How to Choose a Boarding Kennel

As much as we like to take our furry pals everywhere with us, there are times when they just can’t come along. Choosing the right kennel for your dog is important, as you want the most stress-free situation for both you and your dog. After all, you can’t enjoy your vacation if you’re worried that your dog is stressed or upset.

Here are a few basic guidelines for choosing the right boarding kennel.

At-Home Pet Sitting

How long will you be away? Is your dog housebroken? Do you want to hire an in-home pet sitter or would you rather take your dog to a boarding facility? Every dog is different, and will react differently to a new situation. If you’re planning to be gone for a quick overnight trip, one of the best choices is to have a friend or family member stay overnight at your house and keep your dog company. Another option is to hire a licensed, bonded pet sitter to drop by and feed and walk your dog.

Make sure your house has been “puppy proofed” and there are no unsafe areas for your dog to get into. We only allow our dog access to the dining room with his bed and food/water, which also has a pet door to go outside to the bathroom. This way he can sleep indoors on his bed, but doesn’t have full run of the house while we’re gone. If choosing a licensed, bonded pet-sitter, make sure to check their references and have them drop by for a supervised “meet & greet” between the sitter and your dog, just to make sure they will get along well.

Boarding Kennel Evaluation

When selecting a boarding kennel, make sure you take a tour of the facility without your dog first. If the kennel refuses to give you a tour, turn around and walk out. A good boarding kennel is well-lit, and should not have a heavy dog odor. Look around at the dog runs to see if they are dry, clean, and free of waste. Do the dogs have access to water at all times?

Does the kennel offer “playtime” or walking? We pay the extra $5 a day to make sure our dog gets out to run around in the large grassy area instead of being in the dog run the entire stay. This way he gets a little bit of extra interaction, and peace of mind for us.

Dog run or “suite”? Our dog is loyally potty trained, and has never had an accident in the house. Many of the boarding facilities we looked at were indoor-only “doggy hotels” where the dog stayed in a room the entire time. The dogs are expected to go to the bathroom in that same room, which I knew would make our German Shepherd stressed and uncomfortable. Instead we chose a dog run where he would be able to get outside to potty when he needs to.

Your Food or Theirs?

In searching for a kennel, I was surprised at the number of places that would not feed your dog’s current food. Instead they say something like, “Your dog will eat our high-quality kibble during his visit.” It’s better to find a place that will feed your dog’s current food. Boarding is already a stressor, and the last thing your dog needs on top of that is stomach upset from switching food without a transition period. Some facilities will charge a fee for feeding your dog’s food. What? I’m providing his food AND I have to pay you for that extra? We were lucky enough to find a great boarding kennel that requires you bring your dog’s food with you for his stay — and no extra charge for feeding him his own food.

Keep the First Stay Short

If you’re trying out a new boarding kennel, try to arrange it so your dog can do an overnight “trial run” before booking the kennel for a longer stay. This gives your dog a chance to get accustomed to the new environment in smaller steps. Years ago I knew I had found a great kennel when on our next visit, my dogs immediately ran through the swinging door in their office and didn’t even bother to say goodbye to me! :)

Make It Fun!

Speaking of goodbyes, don’t make yours a dramatic, teary event when it’s time to drop your dog off at the kennel. All goodbyes, even when leaving the house for work in the morning, should be simple, non-excited, and short. I use a “see ya later, pal” with little emotion, and head out the door. While this sounds a bit cold, it really is a good way to keep the stress level down for your dog. Remember to use a happy, cheerful voice – after all, you’ve found a great kennel or sitter, right? Relax!

Crate Train Your Dog in a Week

Crate training gives your dog or puppy a safe, relaxing place to be when you’re unable to keep an eye on him. It also makes for a great sleeping spot at night and aids in housebreaking. It provides your dog with his own “den” which becomes his safe spot. Unattended in your house, your dog could  Once your dog is crate trained, you may find that sometimes he just goes to his crate on his own when he feels like a nap. Crate trained dogs are happy dogs because they know where their den is and it becomes a calm, relaxing place. In just a few easy steps, I’ll show you how to crate train your dog quickly and effectively. All through positive reinforcement, no punishment! Follow the tips on my blog and in seven days you too will have a happier, safer dog.

Choosing a Crate

Buying a crate for your dog is easy as long as you follow a couple of simple rules. I recommend the wire & metal crates as they are sturdier and discourage your dog from chewing the sides like they can with a plastic crate. During training, your dog or puppy will need just enough room to stand up, turn around, and lie down. Any more room than that, and you might have to clean up an accident if you’re still housebreaking your puppy. Buy a crate that is the size of your dog as an adult. Many crates today come with a divider so you can make it larger as your puppy grows. When your dog is housebroken, you can make the divider larger or remove it completely to give your dog the full space. For more tips, check out my article: How to Buy a Dog Crate.

Introducing the Crate

Once you have purchased the crate, brought it home and assembled it, now it’s time to introduce the crate to your puppy. This first introduction to the crate needs to be a happy, positive experience. Use “high value” treats like hot dogs diced into tiny pieces, or maybe break up a few pieces of bacon into small bite-sized pieces. Use a happy tone of voice and make sure the crate door is left open. Call your puppy or dog to you and give him a treat. If he likes balls or toys more than treats, bring along a ball and play with him in front of the crate. He will probably approach the crate out of curiosity and sniff it voluntarily. If he does, use a happy tone and praise your dog and give him a treat. If he doesn’t, don’t push it, playing around the crate and giving him treats when he’s with you next to the crate works fine as well. Ofen, the slower you go when dog training, the better you’ll progress.

Keep it Short!

Keep the sessions short — under five minutes a “treat session” and repeat several times throughout the day. Continue to leave the door to the crate open. If your puppy willingly goes into the crate, praise him and give him a “jackpot” of a handful of treats in a row. All you are doing is encouraging your puppy to explore the inside of the crate and then come back out. For the first two or three days, this works well as it gives your puppy a sense of reassurance that something good will happen when he’s in the crate.

Feeding Puppy in the Crate

On the third day, put your puppy’s bowl in the crate and serve a meal from the crate, again leaving the door open. For the next meal, your puppy should be quite used to going in and out of the crate, so wait until he’s engaged in his meal and close and latch the crate door quietly. If your puppy finishes and waits calmly, you can open the door and let him out, praising him for his great behavior! If your puppy barks or protests, wait a few minutes until the moment that he calms down. When he’s calm, open the door and praise him. The idea is to only let your dog out when he’s calm and quiet. He will begin to associate that being calm will get him out of the crate.

Naptime in the Den

To your dog, a crate will become his own “den”. Before the week is up, you might notice your dog choosing to go into the crate and lie down to rest, especially if you put some toys around the inside of the crate so it begins to smell like him. If your dog is well housebroken, you can put a blanket or pillow inside the crate, but I only suggest that for well-housebroken adult dogs that are already crate trained. Never put bedding in a crate for a puppy still being house trained. Dogs will naturally avoid soiling their den, but if you have a blanket or pillow that might soak up the mess, you could encourage a hard-to-break habit. This is a good time to begin putting your dog in the crate by saying “Go Kennel” or “Spot” (anything you want is fine as long as you always use the same word). When the dog goes to his crate, close the door and leave for a very short period, maybe five minutes. Come back when you hear that your dog has calmed down, and praise him for being a great dog! Let him out of the crate if he’s being quiet.

But Where Do I Put the Crate?

This is entirely up to you, but I have always kept the dog crate in the bedroom. This allows me to hear if the puppy is stirring in the middle of the night so I can take him out of the crate to go outside to potty. This really speeds up the house training, as your puppy will stir and maybe whine in his crate if he has to go to the bathroom. The other reason I keep the crate in the bedroom is because dogs are pack animals. They want to be where you are! When a dog sleeps in the same room as you, he feels like he’s part of your pack. At first it’s a bit to get used to, and like a newborn baby, a young puppy may wake you up several times in a night to go outside to potty. Stick with it, straight out to potty and back to the crate with no playtime and he’ll get used to the idea that nighttime outings are only for potty and then back to bed.

How Long Can  I Crate My Puppy?

A general rule of thumb once your dog is crate trained is to add one hour to how many months old your pup is. For example, if your pup is five months old, he should be able to remain in the crate for up to six hours. Remember though, younger puppies (under five or six months old) really do need a break in the middle of the day to get out and potty and maybe play for a few minutes before being crated again. I personally wouldn’t crate a puppy under six months old for longer than four hours at a time. Adult dogs can work up to being crated for an entire day, and many apartment dogs are crated all day while their owners are at work. I have never been comfortable crating this long without having someone come by at lunch to let the dog out to play, potty, and stretch. I have a personal limit for my adult dogs of six hours in a crate before taking a walk, potty break, and a little playtime. During the day, my adult German Shepherd has free run of the house with a dog door to go outside. This is only because he’s well-trained and trustworthy (most of the time). :) If I were training a new puppy, he would have access through the dog door into only a limited area like the dining room, and have a crate or dog bed in the dining room for the puppy to rest during the day.

Seven Days to Success!

Your dog or puppy can be pretty well crate trained within seven days, provided you take it at a slow pace and use lots of encouragement, treats, and praise. Of course, if he’s a young puppy, he won’t be potty trained perfectly yet, but the crate definitely helps aid in potty training by using the dog’s natural instinct to not soil his den. Our five year old German Shepherd has a large 48″ wire crate in our bedroom, and because he’s reliably house trained with a dog door to go outside, we leave the crate door open at night so he can come and go as he likes. We also put a thick blanket in the crate and drape another blanket over the top and three sides of the crate to help him feel more secure in his cave. Trustworthy in the house, we still occasionally crate him when we go to dinner or a movie for a few hours just to keep up the habit of crate training.

If you have any questions or want to know more about crate training, please feel free to email me at or post a comment below and I would be glad to respond. Happy crate training!

Consistency is Key in Dog Training

Are you looking for ways to make your dog understand what you expect from him? There are a lot of dog trainers with a lot of methods, but they all boil down to one core principle: CONSISTENCY.

Chances are, you have a family dog who gets walked by multiple members of the household (if you’re lucky), and trained by more than just you. Even if you’re the only one doing the training, other members of your family will want the dog to behave and listen to their commands as well.

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Always Use the Same Commands

You can your begin your new training technique by making sure that Dad says “Down”, Mom says “Down”, and little brother Joey says “Down”. The words don’t matter, you could train your dog to sit on the command “Banana” if you really want to, but the key is that everyone uses the same word to mean the same thing.

Dogs are confused by family members using different commands for the same behavior, and it could slow down the learning process. Using multiple commands for the same behavior can also place undue stress on your new companion, who is always willing to please but doesn’t know quite what you’re asking. Make sure that “Sit means Sit” and not “Sit There” or “Sit Sit Sit” or “Boy Sit Down Now!”

Make a List of Commands

Place them on your fridge with a cute magnet. Email them to the family. Doesn’t matter what you do, just make sure that everyone in the family is using the same list of commands. Even spending five minutes after dinner talking about your last training session with Fluffy and what words she may have learned will be beneficial for everyone. Here are some simple and common commands that are popular with many obedience trainers. Remember, keep them short, simple, and don’t repeat yourself:

  • Sit
  • Down
  • Stay
  • Okay
  • Leave It
  • Drop It
  • Uh-uh (or “No”)
  • Place (or “Spot”)
  • Go Kennel
  • Wait (note: this can be different from Stay. Article coming soon) :)

Conduct a Family Training Session

This is an easy way to make sure that everyone is on the same training path and your dog is working happily and obediently for you. The family can make sure everyone is being consistent in both praise and correction, and share tips about the best way to elicit the desired behavior. Another fun thing to do is have a mini-obedience competition between the family. Nothing stressful, and don’t spend more than a few minutes on it. Bring lots of treats, and give every member of the family a turn on asking your dog certain commands. See who can make your dog respond the fastest, especially who can get your dog to sit or heel with the happiest attitude. Make it fun for your dog as well as the rest of the family.

Dog training doesn’t have to be difficult. Sometimes all of the books, DVD’s, and training programs for sale can be confusing. In the end, just remember that Consistency is Key. Use the same commands, share them with your family, and praise, praise, praise your dog for correct behavior!

How to Buy a Dog Crate

Looking for a dog crate?  Dogs are both den and pack animals, and when taught positively and properly, crates are a source of security for your dog, and something he’ll look forward to using every day.  Here are some things to consider when buying a crate for your dog.

Why Use a Crate?
Crates make housebreaking much easier on both dog and owner.  Dogs will typically not urinate where they sleep, so creating a safe den for your dog to sleep in will also aid the housebreaking process.  Keeping a crate in your bedroom is a way of keeping your dog close to you as part of your pack, and also helps in housebreaking because you can quickly get up and take him outside if he needs to go in the middle of the night.

Crates are also a wonderful source of safety and security for your dog when you are unable to attend to him.  Leaving a dog unattended in a house even for a few minutes can result in chewed shoes, or even worse, chewed electrical cords or other safety hazards.  By crate training your dog, you are providing him with a safe den for him to relax and nap in while you  run errands or clean the house.
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Types of Crates
There are a variety of crates available on the market with different uses for each one.  A good crate will run anywhere from $49 to $150 for a medium or large-sized crate.  If you are using a crate for house training and general use, I like to recommend the wire crates.  They’re easy to set up and take down, and give your dog good visibility to see what’s going on around him.  They also allow more ventilation than a plastic crate does.  Many wire crates can also be folded and stored in a closet when not in use.  Generally I keep my dog crates up all the time, since it’s their house and they use it on a daily basis.

Plastic crates can also be used, but are typically more common for aircraft travel.  They’re also very light, and travel well in the car so your dog has a safe place while in transit.  Many of the plastic crates also come with handles for easy carrying.  If you’re doing a lot of transporting or air/car travel, I recommend using an FAA approved dog crate.

Selecting the Proper Sized Crate
Choosing the proper crate for your dog is relatively simple.  A crate should leave enough space for your dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably.  A general measurement is one and a half times your dog’s length when full-grown.  If you are crate training a puppy, there’s no need to buy three or four crates as he grows — instead use a partition to give him just enough space to be comfortable, but not enough space to think the back corner can be used as a bathroom.  Buy one crate — for the size your dog will be when full-grown, which will save you money.  Some wire crates now come with partitions so you can adjust them to fit your growing pup.  If yours doesn’t, you can still use a piece of hard plastic or plywood to create a partition inside the crate.  If using plywood, I suggest spraying “Bitter Apple” or “Chew Stop” onto the wood to discourage your pup from gnawing at the partition.

A crate is a worthwhile investment in keeping your dog safe and helps to avoid those housebreaking or chewing accidents that can happen when you’re not able to pay full attention to your dog.

Coming soon:  “Crate Training Made Simple — You’ve Got the Crate, Now What?”

New Puppy Checklist

Things to Have Ready When Puppy Comes Home

Bringing a new member into your household is a big event for both puppy and you!  You’ll want to help your new puppy get settled as quickly as possible so he can grow accustomed to your family routine.  There are so many products for dogs that it’s easy to get bogged down with too much information and product overload.  Let’s keep it simple and stick to the necessities you’ll need when you bring your new puppy home.  Ideally you’ll want to have purchased these items before the big day, that way you can focus on enjoying your new pup and helping him get settled.  Here is a checklist of items that you’ll want to have ready before bringing home your new best friend.


1.  Crate and Divider

I have always used wire crates for crate training and housebreaking.  Wire crates allow your pup great visibility so he can see what’s going on around him much easier. This can often comfort a new puppy, who is away from his littermates and mom for the first time.  For details on buying a dog crate, please check out the article Choosing a Crate for Your Dog (coming soon).  I like to make a crate purchase just once, so I buy the full grown dog size crate (this depends on what breed you choose), and then I use a crate divider to size it correctly for the puppy.  Using a crate that’s the appropriate size for your dog aids in housebreaking by giving him just enough room to stand, turn around, and sleep comfortably.
2.  Dog Bowls

It’s easy to buy food and forget to pick up bowls!  Stainless steel “no-tip” dog bowls are recommended.  Stainless steel is easy to wash, and is generally rust-proof as well as chew resistant.  Using a stainless steel bowl can also eliminate what’s known as “contact dermatitis” which can occasionally happen with dogs that are fed from plastic bowls.  A “no-tip” bowl has a wide base at the bottom so curious puppies can’t paw the edge of their bowl to tip it over and watch hilarity ensue. :)

3.  Food

It’s important to keep feeding the same food that your breeder has fed your puppy.  Even if you are planning to switch brands, you will still want to buy a few weeks worth of puppy food so your food changeover is gentle on your puppy’s stomach.  You might ask your breeder if they will sell you the food, but just knowing what brand and style of kibble your puppy has been eating will also work.

4.  Collar, Leash, ID Tags

For growing puppies, I prefer an adjustable nylon collar with a quick-release such as this one. For a leash (also referred to as a lead) I like to use a six foot nylon lead with stainless steel snap.  I don’t recommend Flexi-leads because I feel that it doesn’t teach your puppy how to properly walk on a leash next to you, and let out too far can get your puppy into trouble faster than you might be able to rescue him.  When your puppy is older and past the teething stage, I like leather collars and leads for obedience work because the longer you use one, the softer and more pliable the leather gets.  Don’t forget the ID tag!  Many pet stores now have a kiosk at the front of the store where you can make custom dog tags with your dog’s name and your contact information.

5.  Toys

Keep your puppy out of your things by giving him his own set of toys!  A few necessary toys are a rope toy, a “Kong “, and a tennis ball.  Rope toys are handy because it gives your pup a great teething object, and can be a fun toss and retrieve item as well as a great tug toy.  A “Kong ” is a thick rubber toy that is virtually indestructible (by most dogs that is).  It has a hole in the bottom so you can stuff dog biscuits and treats into it which keep your puppy busy as he tries to work them out of the hole.  There are also some great Kong recipes freezing dog treats and peanut butter to make the treats a bit harder to get out of the hole.  And definitely a tennis ball is in order — wear that puppy out so he sleeps well!  I don’t allow my pups to chew on tennis balls unattended when they’re young.  I like it as a “play drive” reward so they’re always ready to fetch (more on this in another article).  As your pup gets older you can introduce more toys into his toy box.  You might want to rotate out several toys at a time and put the old ones in storage to keep your pups from getting bored.

6.  Treats

Training begins on day one, and treats are a great way to coax your puppy into training sessions with enthusiasm.  For puppies, I like to dice hot dogs – cut into small chunks, and keep them handy in a Ziploc snack pack sized bag in the refrigerator.  Other great treats are dog jerky strips torn into small pieces.  The trick is not to have treats so large that your puppy gets stuffed in a couple of bites, but just enough to keep your puppy interested in training sessions and eager to learn.

7.  Grooming Tools

Depending on your breed of puppy, your grooming tools may vary.  Routine brushing helps keep your pup’s coat shiny and can reduce the amount of shedding.  I like to use a rubber curry brush called a “Zoom Groom ” outside to remove loose fur and massage the dog’s skin, which helps bring out the natural oils in his coat.  Then if necessary, I follow up with a soft bristle brush to get the rest of the loose hair. Give your puppy lots of treats when brushing and he’ll love the attention!  You’ll also want to pick up nail clippers especially for dogs, and encourage gentle handling of the paws with treats to establish a secure relationship for nail trimming.

After purchasing your puppy items from your checklist, make sure that the bowls have been washed, the crate has been assembled, and everything for your new pup is in its place.  Then when puppy comes home, you can introduce him to his crate with treats, show him his new toys, and give him a good meal of the food he’s accustomed to.  You’re well on your way to getting puppy settled in and content in his life as your new best friend!

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