I board dogs for families when circumstances arise where the pooch cannot tag along. Some families head south, while others ski. Many leave to visit their family outside of Toronto, are gone for an entire day, or they are in sad situations where a family member is seriously ill and the dog needs to be one less worry for the household.
I literally fell into boarding when my dog walker, when I was working in retail (prior to being choosing my present profession) mentioned that there was a great need for in -home boarding in our neighborhood. I had never considered the concept before – fortunately I had always been lucky to have immediate family look after our dogs over the years. A huge blessing for anyone!
So I tentatively thought I might try taking a risk and stepping into the unknown. Our first boarder was an easy yellow lab that lived up the street. Cori came to us while her owner was at work as a teacher. She and our lab got along well which was wonderful. Her owners loved the cage free family environment and we made new friends.
Slowly word got out over time and friends from the church started asking me to board their dogs who I had already been walking. They were a terrific fit!
Then I started getting the occasional cold call from families I had never met before. Of course, being a dog lover, I was open and receptive to having dogs come to stay. However, I have learned many lessons along the way. Take note if you ever consider looking after a friend or relatives dog.
Oscar was our first very memorable lesson. He was a beagle and belonged to a young woman. I chatted with her over the phone and she brought him to stay with us for four or five days around Christmas. Off she went – I had her cell number in case any issues arose. Oscar was timid at first but became despondent as time went on. He howled for her and could hardly be consoled. She said he had stayed with others besides herself before, but clearly knew ahead of time that he was a mess…
I tried calling her for days and she never picked up or returned messages. It truly was a nightmare for Oscar and our family during a time which should have been a joyful holiday. I could tell by her sheepish face upon pick up that she knew the drill. Like usual mistakes, I learned some good lessons from the situation.
The most important lesson is to screen any future dogs before the actual scheduled board. I like to request a minimum of 24 hours of alone time with the dog so that it can get to know us and vice versa. I can see how the dog walks on leash, behaves while we are eating at the table, and if there are any bad habits that owners fail to mention or purposely choose not too!
Prime examples are the “counter surfers,” obviously larger breeds that like to help themselves to your food if your back is turned from kitchen counters or dining room tables. Other negative behaviours are the dogs that lift their legs on furniture or pee on carpets if nervous or to “mark” their territory. The “chewers” are another issue if your shoes are left out or the “shredders,” those that rip your dog’s toys apart, or a personal item left unsupervised. Kleenex and sock lovers are another red flag to watch out for and even dogs that go for undies heading for the laundry. This is a common behaviour – I am not kidding! Then there are “jumper types” – often the smaller breeds that jump on your calves and slide down as they enthusiastically great you on arrival.
I always test how the visiting dog is on leash. I have had dogs that are a dream in the house but a nightmare to walk. I see how the dog responds to other dogs while out walking too, if aggressive this can be extremely difficult to deal with.
I do take into account that my family and house is – on occasion – a completely new environment with different smells, voices, and maybe routines. I realize the dog may be stressed initially and see how it transitions over the 24 hour window. With lots of TLC, treats thrown in, playtime, and walks, we usually win them over. A small percentage of the time it is not the right fit for the dog and the owner is relieved that their pet was not just dropped off as they head away on vacation, allowing for more time to find another boarding situation that works best.
We had a Newfoundland come a couple of times we loved but he presented a few problems. At night would choose to sleep in our bathroom and would take up the entire floor space. Being black mostly, he was well camouflaged, and when one of us would go to “use the facilities,” we would often shriek, stepping on the “rug.” His size made for extended drying off periods after wet spring days with puddles and copious amounts of towels being washed!
I remember one time a family came and my daughters were horrified at the lack of manners by the dog and her family. The dog pooped on our carpet twice on arrival while they were there, followed by their youngest school-aged child walking into our kitchen and helping herself from a pop from our fridge without asking. Needless to say not a return border!
Another tip is to get a second number that can be reached if you cannot reach the dog’s immediate family – perhaps another trusted family member or friend that the dog could be handed off to if the stay is going badly in your home. Having the owner’s email with which to contact them, and most importantly their dog’s vet’s information and insurance details is also crucial.
What I have also found helpful is adding a tag with your address on the visiting dog’s collar. If – in the worst case scenario – the dog escaped your garden or from your grasp, the visitor’s tag is a quick way to get you both reunited once again. I have a tag that says “Visiting At” with our address and my home and cell number. It does cost a few bucks at a large pet store to create but it brings great peace of mind!
A few more tips include getting referrals if you are thinking of boarding your beloved dog in a home environment. Also, I have a contract owner’s sign before leaving their dog with me that leaves expectations crystal clear – exactly like a contract that you would fill out for a child going to camp! Lastly, dogs coming to stay have to be up to date on shots, spayed or neutered, and have a City licence.
Having a dog come and stay with you is a wonderful perk and I would recommend it if you are ever asked to help out a friend or family member. There are a number of perks such as added exercise, getting to know a new breed/mixed breed, meeting new people when out on walks, giving your own dog company, and perhaps checking out what dog ownership is really like for yourself! A little extra pocket cash or a thank you gift in return is icing on the cake!
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