Choosing Dog Care for When You’re Away


Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

Who will care for my dog when I’m traveling? Most of you know, Tim and I travel a lot. So, it’s a question we’ve had to ask ourselves often. We found some good options. But, there is no single best option. As with many important questions regarding our dogs, the answer is frequently: “it depends.”

Charlie (R) with his bestie at his godparents’ house.

Friends and family are my first go-to. The key is to choose someone who shares your values as a dog guardian. Think this through. Be clear. For example, we never let our dog outside unattended, even in our fenced backyard. We are fortunate to have dear friends who keep Charlie in their own home when we travel. (We call them Charlie’s godparents). They never leave their dogs out either. We communicate well and agree on just about every aspect of caring for dogs. If you have someone like this in your life, hold on to them and treat them well.

Live-in pet sitters can be great. When our last dogs were seniors, we wanted them to have the familiarity and security of their own home when we were away. We had some great experiences with live-in pet sitters. We also had a few missteps. The key, again, is communication. Be clear on what you expect. Check in often. We also had caring neighbors checking on the dogs (and the pet sitter) while we were away. It worked well for us.

Professional boarding facilities are a fine option as well. These are full-time licensed kennels in the business of pet care. (Most cities require kennels to earn and maintain a license). The owners of these businesses, whether individual or corporate, have made significant investments in their infrastructure and staff. They value and protect their reputations. Most genuinely love dogs and hire people who do too. That combination can add up to great care for your dog. Of course, there are notable exceptions. I’ve boarded dogs at boarding facilities. Here’s what I look for:

  • Access to see the entire facility. If they won’t give you a tour, don’t leave your dog there.
  • Check cleanliness, climate control, access to sunlight and ventilation.
  • Make sure the enclosures (some places have luxury suites) do not directly face dogs in other runs. This can frustrate and distress for many dogs.
  • Look for enclosed and supervised potty areas (If the facility has play areas, they must be supervised and size segregated. No big dogs and small dogs together).
  • Access to meet and interact with the care team. I prefer that there also be overnight staffing.

As with all options, leaving your dog at a boarding facility really hinges on shared values. Does the ownership, management, and staff meet your standards? Finding out requires talking to the key players and seeing the place firsthand. If it’s not a match, okay. Move on.

Some vet clinics offer good boarding options. I’ve not used any. I steer away from any place that offers boarding as an add-on (like vet clinics or big box stores). Instead, I prefer places in the business of lodging only or as their primary service.

I never have used and never will use a pet sitting app. If you do, just keep in mind they are not licensed. Most lack the training and long-term business commitment of the boarding facilities in your area. Certainly, many people develop relationships with pet sitters through these apps. If you want to explore this option, apply the same scrutiny you would to a boarding facility.

  • Insist on seeing where your pet will sleep, play, eat, and otherwise hang out.
  • Observe (long before booking) how or if your dog will interact with other animals in the pet sitter’s home. Will any other animals be staying there at the same time? (If so, I would not take my dog there).
  • Look for cleanliness, comfort, and safety concerns. Does it feel like home?
  • Meet everyone who will interact with your dog. Do they share your values?

Our dogs are family. If they were anything less, you wouldn’t be reading this blog. We budget for them. We invest time, energy, emotion in them. When we travel, Tim and I talk about Charlie constantly (some would say too much). We regale people we’ve just met with photos of him on our phones. Who takes care of Charlie when we are gone is not a second thought. It’s our first thought, our most important thought.

Plan ahead. The best pet care professionals and the best facilities book months in advance. Don’t call a week or two ahead. You’ll likely be too late. Your dog deserves the very best. Charlie sure does. And you deserve peace of mind. How nice is it to know your beloved dog is enjoying himself too — loved, happy, comfortable? Just like home. If he’s lucky, maybe better than home. It’s vacation, after all.


Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston, TX. He specializes in aggressive dog behavior.