Are you traveling for the holidays? Going out of town can be an exciting change of pace for us humans, but the change in routine is tough on our dogs. And it can be extra-hard for anxious or reactive dogs who thrive on consistency.
If you’re nervous about leaving your nervous dog in boarding, don’t worry! By researching the right accommodations, doing some pre-trip training, prepping all your dog’s supplies in advance, and leaving a detailed care plan, you can enjoy your holiday travels knowing your anxious dog is in great hands.
What kind of boarding is best for an anxious dog?
My own dog Radar has a long history of separation anxiety and reactivity. I’ve learned over time that the best thing for him is to stay home with a pet sitter. Being in his own familiar place, with his own familiar stuff (and cats) helps him feel at ease even when I’m gone. Many anxious dogs do best when they can stay on their own turf.
That said, sometimes anxious dogs become more anxious when left home without their familiar people. In that case, boarding your dog at the home of qualified, trusted sitter is a good option. A change of scenery with fun new friends can keep them busy and distracted. If your dog gets along with other pets, choosing a sitter who has dogs of their own, or boards two or three dogs at a time, may help. Your dog will have built-in playmates, and will have too much fun to even realize you’re gone!
You know your dog best, so consider what will be most comfortable for them while you’re out of town. Whatever option you choose, preparing your dog in advance is the best way to ensure a successful boarding experience.
Special considerations for boarding anxious or reactive dogs
My dog Radar is leash reactive, so he needs a handler who understands how to manage him on walks. If you have a reactive dog, it may be tempting to tell the dogsitter to stick to potty breaks and yard time.
However, physical exercise is one of the most important treatments for anxiety! Just because you’re out of town doesn’t mean your dog’s activity routine has to change.
When searching for someone to take care of your anxious dog, look for dog sitters who have experience handling special needs pets. It may even help to look for a sitter who enjoys working with rescue pets because they’ll have a wide range of experience informing their care.
Pre-trip planning for an anxious dog
Before you leave your dog with a petsitter, prepare them for the change in routine. Of course, training for separation anxiety takes time; this article is a good starting place. Even simply acknowledging your dog’s needs in advance will help ease your time apart.
You should also inform the dog sitter about your dog’s needs in advance. Be sure your dog won’t be left alone for long periods, and tell the dog sitter what soothing and training methods help. Your dog will feel more comfortable staying with somebody who they know, so plan at least one pre-meeting before you go out of town.
Meet & Greets are standard procedure for Rover sitters, and help your dog feel like she’s staying with a friend instead of a stranger.
Finally, try to manage your own anxiety about leaving your dog behind! Your dog picks up on your energy and emotions. Help your dog stay calm by remaining calm yourself. Pack discreetly (dogs can learn to associate packing with separation/bad times), and don’t make a big show of saying goodbye.
What to pack for your nervous dog
If you plan to board your anxious dog at with a sitter, send them with a packed a bag containing:
- Your dog’s food and feeding instructions
- Medications and thorough directions for administering them
- Anxiety aids, if you use them, such as a ThunderShirt or Rescue Remedy
- Veterinary and emergency contact information
- A few favorite toys (with instructions for how to use them, if necessary)
- Their favorite bed or blanket
- A comfort item that smells like you, such as a worn t-shirt or towel
If your dog is staying with a pet-sitter in your own home, you don’t need to pack a bag. But you should make sure all of the above is easily accessible.
Whether your dog is boarding with a sitter in their home, or staying in your house with a trusted sitter, you should leave a detailed list of instructions. This should include the information mentioned above, as well as a daily schedule/care routine.
The more prepared you are, the easier it will be for your dog to stay behind when you go out of town. Make plans with a trusted pet sitter who has experience with anxious dogs; prepare your pet in advance; pack wisely; and project calm confidence when you leave. You’ll travel with peace of mind, and come home to a happy dog!