If you have a fearful or reactive dog, simple tasks like going for a walk or spending a day at the park can be extremely stressful for both you and the dog. Reactive dogs who are fearful or aggressive toward other dogs present a special challenge: how can you go away on a trip and board your pooch without him or her being overly stressed or being asked to leave the facility? While some dogs might never be able to be left in a boarding facility and need an in-home pet-sitter instead, many dogs can learn how to cope if the correct facility is chosen and if you and your care provider have a lot of patience. Here are some tips on getting your reactive dog to the point where he or she can be boarded without causing undue stress or, worse, illness or injury to your dog.
1. Doing your homework is key.
There are many different types of pet boarding facilities. Some are operated in homes and may only take a few dogs at a time. Others are larger facilities with the room to board dozens (or more) dogs at once. Some mix the dogs together to play, and others keep the dogs separated. For a dog who is reactive to other dogs, a smaller facility that keeps the dogs separate will usually work better. Weeks before your trip, ask questions about where the dogs are kept, what type of separation is provided, and whether there are private quarters available where your dog won't be able to see other dogs.
2. Be honest about your dog's temperament.
Always talk to the boarding staff about your dog's reactivity; this will prevent your dog from being injured or injuring another dog with over-aggression, fear-biting or other unwanted behaviors. Some facilities will not agree to take a reactive dog, as it could put your dog or other pets in danger. Do not be offended if a boarding facility does not want to work with you or your dog; their first priority is the safety and well-being of all of the animals, and your pet could put himself and others at risk if he is fearful or aggressive toward others.
3. Provide comfort measures.
Any fearful dog can feel even more stressed when out of his or her own element. Boarding is often stressful for even the most well-adjusted dog, so you should expect that your reactive dog will go through some stressful feelings and then some. Providing comforting items can help this phase pass more quickly. Ask the facility if you can provide your dog's favorite toys, blanket or another item that is familiar and will remind your dog of home. Also, insist on your dog being fed only the food he or she is already used to; switching to another brand or type so suddenly can cause stomach upset, which will add discomfort to an already stressful situation.
4. Work on positive reinforcement.
For several weeks or months before you leave for your trip, work on some positive reinforcement with your dog. While out on a walk, if you see another dog approach, give your dog treats to help him or her associate other dogs with something positive. In time, your dog may become less reactive. This can help keep your dog calm if he or she sees other dogs while in the boarding kennel. You can find tips on going through the process of desensitizing your dog at CARE for Reactive Dogs.
Be sure to visit any boarding kennel that you are considering, such as The Pets Place Animal Hospital, before you make the final decision as to where you'll place your fearful dog while you are on vacation. This will give you the opportunity to ask questions and explain your situation, and it will also let you meet the people who will be caring for your furry family member in your absence. With some planning, it's possible for you to go on a trip and trust that your reactive dog is in good hands.