When you're not there...


Editor's Picks
15 August 2014

For some dogs, it is never an issue - they'll sleep and barely move until you return. However, consider whether your dog is actually content or whether his low reactivity is due to depression.

But for others, being separated from their care-giver, even briefly, is traumatic.

Separation anxiety is often more prevalent in dogs who sleep on their owners' beds and rescue dogs.

Help your dog cope by building his confidence about being alone and away from you. Teach him to accept this by increasing the time he is alone very gradually, and be matter-of-fact when you leave and return - even if it is just between rooms. Also give him confidence in the people or places you plan to use while you're away by arranging visits beforehand.


When you're awayService offered: Overnight care for your dog and any other pets in your own home.

Regulated? Via voluntary membership of the National Association of Registered Petsitters (NARP). Registered sitters will not agree to attend a dog in the day and leave him at home alone at night. All NARP members are insured and should have a current police disclosure certificate.

Cost guideline: Around £30 – £35 per night.

What to expect: You'll need to draw up an agreement with your sitter detailing exactly what you want them to do. They may also be able to care for other pets as well as being a good security measure. However, check specifically if you have exotic or more specialist animals, such as horses.

Ask, too, for references, and follow them up. The sitter will meet you and your pets a few weeks before you go away, and find out what you need and get to grips with your house - check if there is a charge for this. 

You'll need to provide a bed, and guidelines are usually drawn up about the usage of other items, such as food in the freezer will be untouched and other food used will be replaced.

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Boarding kennels

Service offered: Day and overnight stays at the kennels.

Regulated? Yes - kennels must display a current licence from their district council. This means a check has been made that suitable accommodation and adequate food and water is provided for dogs, fire and disease precautions are in place, and they have insurance. The licence also requires a policy on staff training. Kennels are inspected annually, often unannounced.

Cost guideline: Around £15 – £20 per dog per night; day crèche: £10.

What to expect: A block of individual kennels, with each consisting of an indoor area and outdoor run. Compared to your lounge it's likely to seem bare and noisy, but kennels have to be practical. They may be heated but this will depend on the time of year. 

Dogs are housed individually unless owners request dogs to be put together, and many kennels now offer family units for larger groups of familiar dogs. Some kennels have grass paddocks for dogs to run free while others provide on-lead exercise only. Kennels also vary in their approach to allowing strange dogs to mix. Additional facilities such as training, grooming, or hydrotherapy may be offered. 

A good kennels will require a vaccination certificate and be open to you looking round, even unannounced. Look at several different establishments to get a feel of what is available and what will best suit your dog. Ask about collection and drop-off times - some kennels restrict the days, which might mean you have to pay extra.

Friends, relatives, and neighbours

Service offered: Variable, from popping in to let your dog out to having your dog stay while you're away.

Regulated? Officially no, but you will have an idea of their dog experience. Check whether your dog's insurance will still be valid if he's in the care of a third party.

Cost guideline: From free to paying back the favour.

What to expect: This can work well but be aware of the potential pitfalls. Write down exactly what you need and make it clear for everyone - and keep a copy, just in case of any disputes.

Be clear about whether your dog should be allowed off the lead, and consider whether your dog will be expected to deal with children or pets he isn't used to - attacking your friend's beloved pet could strain relations between you. 

Also, consider whether your dog has issues that could prove too much to handle.

Dog day-care centre

Service offered: A specialised facility where your dog can spend the day with other dogs. 

Regulated? Dog day-care centres should be licensed by the local council, in the same way as kennels, and fully insured.

Cost guideline: £12 – £15 per half day, £22 – £30 per full day. Collection/drop-off services may be extra.

What to expect: A playschool for dogs! The venues usually have outdoor space and a large indoor area with dog-friendly flooring and a range of toys from climbing frames to ball pits, sandpits and water play. 

There are areas for playing and sleeping, and the day is structured to alternate between stimulation and rest. Dogs will be mixed together and supervised at all times. 

Before attending you may need to have your dog assessed for sociability, and dogs with any aggression issues may not be welcome.

Dog walkers and home care

Service offered: A person will attend to your dog at your house, letting him out and spending time with him, or walking him and returning him home. Food and medication may also be given on owner request.

Regulated? Via voluntarily membership of NARP. Its code of conduct stipulates members should walk no more than four dogs at a time. In more urban areas dog walkers may also need a council licence for taking multiple dogs in certain public places. All NARP members are insured and should have a current police disclosure certificate.

Cost guideline: £10 per hour. Some walkers offer half-hour rates or discounts for multiple walks/visits per week. Expect to pay more for individual walks.

What to expect: Dog walkers may walk from your house, but often collect several dogs and drive them to a suitable walking area. You stipulate whether you want your dog to be let off the lead. Some walkers will be able to accommodate walking your dog individually. 

The walker will usually take your dog out alone the first time to be assessed. Training problems can also be addressed in some cases.

Home boarders

Service offered: Overnight care for your dog in a private home.

Regulated? They should have a home boarding licence from the council and be inspected annually. They may also be members of NARP, which means they have to provide evidence of knowledge and references and agree to a code of conduct. This includes only boarding animals from one owner at a time, only leaving them unattended briefly, and following the owners' described routine. All NARP members are insured and should hold a current police disclosure certificate.

Cost guideline: £8 – £25 per night.

What to expect: Your dog may be collected or dropped off at the boarder's house. There he should be looked after to your requirements and not be with any other dogs, other than those belonging to the boarder. He will have access to part or all of the house and garden.

A good home boarder will expect a house visit beforehand to meet you and your dog, but check if there is a charge for this.

The home boarder should be willing to give you details of other clients for references.

Making the right choice 

Ask other dog owners or your vet for their recommendations. But remember, every dog is different and you will know your dog's needs best of all.

Key considerations will be:

  • Your dog's temperament and life experience. Dogs who have seen a lot will tend to be more outgoing and resilient to change, so may suit dog day-care or kennels. Dogs who live a quieter existence may benefit from pet-sitting or home boarding.
  • Aggression issues can make your choices more limited. Be honest about your dog's reactions to people/dogs - a good carer with training and behavioural experience may then be able to work with you to solve the problem.

Key questions to ask are:

  • What's the dog to staff ratio?
  • Does the exercise provision match your dog's needs?
  • Are dogs mixed?
  • Do the staff have them necessary experience and qualifications, including animal first aid?
  • What training methods are used?
  • What's the procedure in an emergency?