pet

Talk to your trainer or veterinarian to get an honest assessment of your dog's personality and boarding needs. Does he need lots of interaction? Or a quieter environment?

Visit the facility

Look, listen and smell. Can the staff see all the dogs fairly easily? Is it relatively clean, without smelling of perfume or chemicals? Is it noisy?

Check for credentials

The businesses should be professional, insured and certified in pet first aid. They should require a written contract that includes questions about your dog's meal times, any medical problems, emergency contacts and training words. Ask about their protocols for emergency situations. Also ensure they have any licenses required by the town in which they operate – these usually include inspections and requirements for things such as security, ventilation, proper climate control and fire safety.

Ask for references

Get phone numbers and call other pet owners who have been there. If possible, get a recommendation for a facility from your trainer or veterinarian. Bad stories travel quickly. Research your potential boarding provider through online searches and asking other dog owners. Be very cautious if choosing someone who advertises "in-home boarding." These people are often uninsured, underqualified and operate in an environment that is impossible to sterilize. A company that is fully committed to the well-being of your pet will have the credentials listed above, and operate as a registered, legitimate business.

From the type of food you should buy to whether or not you should purchase pet insurance, our Globe and Mail expert is here to answer all of your dog-related questions.