Saturday, 26 November 2011

Preparing your dog for a stay in kennels

Most dog owners want their dog's stay in boarding kennels to be a stressless and enjoyable experience. Here at Woodland View Kennels we do our part, by giving the dogs lots of care, attention and playtime, on top of making sure the dogs are eating well, and looking and feeling healthy. But is there anything owners can do which can help make their dog's stay in kennels a happier one?

Alone time

Although here at Woodland View Kennels we spend lots of time playing with the dogs, but of course there are times when they will be left alone (well we can't have twenty dogs sleeping on our bed!).  Now, if your dog sleeps downstairs at night, and you go out to work in the day, it is likely that they will be quite confident being left on their own. These dogs seem to settle into the kennel routine much faster and rarely cry or bark when left alone. 

It breaks our hearts when a dog cries when we close up the kennels at night. Of course we always use DAP spray which helps to comfort them, but we think it would be helpful if owners worked on any obvious separation anxiety issues at home before the dog's stay in kennels. This can be done by building up your dog's 'alone' time slowly. Perhaps give them a chew or special toy to help entertain them. There are some great boredom breaker toys on the market, such as Kongs or treat balls. Don't worry if they cry at first, they will soon get used to being on their own, and will be more confident dogs in the long run.

Can your dog be left alone? It may be useful to work on building up your dog's confidence before a stay in kennels.

Social skills - with other dogs

We find that social dogs are very happy staying at kennels. They just love meeting and playing with new friends, and its a joy to watch them do so, my favourite part of the job! Any puppies that stay in the kennels I make a real effort to socialise, not only with other pups and playful types, but if they need a little discipline (ie they are a bit nippy or boisterous) my own dogs Freddie and Amber are good at teaching them a valuable lesson or two. I can trust them to tell the pups off but they'd never bite or hurt them. Hopefully the lessons they learn will help keep them safe from any grumpy dogs they may meet during their usual walks. Knowing when to leave someone alone could potentially save them from being hurt at some point.

 Our own dog, Amber (Collie on the right) is very good at teaching puppies 'doggie manners' 

Puppies are easy to socialize, what is difficult for us is when older dogs come in and haven't been able to spend time with other dogs. Of course, we don't mind having these dogs in to board with us. Often, we can still put these dogs in with our own so they still get a valuable opportunity to socialise, but sometimes daren't risk mixing them with other boarders. Sometimes they just have to be played with alone. This is fine, and sometimes, can't be helped, and they still have fun. 

(Above) Social dogs have a great time in kennels and love meeting new friends.

 (Above) Don't worry if you think your dog might be a bit scared of other dogs, there is always someone there to supervise and reassure, and they soon become confident!

and if your dog isn't social - not to worry - they will still have lots of fun! 

I suppose what I am saying is, IF you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to socialise your dog, then it is well worth the effort it takes to do so. You could join a training class or agility club, arrange to meet with other dog owners down the park every so often, or if you are short on time then it may be worth taking them to a 'doggy daycare' every once in a while.

Social skills - with new people

It is much harder for us to care for a dog who is wary of strangers, than if it with a happy go lucky type who loves everyone. If possible, try to get your dog used to seeing different people and accepting them. Again, this is best done at a young age.

It usually doesn't take us more than a couple of days to bond with even the most nervous/aggressive dog, and often, once you have bonded with a dog of this character, he is your best friend for life! But of course, kennels are less stressful for dogs who are 'stranger friendly' than those who aren't.

Is your dog 'people friendly'? Patch certainly was!

Basic Training

This seems fairly obvious (and of course we don't expect small puppies to have learned everything!) but it is much easier for us, and the dog, when they know a few basic commands. Their name, Recall, Sit, and good lead manners are always nice ones to know, and if there's anything you want us to work on during your dog's stay- let us know! We find some dogs love to learn new commands and its a great way to provide mental stimulation.  

 Training is a fun way to bond with the dogs and provide mental stimulation. 

This article was a challenge to write - mainly because I didn't want to come across as lecturing people! Of course we realise that sometimes it is not possible to turn back time and make your dog a puppy again in order to do all of these things. I have a rescue dog myself, so I realise that they often come with their own baggage and experiences - and often have not had the best start it life, and also, sometimes our circumstances mean that its just not possible to do all these things, even when we have had our dog's from puppies. But all I'm saying is that, if you can, then these things are well worth working on, as your dog's life will be much easier with these skills.

Here at Woodland View we welcome any dog, regardless of how well trained or friendly they are. Infact, we like the challenge some dogs give us, and there is nothing more rewarding than seeing a nervous dog's confidence grow. Often this new found confidence and improved behaviour stays with them when they return home, we have had many a grateful owner report back to us with improved behaviour and confidence, and it's lovely to hear. 

Friday, 12 August 2011

Puppies in Kennels

For some reason owners seem to worry more when they are sending a puppy to kennels. However I think at the right kennels it can be a very positive experience.

It is very important that puppies get to socialize with other dogs from an early age. It is now they can learn the correct body language and proper way to behave, and learn how to distinguish a dog that wants to play, from a dog that doesn't. At Woodland View Kennels we have had a number of puppies in for boarding, and they have a whale of a time! They love to meet new dogs and we can make sure they do so in a safe environment as we never let two dogs mix unless we are 100% sure that they are totally non-aggressive (something you cannot do when meeting dogs in the park). The social skills they learn as a puppy stay with them through life and mean they can enjoy the company of other dogs. 

Staying in kennels can often be a confidence booster for puppies. It teaches them to not be nervous of strangers, as they have to learn to trust their new carers, and actually they soon realize we are quite playful and fun to be around!. 
It can also be a gentle introduction to being left on there own for short periods, as in between each exercise period, the dogs are left to 'chill out' for an hour or so. The dogs quickly get used to this routine and a peek through the window and we can see that most are quietly napping or having a gnaw on a chew.

Finally, I believe that if you plan to take regular holidays, then boarding your dog from an early age is the best thing you can do for them. The boarding kennels will become a place that they recognise and enjoy coming to, Which will put your mind at ease and mean you can stop worrying about your much loved dog, and enjoy your holiday! 

Monday, 2 May 2011

What if my dog stops eating while he's in kennels?

This is a major worry for lots of dogs owners when thinking about putting their dogs in kennels. It may arise from having a bad experience in which their dog lost a lot of weight when kennelled in the past. It's perfectly understandable, and some dogs, despite being in a nice kennels where stress is kept to a minimum, will pine for their owners and go off their food. So, when this happens, what do we do?

To be honest, its a vary rare occurrence here because we are a small kennels, and therefore it is generally quieter than your average kennels. We also have a good staff:dog ratio (1:7) which means all the dogs get plenty of attention and playtime. This means most dogs will not have a problem eating, as they are happy and also get to work up an appetite with all the playtime! However, we do have techniques in place to get dogs eating again if they go off their food.

We have two meal times here at Woodland View, which can be useful because it gives the dogs two opportunities to eat each day. Each dog has a care sheet on the front of their kennel, which not only gives us the name, age, medical conditions and emergency contact information for each dog, but also lets us record when, what and how much a dog eats. This helps us monitor their food intake and flag up any under-eaters. A record is also kept on when the dog goes to the 'toilet' and if it is normal or not, and of course if they are sick. It is very important to distinguish loss of appetite through pining from a dog being ill and not wanting to eat.

The first thing I will do when a dog refuses food for the first time is to use DAP therapy to provide comfort and reassurance (see previous article on Reducing Stress). An assessment of the dog's stress levels is done and changes are made to reduce stress where possible (i.e. move to a quieter section of the kennels, increase exercise and playtime). 

If our stress reduction techniques fail to bring back appetite, and a dog refuses a second meal, we then try different varieties of food. Sometimes a small amount of wet food added to the dog's usual dry food can be enough to tempt them. I find feeding Chappie to dogs who usually eat dry food only, is often tempting enough to get them eating again, without having any 'runny bottom' related repercussions! 

Warming the food can also help to encourage eating, perhaps soaking biscuits in warm water, or adding warm water to mashed up wet food to make a thick meaty gravy to mix with the biscuits. I find this can be helpful and most dogs find it hard to resist when food is warm. 

If a dog still refuses to eat, I am not averse to hand feeding. I have had to do it a few times and I often find that when hand fed the first few mouthfuls, most dogs will have a go at the rest on their own. Of course lots of praise and fuss follows! I've never had to hand feed for more than a couple of days, by then most dogs are feeling much happier and so their appetite resumes. 

Once a dog's appetite has properly resumed and they are eating without encouragement or prompting, we then get the dog back onto their normal food and normal way of eating. After all we don't want to send them home eating a completely different diet and needing to be hand fed!

All the dogs Ive dealt with are usually eating well before the hand feeding stage. However if not, I have some more 'tricks' up my sleeve.  When I worked as a veterinary nurse we often had to deal with poorly dogs who continued to refuse food. Often one of the nurses would be sent out for a fresh cooked chicken or sliced ham which we'd hand feed to them. Also, making a meaty paste with tinned dog food and warm water and syringing into the dogs mouth can be an option when all other attempts have failed. Of course if this fails, veterinary advice would be sort and the owner contacted.

Above all, the thing to remember, is that a good kennels should take it seriously when a dog refuses to eat. Sometimes simply giving the dog their normal food and thinking 'they'll eat if their hungry' doesn't suffice. I myself have childhood memories of picking our emaciated family dog up from the boarding kennels and having to hand feed him back to health, so I understand the worries that owner's have. As you can see we have a clear plan of action to get dogs eating again, which has never failed.


Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Reducing Stress in Boarding Kennels

One of my main concerns as the manager of a boarding kennels is how to reduce stress for our boarders.
Of course it is inevitable that most dogs will suffer from a little stress whilst with us, they are away from home and they will be missing their owners. However I think with a little care and attention, all dogs can find being in boarding kennels an enjoyable experience.

The very first thing we do when a new boarder arrives is go straight to the play paddock with them and initiate some games. This helps by distracting them whilst owners leave (which can often be a distressing experience for both dog and owner) and also helps to create a bond between us and the new dog. First impressions are important, and this goes for dogs too! Its important that they learn to trust me quickly and see me as a fun person to be with.

The first thing I do with new dogs is take them to the play paddock and get to know them.

Also we tend to give DAP therapy to most boarders throughout their first few days. DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) is a synthesized version of a pheromone that a lactating bitch releases to calm and reassure her puppies. The reassuring properties of this pheromone persist even as the dogs get older and so is useful in relieving stress in dogs of all ages. We always have a bottle of DAP spray here and simply tie a little piece of material to the dog's collar and spray onto it a few times a day. After the first couple of days when the dog has settled in, we start to reduce the number of sprays, until they don't need it any more. So if you notice a little piece of material tied to your dog's collar after staying here, now you know why!

ABOVE: Sheba was a little homesick at first, so I tied a material strip to her collar and sprayed DAP onto it 3 times daily to reassure her.

I find having the radio on settles the dogs down very well, not radio 1 though! Something more talkative like radio 2 or 4. I know this sounds a bit mad! And I often joke with the owners that their dogs are all up to date on the latest political issues and news, but the real reason is that I think the sound of human voices must be very reassuring, especially for those dogs which aren't used to being left alone.

Exercise, is very important for reducing stress in dogs. Here we get the dogs out at least three times a day. At the moment whilst it's quiet, its more like five times a day! We all know what a great stress reliever exercise is and this goes for dogs too. The kennels is a very peaceful place after exercise times as the dogs usually settle down and rest.

Fudge the spaniel enjoying one of many play times

A solid routine is good for relieving stress as the dogs can quickly settle into the routine and predict what happens next. I find it only takes a couple of days before the dogs know the routine here.

There are lots of other little things that can help decrease stress in dogs at boarding kennels, bringing comfort items from home can work wonders, along with providing chews and enrichment toys. I have recently bought some 'treat balls' which the dog rolls around and treats fall out. Once the dogs have figured out the game, it can keep them busy for an hours and is great for keeping the dogs entertained on rainy days.

It helps to also put a little thought into where each dog should be kenneled, i.e. A nervous elderly dog would probably not be happy placed next to two young (and usually very vocal) Westies. I always try to make sure any 'barkers' aren't in a kennel that we have to walk past to get dogs in and out of the building, I usually put noisy dogs at the end of the block where they won't be disturbed so often.

At the moment these techniques are working very well, I'm sure we will add more stress reducing techniques to our list as time goes on. I think it's a major issue that all good kennels must work on so that the dogs can quickly get over the stress of a new environment, and get on with enjoying their stay.

More playtime!

Finally, we make a real effort here to reduce stress for the owners too! I always offer to send a text or e-mail to worried owners, and we always take photos of new boarders whilst they're here and give them to the owners when they pick them up. I think its a nice gesture and also, the camera never lies. All the dog's here are clearly having a good time.  I'm sure it helps the owners enjoy their holidays more when they know their dog is settled in, eating well, and having fun!

A happy Merlin  : )