The Caring Kennel: Minimising Stress for Kennelled Dogs
by world-renowned dog behaviourist Gwen Bailey
How kennels & dog owners can reduce the stress felt by kennelled dogs.
Being Away From Home
No matter what steps are taken to make dogs feel at home, the kennel environment is usually so different from that of their home, that it is natural for them to undergo some stress during their stay.
It IS possible for boarding kennels to minimise this stress!
Dog owners should seek out
those kennels that make the effort to do so.
Reducing stress for dogs in kennels has obvious advantages for the dogs themselves, and their owners will feel more at ease if they know that the kennel owner cares about the dogs they look after.
For kennel owners, this trust means repeat business, higher occupancy and a fabulous reputation that will earn them even more bookings.
Having found a kennel that cares, owners are likely to keep coming back and a good reputation will spread by word of mouth.
Why Stress MUST Be Minimised in Kennels:
Excessive stress in kennels will leave dogs susceptible to:
Dietary disturbances & upset tummies
Illness eventually due to a compromised immune system
How Dog Owners Can Reduce Stress:
Allow plenty of time to deliver your dog to the kennels so you are not in a last minute panic and pushed for time. Otherwise, your stress will be communicated to your dog and it is better if he leaves you when you are relaxed and happy.
Take a written or typed list of your dog’s ailments, medications, food intake and other special requirements.
Your dog’s up-to-date vaccination certificate.
Spray Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) in your car at least 15 minutes beforehand, to help your dog feel comforted and settled during the journey (and ask the kennels to spray the sleeping area corners at least 15 minutes before your dog is taken there). If they don't already use it, leave your spray with them for your dog.
Take a few day’s supply of your dog’s normal food, together with your dog’s bed (unwashed), favourite toys, chews and treats if the kennel will allow you to do so.
Take items made of natural fabric that smell of you and will retain your comforting scent for a few days while your dog settles in.
When you leave, be jolly and matter of fact, rather than consoling, so your dog understands there is nothing to worry about.
A young dog may benefit from a few days in kennels every so often early in life so they get used to the experience and find it easier to cope with a longer stay.
What makes kennel life stressful for dogs?
This will vary from dog to dog, depending on what they find disturbing, but many dogs will find many of the following stressful:
Absence of owners/ lack of sufficient social contact.
Lack of control over environment, particularly in bare or cramped kennels, lack of places to rest or comfortable, padded bedding.
Changes in routine – feeding times, walking time, having to toilet on concrete unless walked.
Sudden change in diet – possibly leading to diarrhoea and further distress for a housetrained dog.
Lack of exercise / opportunity to play.
Loud noise - from the barking of other dogs due to large numbers or poor construction of kennels, or if loud music is played constantly.
Presence of and handling by strangers.
Presence and proximity of other dogs.
Unfamiliar smells – particularly disinfectant.
Difference in temperature from that at home (no time for coat to adapt to changes) – particularly stressful for short-coated and thin-coated breeds kept in cold conditions, or thick-coated dogs kept in warm kennels.
Lack of physical comfort – particularly if no bedding given.
Lack of familiar items that smell of home, e.g. bedding, toys, items with owners scent.
Lack of continuity of veterinary care if kennel uses the local vet practice instead of your dog’s own vet.
What Kennels Can Do To Reduce Stress
Some of the stressors listed above are part of kennel life and cannot be avoided.
Some stressors may be costly to avoid and may need to be offered at extra cost to the customer. Other stressors may be easily avoided with a little time and effort.
Top of the list and often in short supply due to its fulfilment being labour intensive, is social contact.
Dogs have inherited social tendencies from their ancestors and this has been accentuated in those dogs bred to work closely with man or to be a companion.
Since most dogs retained in boarding kennels come from a pet home, lack of adequate social contact can be top of the list of stressors.
A cost-effective way to combat this is to employ staff that like dogs and who will maintain a cheerful, relaxed attitude, talking and making a fuss of them during routine cleaning and maintenance activities.
In addition, giving staff extra time to spend several minutes per day with each dog playing, grooming, stroking them and giving treats for compliance with requests will result in higher staffing ratios, but also in happier, more contented dogs, a benefit that can be marketed to the customer.
Well-managed staff who like dogs and who have a friendly, efficient approach can substantially reduce tension in the kennel and are probably the most important factor in reducing stress levels.
Investing in staff and ensuring they are happy in their work will bring considerable improvements for the dogs in their care.
Avoiding sudden changes
Where possible, changes to routine should be kept to a minimum to avoid stress, particularly with vulnerable dogs (e.g. puppies, elderly dogs, disabled dogs, dogs on medication, or fearful dogs).
This particularly applies to feeding routines.
Owners can be asked to bring in food at least for a few days supply (so the change over to kennel food can be made gradually), or they can be asked to supply food for the complete duration of their stay if (preferred), thereby reducing the potential upset tummies.
While providing for individual needs does increase the organisation needed, it has considerable benefits for the dogs for a little extra effort.
Control over environment and reduction of environmental stimuli
Thoughtful kennel design allows dogs to make choices about where they want to be at any given moment.
The provision of a separate sleeping area from the run gives flexibility for the dog, and a larger kennel will allow more choice of places to rest, play or explore.
Further areas can created without increasing the size of the kennel by providing carefully positioned non-slip, low shelves/benches for the dog to rest on. This shelving allows the dog to look over adjoining areas, providing interest and variety of outlook.
Kennel noise and disturbance can be reduced by keeping numbers low in each block (if possible, or when rebuilding).
Playing relaxing classical or new age music has been shown to further relax dogs in a kennel. However, this must NOT be left on all the time or it just becomes 'white noise' and meaningless.
Temperature & Ventilation
To avoid discomfort and further stress, temperature and ventilation levels should be adequate for comfort of dogs used to a home environment.
Comfort items from home
The provision of bedding, preferably the animals own, together with toys and chews (preferably those left by the owner) can help dogs to relax.
Owners should be encouraged to bring items, but told that they may not be returned in good condition since the dog is likely to chew and destroy them while they are away.
Toys and bedding from home will be familiar and will smell of home, helping the dog to settle more quickly.
Staff should be aware of the concerns some dogs have over the presence of, and being handled by, strangers. Taking the time to make friends with the dog will help when routine handling is required.
Staff should be well trained in dog behaviour to help them to read their body language and be sensitive to their needs.
Staff need to be aware of the stress caused to some dogs by the presence of other dogs
Careful placement of the dogs in kennels can help to balance the needs of shy or fearful dogs by avoiding placing them next to aggressive or overpowering dogs, particularly if kennels have wire rather than solid partitions between the runs.
Staff also need to be sensitive to a dog’s concerns about other dogs when moving them around the kennels, taking care to avoid aggressive or noisy dogs if possible.
Placing ‘difficult’ dogs at the end of a block to avoid having to take all the other dogs past each day can really help to reduce stress levels.
Spray Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) in the corners of the kennel, or use a DAP plug-in for bigger areas (e.g. reception, internal corridors) if appropriate. This will help comfort and settle the dog immediately.
To a dog’s sensitive nose, disinfectant is a powerful smell.
Making sure the kennels are well rinsed (or quietly steam-cleaned) after being disinfected can help to reduce or eliminate the residual smell.
Having a bucket and shovel for each kennel occupant can help reduce the spread of disease and make it unnecessary to completely disinfect each kennel every day. The ideal solution is where dogs get walked and exercised regularly so that toileting is done outside.
This helps to save time & disinfectant and also improves life for the dog kept in the kennels, as well as helping to keep the kennel dry.
Enriching the stay of kennelled dogs
The following are suggested as ideas for providing dogs with interest during their stay. Although they may require extra staff time, customers may appreciate and be prepared to pay for the extra care their dog receives.
Social contact with staff in the form of stroking, grooming, treats for compliance with requests.
Daily walks and/or the chance to run free in a large area.
Play with toys with staff.
Toys left in the run for dogs to play with. Toys need to be strong, large enough not to be easily swallowed and be able to withstand being disinfected before being passed on to another dog.
Toys that can be filled with the dog’s dinner or with treats, such as kongs or activity balls, can help to relieve the boredom of confinement. These can be washed and disinfected after use.
Chews – rawhide or other chews can be given during the day while staff are there to supervise.
Provide interest in the run by hanging old tyres and encouraging them to play with them by hiding treats inside.
Provide interest and relief from heat stress in summer by placing hard plastic children’s paddling pools in the run and adding a few inches of water.
Float treats or pieces of vegetable or fruit on the water in the dog’s water bowl.
Add interest to the view by placing a bird feeder nearby, but at a safe distance so that birds cannot be caught.
If the kennel walls are solid, arrange strategically placed peepholes so that dogs can see what is going on.
Due to the increased stress levels associated with life in kennels, it is not surprising that dogs are more likely to develop illness while at the kennels.
If the dog has existing conditions that the owner has not left details of, or has history of certain problems, these may not be taken into account unless the dog’s usual vet is called during illness.
This lack of continuity of veterinary care can compromise the dog’s health and so it is recommended that the veterinary surgeon that the owners regularly use is called if the dog develops a health problem during their stay.
Special care for vulnerable dogs
Special care is needed for vulnerable dogs, such as puppies, elderly dogs, disabled dogs, dogs on medication, nervous/ fearful dogs, or dogs with a high activity level.
All such dogs will need special care and will require extra time to ensure that all their needs are meet.
Pairs of dogs
While it is comforting for many dogs to be kennelled with a familiar dog, it is important to watch for signs that all may not be right.
Staff will need to be able to notice antagonistic body language and displays and may need to separate them to prevent fighting and injury. This becomes particularly important when dogs that differ in size are kept together.
Socialising and mixing dogs
Mixing dogs from different households is not recommended unless with permission from the owner and if there is a member of staff with enough knowledge and time to supervise them well.
For some dogs, play time with other dogs is a great stress reliever and also a good energy release, but care needs to be taken and expert supervision is required.
How to choose the best kennels for your dog
Choose the kennels where your dog will stay carefully.
Compile a checklist of questions to ask from the information given above for kennel owners and visit several kennels to find the best in your area.
ALWAYS Visit First
Make an appointment to view the kennels rather than just turning up so that it is convenient for the kennel owner and fair to the dogs already staying - and they will have time to answer your questions.
- Be sure to view well in advance of when you need the kennels. Good ones get booked up early, especially during busy holiday periods.
Assess the Staff
Above all else, choose a place where the staff are interested in and like animals! Dogs are social animals and fare best with kind, empathetic and professional staff to care for them.
- If the choice is between kennels with miserable, difficult staff and
a kennels with friendly staff that really care, choose
- Find a kennels where staff are friendly, polite and interact
easily with dogs and the customers.
Surly, ill-at-ease staff are likely to be poisonous with the dogs in their care and such establishments are best avoided.
- Choose a place where there is sufficient staff to give individual
- If the kennels claim to walk all dogs, ask for how long and then do the sums to see if there are enough staff to make this possible. Staff are expensive, especially if they are well trained and good quality, so expect to pay more for a better service.
Assess the Accommodation
The kennels should be clean, tidy and welcoming.
- The housing for the dogs should be at the correct temperature, and dry.
- There should be no smell, and proper food storage facilities should be available.
- Check the dogs to see if they look happy and settled. There will be initial barking as you walk in, but this should settle quickly in a well run kennels as stress levelss will be low.