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  : )