You’ve planned your dream vacation or you’ve finally booked that holiday travel to visit family. Travel plans, check! But how to make sure you don’t spend your trip worried about your dog?
It’s one of the biggest dilemmas pet parents face. While pet-friendly travel is increasingly common, it’s still fairly difficult. There are plenty of ways to get peace of mind, however, and feel confident that pet is happy and safe while you’re away. By creating thorough instructions for your dog’s caretaker and making sure your dog’s routine is minimally disrupted, your pup is less likely to feel abandoned or sad while you are gone.
We’ll walk you through the options and steps to assure your dog has a great time at home so you can enjoy that road trip or European vacation.
1. Plan Your Dog’s Stay
Having a friend or family watch your dog is often the easiest, most cost-effective ask, especially if they already love and know your pup. However the task at hand may not be as simple, especially if you have an older dog who needs meds. Or maybe you’re unable to find care for your entire trip.
Other options for boarding your dog include:
With friends and family
Cost: Whatever you and your friend or family agrees on.
Your dog knows your friends and family, and so they’ll likely see this as a vacation for them too! Unless your dog is a creature of habit. Friends and family are a good option if they are familiar with your dog’s routine, willing to follow your care instructions, and provide timely updates.
In your own home
Cost: This service is often the most expensive of the options. Depending where you live, it can start anywhere from $75 to $200/day.
It’s easier than ever to leave your pet in the comfort of his own home. This service is called house sitting, and it is often the least disruptive to your pet. For puppies, senior, and anxious dogs, house sitting is ideal because it’s easier for your pets stick to their routine and receive specialized care.
At a trusted sitter’s home
Cost: This is typically middle range for boarding costs, ranging anywhere from $50 to $150/day.
For dogs with separation anxiety that is tied to their humans, they may do better boarding in a sitter’s home. There may be other dogs for them to play with, or the new environment can distract them from the fact that you are good. The latter is good because they won’t spend the entire time wondering where you are.
At a kennel or vet
Cost: Often lower in price, kennels or vets can range from $50 to $140/day.
Kennels are a well-known way to accommodate your dog while you’re away, and they can be fairly inexpensive. But if the kennel and staff is unfamiliar to them, the process can be uncomfortable. Typically the most confident, social, and crate-trained dogs do well in kennels.
A variety of newer boarding facilities exist that include more spacious accommodations than old-school kennels. These include off-leash facilities, pet hotels, and similar. Get recommendations from fellow pet parents in your area rather than relying on a simple Google search. Keep in mind that pricing can go up significantly with these options.
2. Update Your Dog’s Care Guide
Kennels and sitters watching other dogs will want to know your dog is up to date on their vaccinations and fecal tests. Be wary if vaccinations are not required by the sitter or facility. Vaccines help keep other dogs and yours, especially puppies, safe from transmittable diseases.
Then you should update your care sheet to cover:
- How much you feed your dog and when
- How often you want water freshened
- How often you walk them
- How many treats and what type to offer
- Favorite games and toys
- Health concerns and allergies
- Medication schedule and amount
- Triggers or reactions and what to do
- Groomers information
- Vet’s information
- Nearest emergency vet
- Emergency contact
3. Do a Meet & Greet or Trial Day
Imagine as a kid, if (or when) you were dropped at day care without a warning or clue. Scary right? That’s not how we want your dog to feel either. Book a day care session or a Meet & Greet so your dog will be more comfortable with who they’re with.
For extra support, we also recommend booking day care for a trial day a few weeks before your trip. This can help your pet get to know the person or space and acclimate more quickly when your trip comes.
It can also do wonders for your anxiety, as you’ll have a sense of what your dog is doing already. Most local doggy day cares require a trial day before accepting overnight stays.
House sitting? You can also have your preferred sitter drop-in. Use the hour to get a coffee or run an errand while your dog meets their new friend.
4. Brush Up On Training
Before you leave, spend the week or two before honing in on your dog’s training. You don’t want recall to fail if your pet’s collar breaks on a walk. This is especially important if you are a frequent traveler.
Dogs who get easily over excited or don’t follow commands have a harder time finding care. Barking, aggression, and whining are other behaviors that can make a dog ineligible for day care or boarding at a sitter’s home. While training is a 24/7 practice, brushing on before your trip can also help reinforce the behaviors.
Basic skills you want your dog to have include:
5. Pack Your Dog’s Favorite Things
Even if a sitter is staying at your house, packing your dog’s things so they are in one easy to find location can also reduce risk. It also can alert to of anything you may be missing ahead of time. The last thing you want is to run out of food.
If your dog is staying elsewhere, pack a piece of home to go with them. This includes:
- Your dog’s favorite bed
- Usual food and treats
- GPS collar
- One of your shirts or a pair of your socks
- Calming tools for separation anxiety, if needed
- A special blanket. Purchase a dog-specific blanket about a week before you leave if you don’t have one already so it can pick up all the scents of home.
Packing your dog’s items ahead of time, rather than the hour before, can help decrease your dog’s anxiety around you leaving.
Tip: The reason we didn’t include toys on this list is because toys can be a resource guarding trigger for dogs. If you know your dog will be the only dog, then go ahead and pack their favorite toy!
6. Communicate Check-In Expectations
If you haven’t done this in your care guide or the sitter before you’ve booked, it’s not to late to do it now. Rather than guessing when your sitter will update you, let them know how often you want updates. Most sitters are happy to give an end of day update with photos.
Knowing when your updates are coming can also prevent you from checking your phone all the time. You’re on a trip after all! Be sure to let your sitter know if you’re in a different time zone as well.
7. Spend Extra Time with Your Dog
This simple, tried-and-true tip is key to your dog’s happiness. Take a walk, play fetch, or snuggle with your before you pack up. If you plan an action-packed, dog-focused week before your travel, your dog will more likely feel relaxed through the changes.
Dogs who have an exciting, exercise-filled week are often lazy and willing to lounge for the next few days. The last thing you want is your sitter or facility letting you know that your dog was too much for them.
But you also know your dog. Some dogs love to play, and if your dog is staying at a sitter’s or a kennel, then you may want to conserve their energy. In this case, spend time with your dog snuggling and relaxing so they don’t become overtire too quickly while you’re gone.
Frequently Asked Questions About Pet Boarding
Can I leave a puppy with a pet sitter?
If you have a puppy, we highly recommend finding a sitter who offers constant care and is not watching other dogs. This can be a significantly higher charge than boarding with other dogs but the benefits and precautions you take often outweigh the risks. Without a sitter monitoring your puppy, your dog can practice unwanted behaviors like barking at the sound of neighbors or peeing in a secret corner. You want to make sure that your puppy isn’t unlearning their routine while you’re gone.
However, it’s also up to you to provide detailed instructions for the sitter to make sure your puppy has only gotten older, not bolder, while you’re away.
What about drop-ins or dog walks?
Having someone check in on your dog, like a neighbor, a friend, or a dog walker, may be okay for a day trip. Typical favors include feeding and walking the dog and spending some time with your pet so they don’t get lonely.
But if you are leaving for more than 24 hours, using a drop-in sitter significantly increases risks for your dog. There’s a chance for destructive or compulsive behavior. Serious accidents may occur but also go unnoticed until your sitter drops by. You may have a pet cam, but without a sitter on-call, it can be difficult to get your dog to help.
That’s why for vacations that last a week or a month, we recommended house sitting or pet boarding.
What are the expectations around house sitting?
You can request light house work, depending on the length of your trip and if you are paying for your sitter to stay overnight. Light house work can include taking out the trash, water plants, a light vacuum, and taking in the mail. Be mindful of the tasks you expect from your sitter, however.
House sitting should not include extensive laundry, grocery shopping, or unpaid errands. That said, some sitters may be willing to take on these tasks. Be sure to communicate these expectations and compensate for them before you book your stay.
What if my dog has separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a unique condition that requires very specific care. You will need to differentiate with your sitter whether you need constant care, which can be more expensive, or if there are specific routines the sitter must avoid or follow to avoid trigger a panic attack in your dog.
If your dog’s separation anxiety is tied to you, rather than just the fear of being alone, then you will want to practice desensitizing them to your absence before going on your trip.
Training for separation anxiety takes commitment and time, anywhere from four to five sessions a week for three to six months. However getting your dog to a point where they can be alone for at least four hours may help with overall costs.
What if my dog seems sad after boarding?
It’s hard to say what your dog is experiencing and without more context. The best way to figure out whether your departure is the reason for your dog’s emotional wellbeing is to work with their caretaker. While you were gone, were they eating, exercising, and going to the bathroom normally? If yes, they may have realized they get more attention acting or looking sad—or maybe they miss the doggy Disneyland experience they had while you were gone.
If not, then a trip to the vet may be warranted to look for any underlying medical or behavioral issues. New reactions can be a sign of pain or a new routine they did not enjoy, especially if they were boarded outside their comfort zone.
The Bottom Line
Don’t feel guilty about leaving your dog behind, by the way. Many people travel without their pet. Valid reasons include:
- Not wanting to subject your dog to flying as cargo.
- Concerns about behavior on the airplane and in the airport.
- Extra safety precautions and frequent potty stops on car trips.
- Pet fees and other restrictions at pet-friendly hotels.
- Complicated international travel requirements for pets.
With enough planning, training, and communication, traveling without your pet can be amazingly stress-free. Yes, your dog will miss you, just as you will absolutely miss your dog. But remember: if you’re comfortable, your dog will be more comfortable. Project calm confidence, plan ahead, and you’ll both feel more ready for your temporary separation.