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Kenneling your dog

When she had to be away from her two Scottish terriers, McScrap and McDuff, London Ont., dog owner Linda French researched local kennels to make sure her furry friends would get the best care.

"The first thing I did was take recommendations from friends that have dogs. You can go on the Net and in the Yellow Pages and find hundreds of kennels, but you'll never know how they'll treat your dog."

And it wasn't just the kennel itself that had to pass her inspection: the people caring for her dogs were also important. "Are they dog people? And by that I mean, do they genuinely want to be around dogs? Did they seem to relate to the animal? And did the animal warm up to them?"  

To ensure your pooch gets the best home away from home, here's what you should consider before checking him in.

Home away from home
To ensure a good fit for your dog, you should visit prospective kennels. "Kenneling is not just a storage place for your dog, but an experience for your dog that should leave Fido feeling a happy and content," says Michelle Crook, owner of Country Paws Boarding in London and Kitchener.

Once inside the kennel, try to pick up on the doggie vibe. Do the dogs look happy? Take your dog with you -- does he seem happy to be there?

The relationship between the owners and your dog should also be amicable. At Coldwell's Bed and Biscuit Inn, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, owner Michelle Coldwell asks to spend some alone time with each dog she boards ahead of time, as the kennel is smaller than most.

"I have them come in for a test, where the dog can spend a few hours meeting me and my environment," she explains. "I need to see how they will act when left on their own. They always act differently when mom and dad are gone."

A good indictor that separates a caring kennel from one that doesn't is if the employees ask specific questions about your dog. "This shows that they are thinking at a deeper level rather than just cleanliness," says Christa Chadwick, acting director of animal sheltering and wildlife services for the Ontario SPCA, based in Newmarket.

The closer the kennel looks and feels like your home, the less likely your dog will feel abandoned.

What to look for
When visiting a kennel, there are a few major considerations to keep in mind.

What to look for:

Cleanliness. It doesn't have to smell like a fresh meadow, but the interior should be well ventilated. Also, ask how the bedding is cleaned. At Northwest Kennels, in Vancouver, for example, staff bleach their bedding to kill bacteria and prevent the spread of illnesses. Don't be fooled by pretty wallpaper and fancy decorative touches: "This is nice, but the kennel should be acceptable for the dog and not just humans," says Chadwick.

Socialization. "I wouldn't want my dog just thrown in the kennel, fed and left alone," says French. So, ask the owners how much time they will spend playing with and walking your dog. At Northwest Kennels, which can house as many as 120 dogs at a time, the dogs are allowed to play outside in a covered area with lots of toys and drinking water for most of the day. When they come in, they're tired and ready for bed.

This may be a good fit for extroverted dogs, but if your shy dog prefers to be alone, then you may want to find a kennel that offers walking services instead.

Also, some kennels prefer to segregate certain dogs depending on their aggression level. And some breeds, such as pit bulls and Rottweilers, may be kept apart from other dogs.

Qualifications. Canada has no legislation governing dog kennels, so to ensure a prospective kennel is up to snuff, check to see which associations or clubs it belongs to. At Country Paws Boarding, for example, the owners have hired managers who are certified kennel operators through the American Boarding Kennels Association.

Other specialists to look for include pet care technicians, animal care graduates, students in vet schools and registered vet technicians. At the very least, employees should have some animal knowledge, says Crook, who says she looks for staff who have "large animal experience at zoos, stables, humane societies or the like."

Security. Ensure the facility has proper fencing to contain your dog. If he's a jumper, this is very important, as you don't want him to escape. And when you tour the kennel, keep track of potential hazards such as sharp objects or anything else that could potentially harm your dog.

What to bring
Before stepping inside a kennel, ensure that your dog's vaccinations are up to date. The big ones are rabies, distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, parovirus and bordetella and canine kennel cough.

If your dog is taking any medications or has quirky personality traits, such as being scared of thunder or smaller dogs, tell the owners. You should also ask if you can bring your own food, since that will ease your dog's transition to his new environment. It also doesn't hurt to bring along a favourite blanket or toy that has your scent on it to remind him of home.

Finally, don't forget to leave your contact information with the owners and bring the kennel's contact information with you.

When to book and price
At Country Paws, spaces for March Break fill up in January; the same goes for the Christmas holidays, which book up months in advance. The rest of the year, most kennels require a couple of weeks' notice at least.

In terms of cost, a one night stay at a good kennel ranges anywhere from $15 to $30. If you have two dogs, you can often get a discount. If you want your dog groomed or massaged, some kennels also offer these services for more money.

Melanie Chambers is a freelance writer in London, Ont.

-- Posted: Jan. 22, 2007
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