Traveling with a dog is hard. There's transportation, of course--if your dog is bigger than purse-sized, flying just got EVEN MORE complicated. Road trips can be really exhausting for dogs (especially if they're not great in the car to begin with), and when you factor in the stress of a disrupted schedule and a strange environment, you may actually be doing Puppy a favor by boarding him instead of taking him along with you.
But WHERE is the best place to board your dog? There are a TON of options. I know a lot of people board at the vet, but unless it's considerably cheaper than any nearby boarding facilities, I wouldn't do that. Your dog will be in a crate all day, surrounded by the sounds and smells of dogs in distress--it would be like if you stayed at a hospital instead of a hotel when you traveled. A boarding facility, however, is designed to keep your dog occupied and happy while you're gone.
The first thing you'll notice as you start looking for a place is that there are some really fancy boarding facilities out there, and then there are some smaller mom-and-pop-type operations that look a little rough around the edges by comparison. I've used both, and personally, from now on I will always opt for the smaller operation instead of the fancy boarding facility.
The High-End Experience
Last year, I signed my dog Chance up for a three-week boarding/training program at Paradise Ranch ($69/night) in Sun Valley--if you check out the website, you'll see why I thought I was buying the best boarding money can buy. Unfortunately, he developed a health issue while he was there that made it impossible for him to enjoy the "amenities" (he had to be crated). I asked the staff if it still made sense for me to keep boarding him there, and they assured me they'd be able to make accommodations for him, but in my personal opinion, they weren't able to because they were too busy and just had too many other dogs to worry about.
I was supposed to be able to see him on the video cameras 24/7, but apparently they had to put his crate in an area called "the Bone-Yard," which has no camera access--and no employees were willing to send me any video/photo updates of him during the day (something my favorite smaller operations do without being asked). I delivered $300-worth of toys to keep him occupied while he was in isolation, and when I picked him up, only a couple had even been opened and given to him. The one thing he was allowed to do was swimming lessons, but after the third day in a row went by with the lessons simply not happening (because they were short-staffed), I cut Chance's stay short and brought him home.
At the other end of the spectrum, I have had the most wonderful experience boarding Chance at THE ZEN DOG. I'm not entirely sure how they do day/night arrangements these days, because they now have both inside and outside spaces--including a huge yard where the trainers work with dogs. Dogs in boarding will sometimes get to be a part of socialization lessons, which is a really awesome thing not only for the dog in training but also for the dogs that get to help out! They've always been amazing with sending me photos/videos of Chance throughout the day, and they are so attentive that I never fear that something could happen to Chance and no one would notice. Boarding at THE ZEN DOG is $60/night, and Board & Train is $95/night--which I highly recommend if you've got to be out of town for a little while and think your pup could benefit from LA's best trainer while you're gone!
Your Friendly Neighborhood Small Business
THE ZEN DOG has gotten quite popular recently (they're frequently book up during major holidays), so I recently went in search of an alternative facility to recommend. Several people on Facebook suggested I check out West Pack BnB in Van Nuys. They're a steal at $45/night, and they'll even drop off and pick up your dog for only $10 more! Please check out my review for a more in-depth look, but for now, I'll just give you the short version: Danielle and Deborah just moved into a new facility that features three different "bedroom" areas (for naps, sleeping, or just some time out) and a huge open play-room. There is always an attendant supervising, and they have instituted a mandatory midday nap--which I love, because left to his own devices, Chance will play like a maniac all day and completely overdo it. Because they're a smaller operation, it's kind of like leaving your dog at your friend's house. And Danielle emphasized to me that they send photo/video updates to owners all day, and they aren't in the least annoyed when neurotic moms (like me) pester them for more.
It's this ability to pay special attention to each and every dog, and the open line of communication with owners, that is most important to me when I board Chance. A waterpark is awesome, but if Chance even realizes the difference between that and a concrete play-room, it's certainly no more fun for him than good old-fashioned dog-pack playing. And it's a lot more fun for me when I know someone's keeping a close eye on him--and sending me pictures.
What's your favorite dog-boarding situation? leave us a comment below, or join the discussion in the patchwork dogs facebook group!
Carrie Wiita is an actor, blogger, cheap-wine enthusiast, and dog-parent to Chance, a two-year-old rescue. She is that dog-mom who drops off a ziploc baggie of just-in-case medications with a detailed instruction manual and four emergency numbers to the boarding facility AND SHE IS NOT SORRY.