If you have recently welcomed a new rescue dog into your home, you may wonder how soon you can leave him behind if you need to go on a personal or business trip. You would love to take him with you, but it is often just not possible for him to come along. So, boarding your rescue dog may be necessary.
If possible, it is best not to leave your dog for at least three months after adoption. This is the minimum time for a rescued pooch to get used to you and his new home. And, in some cases, he may need more time than that. Additionally, a boarding facility may remind him of being in a shelter and could cause him to regress.
However, things do come up in life, and you may find that you need to be away and leave Fido at home. There may be other options for his care instead of boarding at a facility. But if you do have to take him to a kennel, there are some things you can do to make it easier on him and you.
How Soon is too Soon?
Certainly, it is best to not board your new pooch for as long as possible. Ideally, waiting for a year would be best. But at a minimum, before three months is probably too soon. During this initial period, your dog is trying to get used to his new home, to a new schedule and rules, and to you. After several weeks, your new pal will be getting used to his meal, walk, play, and sleep schedule. He will also be able to anticipate your coming and going for short periods when you go out for work or shopping errands.
After 12 weeks or so, he should become a little more relaxed to know that he will get fed each day on time, his personal needs will be met, and that his new home is a safe and fun place to live. Think about the last time you moved from your former home to a new one. How long did it take you to adjust to the new neighborhood, local stores, and other logistical aspects of living in a new location? Probably a lot longer than three months!
To begin with, it is very possible that dogs remember their past stay in a dog shelter. Even though a dog’s memory is not quite the same as ours, they can remember past events through association and sometimes by actual recall. Therefore, going into an institutional setting again such as a boarding kennel may trigger some past unpleasant memories. The longer they live with you, however, the more likely these past negative memories will fade. See more about this in my post How to Comfort and Heal a Rescue Dog.
I tried to drop off my new rescue dogs for daycare at the kennel they had been sheltered in for nine months. The first time I did this they seemed excited to be able to run in the big field again and play with other dogs. But the second and third time I dropped them off, one of my dogs literally clung to me as if to say “don’t leave me!”. So, I found another doggie daycare that had, even more, play yard access and stopped taking them back to the kennel where I had adopted them. See my post “Do Dogs Remember their Stay in the Shelter?” to read more about my experience and what dogs remember.
Boarding a rescue dog too soon can also lead to some serious behavioral issues:
- Excessive howling, barking, or whining
- Severe depression which may cause excessive sleeping and lack of interest in playtime
- Reduced appetite or not eating at all
- Physical self-inflicted wounds from trying to dig out or crawl through fences
- Obsessive licking or chewing at their paws or legs
- Spinning in circles due to anxiety
- Aggressive behavior toward kennel’s staff
Most of the above problems are usually fear-based reactions. Something has triggered a past memory and they are acting out. They may be terrified that they have been abandoned again, or they may be frightened of something that happened to them in the past. New rescues often look to their new owners for protection and security. When you are gone shortly after adoption, even for brief periods, they can become quite anxious.
The Bonding Process
Another reason to hold off on boarding a rescue dog too soon, is that it may interfere with the bonding process. I discuss in my post “How to Bond with your New Rescue Dog” the various aspects of bonding. If all goes well, the bonding process usually begins around three months, but can take as a long as a year or more. Longer periods of time may be needed for dogs who have had a rough or abusive past.
I discovered a Quora Forum in which someone had posed the question of how long does it take to bond with a rescue dog, and I found this interesting response. See Katie’s answer below and click the link to read the stories about her three dogs:
Katie Flatt, Owner of 3 rescue dogs and regular canine foster mom Answered Dec 7, 2020
That’s what everyone means when they say there’s no real, “one size fits all” answer.“
I felt that I began to really connect with my two rescue dogs after about two months. We had gotten past some of the initial behavioral issues and they were getting used to the routine. I spent a lot of time with them and took them to obedience classes as well as on a lot of fun adventures to the beach, dog parks, and picnics. Even so, I think it took another year until they truly felt safe and settled and believed that my home was truly their final, forever home.
Other Options to Boarding
Probably the best option is to have a friend or family member stay in your home while you are away. Or you can hire a house sitter to water your plants and care for your pets. Ideally, a house sitter will be someone you know or who has been referred to you.
Another option is to leave your dog with someone who does boarding in their own home and only takes a few dogs at a time. This would allow your dog to stay in a home environment and also enjoy the company of other dogs and people. Your dog may feel like he is on vacation too!
A growing number of kennels and daycare facilities across the country have tried to make their facilities like a pet resort. They often provide outdoor dog furniture, wading and swimming pools, agility equipment, and large open fields and play areas. Not only do they provide boarding, but also a place for your dog to get some much-needed exercise and fun.
In Northern California, two options like this exist in Petaluma– K-9 Country Club and Kitty Spa and Play Dog Play. I have taken my dogs to both for daycare so they can have some fun and really kick it out. But I will probably also use them for boarding if I need to travel. The latter facility has a staff member who sleeps in the kennel at night. They never put dogs in cages. They get to sleep in their own beds in open, climate-controlled areas with other dogs. If you have a dog who needs to sleep with a human, they can arrange for that too!
If Boarding is Your Only Option
Boarding a rescue dog is certainly not a horrible thing to do if that is your only option. Just make sure that you have done your homework to find a reputable boarding facility. If your dog is older or has medical problems, you may want to board him with your vet. This may be a little more expensive. Also, veterinary clinics usually have fewer built-in play areas, but your dog will at least be well cared for.
When checking out boarding facilities check for:
- Does the facility require all dogs to have up-to-date vaccinations?
- Do they have good reviews or clients who can be references?
- Does the kennel allow plenty of playtimes at least twice a day in large, open areas with compatible dogs?
- Will they take your dog to your local vet or at least call them if there is a medical problem?
- Will they call you if your dog has a problem?
- Take a tour of the facility–does it seem clean and well run? Is the staff friendly?
Avoid a facility that seems overcrowded with hundreds of dogs. The noise and activity levels could be very overwhelming. Opt instead for a small to a medium-sized kennel. Do not leave your dog in a place that will keep your dog confined to a long indoor run without access to outdoor play areas. This is like a prison and can make your dog very anxious.
Many years ago, when there were fewer boarding options and I was less experience with raising dogs, I placed my Beagle in a kennel that mostly had long concrete runs with little access to the outside other than for potty breaks. The poor thing chewed at her feet every day until they were sore because she was so anxious. And, this was a couple of years after we had raised her from a pup. I never left her in that facility again, and we found better options.
Dogs are Resilent
Once you have done all you can to find the best option, you can go on that trip or vacation knowing that your dog will be in good hands. Yes, he will miss you and you will miss your dog. But if you have done your homework, boarding a rescue dog will probably be fine. You will both be thrilled to be reunited after the trip.
To make it easier, take your dog’s bed and his favorite toy and maybe one of your old socks. Also, pack his own food for the duration of his stay. A change in diet can be stressful emotionally and physically. These items will all provide familiar smells and comfort while in his temporary quarters. Check-in with his caregivers periodically to ensure that all things are well. Leave written instructions regarding his care as well as your vet’s name/number and how you can be contacted. Then pack his suitcase when you pack yours!
Relax and enjoy your trip. You have done all you can to ensure that your dog is in good hands, and he will adapt to this brief change in his life. He may even enjoy it more than you think. On the day you leave, keep everything calm and normal You may even want to give him some calming herbs or medicine.
Once you are gone and he is in his temporary residence, he will refocus and begin to explore his new surroundings. Dogs are very resilient and can do well when placed in a setting that provides good care. They may even have some fun!