Approaching the Dog Boarding Facility Search with the Right Mindset
Let’s address who this guide is for and who it isn’t for right off the bat.
This guide is for dog owners that know that they want:
- A dog boarding facility that will authentically care for their dog as if it was their own
- A boarding experience that will allow both dog and owner to be relaxed and stress-free when they are apart from each other
Therefore, this guide is written for you, a dog owner, that recognizes that the most important thing when choosing a boarder is that you and your dog are happy! This realization came to me back in 2009 before opening LV Dog Resort in Las Vegas when I myself, boarded my chihuahuas at my trusted vet because boarding choices were limited (luckily things have changed and more dog boarding facilities have popped up in Las Vegas and around the country). I had left town for a family holiday trip that was cut short because I couldn’t bear the thought of my chihuahuas being stuck in a cage for a week. I flew back just so that I could take care of them myself and guarantee that they would both my chihuahuas and I would be happy during the holidays.
How to Find a Dog Boarding Facility In the First Place
There are several ways of finding a dog boarding facility that include both offline and online search methods. Regardless of how you find boarding facilities that make it to the final round, it is important that you do more research so that you can board your dog knowing that they will be safe
Ask Friends and Family
If you already have friends or family that own dogs, you are already off to a great start. Simply ask them if they have boarded their dogs at any of the local dog boarding facilities. This is typically the best place to start since their first hand experience can help you narrow boarding facilities down.
What would happen if you found a seemingly great boarding facility that friends or family told you to completely avoid? Of course, with any recommendation you should still do more research about that specific dog hotel and take a tour of the facility if possible
Ask your Social Networks
You likely already use social media whether that is Facebook, Twitter, etc so why not use it to get answers from people you might not have thought to ask? The chances that a friend you haven’t been in touch with has gotten a dog and gone through the process of finding a boarding facility on their own. Log onto Facebook or Twitter and post a status update or tweet asking, “What dog boarding facility would you recommend?”
The way I see it, the more suggestions that you can get to narrow it down, the better.
Google + Yelp + Local Directories
You can also use Google to search using a search like “dog boarding *cityname*”. Back in 2009, typing in “dog boarding las vegas” didn’t yield nearly as many results. You can use this type of search for any city or even use your 5-digit zip code to find only the closest results if distance is a deciding factor for you.
Google Maps and Google+ Local can also help in your search by providing results based on your location and also showing you Google Reviews that Google has compiled from around the web.
Yelp is also worth mentioning since it has been one of the leading business directories that most people use to find their next restaurant, plumber or dog boarding provider.
Note: Yelp has come under fire in past months due to their user-generated review policy. Although negative reviews are typically a sign of poor products or service be careful to not ignore a business because they have a single negative review showing at the top of the page. If you want to get a complete picture of the dog hotel you have pre-selected, you need to read their complete Yelp page to get an idea of what most people’s dog boarding experience has been with that facility.
Tip: Take each review with a grain of salt! Here are 3 things to look at when their is a Yelp review that raises some concerns about the boarding facility.
- Is the reviewer Yelp Elite status? If yes, you can “trust” the review a bit more vs. a review without Yelp Elite status but it should still be taken lightly.
- Does the reviewer have less than 3 reviews? Being in the industry, I know very well that there are always business owners who instead of improving their product or service, will instead bash their competitors (a major reason why Yelp has received a lot of bad press for allowing slander and bad-mouthing to remain as published reviews). So, if you see that there are several reviews from Yelp reviewers with 1 or 2 reviews, it might be from a competitor.
- Did the boarding facility owner address the negative reviews? If there are negative reviews, how the business owner responds to it can be a good indication of how that boarding facility does business. Did the owner just ignore a valid complaint from a Yelp or Yelp Elite reviewer? Did they publicly respond to the reviewer in an attempt to fix the situation? Keep in mind however, that most business owners, regardless of industry, rarely respond to reviews. However, the best businesses who care about their dog boarding brand, will typically try to fix the issue and will communicate with the reviewer privately and/or privately.
What to Look for in Each Dog Boarding Facility
Most of these things you might not be able to find during your online search and will instead need to physically tour the hotel before making a decision. However, there are dog boarding hotels that make their website or social media pages actually useful for people doing this type of research. My dog boarding website as an example, has actual pictures of the different dog boarding suites, indoor and outdoor play areas so that people can see the hotel before they even visit.
A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words
Pictures really are the easiest way to visually scan different dog boarding facilities that have made it up to this point.
You should be able to find pictures of the facility areas, boarding rooms etc on their website.
Note: Make sure that the pictures match up and that the images aren’t stock photos. There are really great stock images out there that could leave you really disappointed when you walk into a facility that looks nothing like what the website showed it as.
But… “What if their website is super basic?”
A lot of dog boarding facilities that you come across will have very basic websites and this isn’t necessarily a negative. It could very well be the case that they acquire most of their dog boarding customers from offline marketing such as TV, radio or bill boards and therefore the website never became a priority.
There is still a way!
You can usually view a lot more pictures on their Yelp business page that customers have uploaded on their behalf in order to get a better visual of what the facility looks like as a whole.
Size of Play Areas
How big is the community area? Is there even a play area? If you don’t see pictures of an indoor or outdoor play area that might be a clue that your pet might be stuck inside of a kennel during their entire stay.
You should be looking to find whether the facility has indoor and outdoor areas. Indoor areas should be large with plenty of room for the dog to run around. You should check outdoor areas to see that there aren’t any gaps in the wall or fence where your dog, especially if it is a small dog, can run out of.
Types of “kennels” or “rooms”
Most likely, you won’t want your dog sitting in a small cage similar to those found at the found. Look for what the kennel or dog boarding room is made of.
I’d recommend that you find a dog boarding facility that has actual rooms and not just basic fence cages with shared walls. You typically want to avoid fence style kennels since they very often have shared fence walls with other dog guests. It may or may not become an issue but keep in mind that shared fence walls make it easy for your dog and their neighbor to quickly get into a barking competition.
Rooms should have soft bedding or materials that are elevated off the ground to avoid urine or feces coming in contact with their bedding. Rooms should be spacious and should be size appropriate for your dog breed.
Note: Most dog hotels will have different room types and sizes and most offer a “standard room” that should be a good fit for most dogs. If you think that your dog or dogs might need more room during dinner or bedtime, I’d strongly suggest getting a bigger room. Both you and your dog(s) will appreciate it.
Touring the Facility
TIP: You should always tour the facility prior to dropping off your dog at a new dog boarding facility for the first time. Waiting to the last minute to check out the facility might leave you feeling stuck with a facility where your dog won’t be happy at. Do this and avoid worrying and stress during your dog’s boarding time.
Remember: Not all facilities will offer tours but most should be willing. If there is a facility that won’t let you tour the facility proceed with caution. A no tour facility might raise some red flags for dog owners like yourself but there can be some very valid reasons for a limited or no-tour policy. The most important one being the safety and well-being of dog guests at the facility. We all know very well how excited dogs can get when a new human or dog walks in. It also serves to protect staff and the business from liability or potential accidents.
Using 4 out of 5 Senses to Analyze a Dog Boarding Facility
Taste doesn’t really, and shouldn’t, be a sense that you can use to review a facility.
What to LOOK for in a good boarding facility
- Doors and gates should be secure so that dogs are kept safe during their stay
- The lobby should be separated from the boarding and play areas to keep clients and pets safe
- The facility should look clean and there should NOT be any urine or feces puddles left for extended periods of time. A clean facility will keep your dog healthy and reduce the chance that your dog gets sick during their stay
- Not all dog boarding hotels do this but dogs should ideally be separated based on size for your dog’s safety. A stressed out dog won’t enjoy their time at the hotel if they feel intimidated during their entire stay.
- The staff should interact with dogs in a friendly and safe manner. Look at the relationship between staff and other dogs during the time of your tour. Remember, a wagging tail is usually attached to a happy dog.
- The facility should be clean and free of dirty spots. Of course it would be impossible to keep it a dog boarding facility spotless with so many dogs run around so use your best judgment with this.
What to LISTEN for when taking the tour
- You can begin to listen for things the moment that you first call to ask about their facility tour times! When speaking to staff, over the phone, pay attention to the tone of voice of the person on the other line. Do they sound friendly?
- While at the dog hotel, listen to how staff talk to the dogs. If there are other customers in the lobby when you arrive, how does staff interact with new and existing clients.
- Is there too much barking in the background that it makes it impossible to hear? Remember that dogs can get excited when they see a new human. Wait to see if they settle down and then listen to the level of barking when things are “quiet”.
- BUT…the type of barking is more important than the volume of barking! Are dogs communicating with each other in a playful manner or does it sound like they are about to have a brawl?
How does it FEEL?
As you go around the hotel touch things to see how they feel for more insight into the level of attention and care that the hotel actively provides
- Feel out the bedding available in the rooms and ask how often they change it. Bedding should feel clean, soft and free of any stains or crusting that may have occurred because of urine or feces touching the bed or blanket.
- Check to feel that fences, gates and corners of beds are safe and don’t have any sharp or rough edges that might make it risky for your dog
Last but not least… SMELL
- This one is simple and the quickest to make a decision. It’s either “Yes, it smells dirty” or “Yes, of course it smells like dogs but I can also smell cleaning products”
What types of things are most important to you when it comes to finding the right dog boarding facility? Leave a comment below to begin a discussion.