The complete checklist for evaluating dog boarding, dog kennel and pet sitting options (2022)

Facility Considerations

Visit New Spaces Ahead of Time

If you are not already very familiar with a place (or the people there), plan ahead and make sure you schedule a visit to a boarding location. Never consider a place without doing this first.

Facility Type

What to look for:

Choices can be:

  • a pet sitter in your own home;
  • a home with a family member, friend or neighbor;
  • a home that you found through an online service that links you up with another to look after your dog;
  • a professional that operates boarding for a few dogs in a home-style environment;
  • a facility that operates boarding for many dogs in commercial office/warehouse environment.

What we do:

We are professionals who operate boarding for a few dogs at a time in a home-style environment. Some dogs do not do well in larger boarding facilities. Home-style environments like us or homes of people typically offer more one-on-one care and because there are fewer dogs, there is less chaos and barking, which means much less stress.

Size, outdoor access and number of dogs

What to look for:

  • How big is the space in square footage?
  • How many rooms are included?
  • How many dogs are handled at any one time?
  • Is there enough space for your dog to move around during play and when kenneled?
  • Is it easy to separate dogs as needed while still giving them enough space if certain dogs do not mix well?
  • How big is the outdoor space that is secured where they can freely run around?

What we do:

We typically board two to three dogs, but that can get a few more on top of that same day on overlap (one is coming before another leaves).

Our space includes a large great room that measures approximately 36 x 21, kennel space that measures approximately 14 x 13, a kitchen space that measures approximately 9 x 9, office space that measures approximately 20 x 12, and another small space between our boarding area and our private home space that is approximately 8 x 10.

Our outdoor space is approximately 1/2 acre. Our boarders typically have access to all of this space. In the summer, they can go in and out as they want as we leave the door open outside.

When it comes to space, consider that too small of a space can be more stressful for multiple dogs. Small spaces make it more likely for fights to occur due to the stress of not having a space to move to or space to get out of the way. Some dogs need more personal space than others. On the flip side, the bigger the better, right? Not necessarily. If the space is too large, then if there is a problem (a dog is being bullied by another dog, for example) it is harder for people to intervene quickly. If the outside play area is two acres, let's say, if there is a problem, how quickly can someone intervene? We set up our space to ensure enough space for most dogs to be comfortable without being so big that we cannot intervene quickly if needed.

Zuzu was so excited about our indoor training and play area that she put this video together to persuade future boarders to schedule stays. (Unfortunately, Zuzu is no longer with us, but Zooka is very excited about new friends coming to stay with us).

Ability to separate sick dogs

What to look for:

  • Can the dog be separated from others if they are sick or injured and still have ample space both inside and out to move around?

What we do:

While we do not take in sick dogs who could be contagious to others, we also know that sometimes dogs get sick when away from home. We can use our office space to separate out a sick dog from others and through the use of portable 4-foot tall ex-pens, move dogs around as needed. Unfortunately, our office space does not have its own access to the 1/4 acre common outside space. It does have outdoor access to the front of our facility, so if we had to keep them completely separated from other dogs, we can do so. If a dog is injured and needs to rest and not play with other dogs, we can easily separate with the use of ex-pens and baby gates.

Sleeping/Confinement Area

What to look for:

  • Where would your dog sleep or be confined if you are not there, and how big is the space?
  • Do owners need to bring bedding and/or crates?

What we do:

Our guests sleep and are confined inside one of two 5 x 5 x 6 foot kennels, typically. We have an open floor plan with a half door in the kitchen, so a guest might sleep there if we have more than two dogs. For guests who bark at night (most do not, as we do require that dogs who stay with us will not bark at night when kenneled), they would stay in a crate or a penned area in the office. All our guest are confined when they sleep without access to see outside windows. We make sure this gets blocked off so that they do not see deer or other wild animals milling outside around our house, which is common where we live, which might cause them to bark.

Owners do not have to bring crates unless they want to. They can bring whatever bedding they want. We do not provide bedding unless the owner forgets or if the dog soils bedding that needs washing, in which case we will wash and if not dry, give them bedding to use on a temporary basis. We prefer dogs have their own bedding because it helps them relax and settle down at night when they have something familiar. We like dogs to have some comforts of home with them.

If dogs are not supervised during the day, they are also separated via kennels, crates, baby gates or doors. Per PACFA requirements, dogs must be supervised when loose together. While locations that offer “cage free” boarding might seem ideal, consider whether or not this practice is actually safe (and legal, depending on the regulations that apply in your area). Dogs who do not know each other well, despite how friendly they are at dogs parks or day cares, might encounter issues away from home with dogs they do not know. For example, many of our boarding dogs are single dogs at their own homes. Many go to dog parks or day cares and do just fine. But sometimes we discover guarding issues over food, toys, beds or other resources that they do not encounter at dog parks or day cares. This is a safety issue if dogs are left loose at night or during the day when unsupervised. Do you want to take that chance?

Activity level at location

What to look for:

  • The more activity there is, the more potential for stress. Every dog has their own trigger point when a certain level of activity raises their stress levels; for some dogs that trigger is very sensitive, while for other dogs it is not. What is it for your dog? If you have a dog who triggers quickly, you need to find a location with low activity, which is typically (but not always) a home or home-style situation. Or possibly a boarding facility that can separate out dogs with less tolerance for chaos, depending on their set up.
  • Activity comes from number of dogs, number of staff, proximity to parking lots, roads, sidewalks, construction, or anything else going on nearby that dogs can see and hear, like equipment operating or high volumes of people and activities.

What we do:

We offer a fairly low level of activity with the low number of guests that we board at any one time. For humans, typically it is just Sue and Eddie. We have occasional help maintaining our property, and we have other people and their dogs coming for training using space and buildings separate from our boarding area. We have clients arriving to drop off and pick up their own dogs, and an occasional visitor who pops in for a brief visit.

We live in a rural area so have much less noise as compared to suburban or urban areas, although we do occasionally hear gunfire from ranges that people have nearby on their property. Gunfire is no less than 1/2 mile away, so it is not loud given the distances traveled. If dogs are afraid of the gunfire noise, we bring dogs in, close windows and turn up the radio to help block noise. It's rarely an issue if dogs are indoors. And most dogs are not bothered by it when outside due to the distance away.

Taz playing fetch, while Saxon and Sally play chase.

Climate Control and Air Quality

What to look for:

  • Are there sufficient climate control systems to maintain adequate cool and heat, even if a power outage occurs?
  • Is there ventilation to draw in fresh air?
  • Is the ventilation able to draw in fresh air, or does the proximity to a highway or industrial operation make that harder to do?
  • Is there plenty of opportunity to get out of the sun and find cool spots?
  • Are outdoor areas protected from wind, rain, and snow? What are protocols for lightning in the area?
  • Does the facility track air quality inside and out and take actions when it is substandard?

What we do:

We do not have air conditioning and do not need it at our location, which is 6200 feet above elevation in a rural area. Yes, we get hot days, but we have rarely seen it climb past 80 degrees inside. For guests that truly cannot tolerate temperatures above that we are not able to accommodate. We have ample overhead fans to move air and have excellent ventilation to allow air to move through. Our rural location gives us access to air that is typically less polluted than in suburban and urban areas. Given our ventilation capabilities and our location, we cool down quickly at night to replace warm air.

While we have shade outside, if it is hot out, typically our guests come back inside since we usually leave open access from inside and outside when we are here and supervising.

We have ample heating capacity for winter use.

For power outages, we have power generation capabilities onsite to run our facility and can do so for an extended period of time, if need be.

There is some protection from wind, rain and snow outside, but we do not leave dogs outside when there is adverse weather, unless they want to be outside. If there is lightning potential within five miles, we keep them inside.

We monitor the air quality with sensors both inside our facility and outside. If air quality is poor inside, we have air purifiers that we can run. If air quality is poor outside, then we limit activity outdoors. Typically air quality suffers in the summer due to wildfire smoke and both in the summer and winter from auto pollution.


What to look for:

  • What are the surfaces where dogs can play and sleep?

What we do:

Our great room and office has shock-absorbing, industrial grade, anti-fatigue mat to play and rest. Kitchen is tile and the kennel space has laminate flooring.

Our backyard is dirt with some indigenous grass ground cover here and there that we keep mowed. In the shaded areas dogs can dig to create a cooler dirt space to lie on.

Facility Hazards

What to look for:

  • Do you see any hazards in the facility where dogs can hurt themselves?
  • Is there adequate lighting at night outside in fenced areas to monitor dogs or retrieve them?
  • Are there risk of wildlife entering protected areas?
  • If dogs are walked, what risk exists on walks?

What we do:

Look for potential hazards for dogs during their stay. For example, are there rugs that can be chewed on if your dog is a chewer? Are there access to toxic plants or other items dogs might chew on? Are there areas where ice can build up and cause falls? Is there landscaping like metal lawn edging that dogs can cut their feet on?

If dogs try to play on our tile kitchen floor and one falls, that could hurt them, but we rarely see that and move them away if they do. We have a rug at the entrance in case any dogs try to come running through the doorway. Dogs love playing on our shock-absorbing mats indoors.

We have very large windows with superb outside views, but that can be a danger for some dogs, particularly ones that have higher separation anxiety from their owners and jump or scratch at the windows to try and get out. We cannot accommodate those kinds of dogs or if we find ones exhibiting that kind of behavior, we can use ex-pens to keep them away from the windows.Other windows from the backyard to the inside we fence off so dogs cannot jump on and break them.

Some dogs chew on the shock-absorbing mats, but it is rare and when we see that, we are able to redirect quickly.Some dogs chew on our scrub oak branches and we have never had issues with them doing this. Scrub oak do produce acorns in late summer and early fall. Some dogs do eat the acorns and that can cause for loose stools, but we have never run into anything more serious than that.We do not give dogs access to indoor plants that can be toxic to them.

Some dogs like to dog holes to help burn off energy. Generally we see them do that in specific areas where past holes have been dug that are out of the traffic zones where they tend to play. But for holes in high traffic areas, we discourage digging in those spaces and refill holes when they do occur. While some people do not want dogs digging holes at all, we do our best to allow dogs to be dogs and have fun as long as it's not causing any undue dangers for themselves or others.

We have a raised deck in the back yard from a door into the north side of our home. We have added fencing in between the wood slats to prevent dogs from climbing/jumping off the deck onto the ground.

Our back deck faces northeast, so ice can accumulate on it if the sun has not hit the area. We limit issues there by closing them off from access to the deck or placing obstacles at the entry of the deck from the ground level of the yard so they slow down when running from yard to deck. Even in summer water on the deck can increase slippage, so barriers to the deck to slow them down helps immensely.

Our outdoor lighting consists of 10 flood lights so we have excellent visibility at night.

We have various wildlife that can climb fences and be harmful to dogs, including skunks, porcupines, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions and bears. We are very careful about when we let dogs out, especially at night. Typically our dogs will sense wildlife close by when they are inside and start barking, even in winter when no windows or doors are open. This is a very clear sign to us to not let any dogs out until we have visually inspected the space.

For walks, please read below about managing escape risk. Other hazards on our property for walks are mainly foxtails, which dogs can ingest, inhale through the nose, enter through the eye or burrow in through the skin. We typically mow our property at the end of the growing season (early June) to help minimize the risk of foxtails, which become a problem at the end of the growing season when they dry out. But the risk does not completely go away even with mowing. As a rule, we inspects dogs every day to catch issues like this that might arise from foxtails.

Escape Risk and Containment

What to look for:

  • How secure is the facility to protect a dog from escaping?
  • If a dog escapes, are there secondary protections to safely and quickly retrieve them?
  • Are dogs walked outside of the facility and what security measures are in place to prevent escape?
  • If a dog escapes, is there a plan to get them back?

What we do:

We always keep an ex-pen around the front door to our facility to keep dogs away from anyone entering or exiting the door.

Our back fence is chain link, six feet high, with stakes in between the main posts of each section and rocked in at the base to prevent dogs from digging out. We do not accept dogs that have or show potential to escape a six foot fence.

Our secondary line of protection is a four foot fence around the lower eight acre portion of our property that is closest to the road. Ideal would be six feet, but that would significantly curtail the natural movement of the wildlife in the area, such as deer, which we do not wish to do.

For walks, please see the video below, which goes into detail on the equipment we use and how we secure it to dogs to prevent escape from the leash.

How we keep dogs safely secured on leash walks

We currently do not use cell tower or satellite tracking devices that can be attached to the dog.

If an escape happens, we typically use a positive and happy voice to call the dog to us. If needed, we run in the opposite direction of where the dog is traveling. Most dogs will run after you because your voice and actions indicate that you are going to where there might be something fun and exciting. We also carry high value treats to offer extra incentive to return to us.

When out on the property, we carry walkie talkies to communicate quickly with each other and coordinate our activities if needed.


What to look for:

  • Do the floors, walls and windows look clean and maintained?
  • Does the location smell fresh and clean?
  • How often is dog poop picked up?
  • What is used to do spot cleaning for accidents and general facility cleaning – harsh chemicals or safer more natural items?
  • How often are food and water bowls cleaned?
  • Are there regulatory standards followed for cleaning?

What we do:

We vacuum regularly to pick up hair and dirt.We clean floors using Nature's Miracle Enzymatic Cleaner with a mop and bucket and do so as needed, which can range from weekly to daily depending on how many visitors we have and how much dirt is being tracked in.We use a Simple Green brand carpet cleaner.We use vinegar for all other surface cleaning.

Since dogs are lower to the ground and spend their time there, along with using their noses and sometimes eating things, we stay away from harsh chemicals that they would be more susceptible to picking up than humans. We also do not allow them in the mopped areas until they have sufficiently dried out.

We do not adhere to specific regulatory standards for cleaning as we are not a large boarding facility. We clean using common sense along with what we see and smell to help guide us.

Given the dry and sunny climate in Colorado, we keep windows open most of the time during summer. In the winter when the weather allows, it is quite common to open windows during the day to allow for some ventilation.

We regularly check for and are extremely careful with mold growth, as Eddie has a genetic disposition towards illness from biotoxins. The tool we use to help check for potential mold problems inside walls is this moisture meter.

We pick up dog poop typically daily or several times a day when we have more guests with us.

When you visit a location, you can tell a lot by the smell when you walk in. Does it smell (and look) fresh and clean? Or does it smell like chemicals? Does it smell like urine or feces? Is there a “perfume” smell that is masking other unpleasant odors? Remember, if someone is using plug-in fresheners or sprays to mask other odors, not only is there the risk they are not cleaning and ventilating properly, but there is also the risk that these “freshener” smells can be harmful to your dogs. Their noses are far more sensitive than ours.

We clean food bowls after every meal, unless the dog did not eat all the food, in which case they go in the refrigerator. Bowls get cleaned at least once per day with soap and hot water. We clean water bowl daily with soap and hot water. For cleaning, we use Seventh Generation Dish Soap Non-Scented.

Management of Personal Items

What to look for:

These are items the owner brings that belong to the dog, such as bedding, crates, collars, leashes, food, food bowls, toys, etc.

  • How is it kept separate from other dog's stuff?
  • How is it cleaned if it requires cleaning during stay?
  • Make sure you list out the items that your dog might have issues with, such as chewing/ingesting stuffed or rope toys.

What we do:

We have a tack wall and each dog's collar, harness and leash gets its own hook.

We also put a guest dog's items into large plastic containers with lids to keep items secure and prevent countersurfing by other dogs.

We have a dedicated refrigerator in the kitchen area of our boarding area (separate from our personal kitchen). This makes it easy to keep refrigerated or frozen items that come with guest dogs.

Food bowls are cleaned after each meal. Water bowls are cleaned daily. Bedding and toys are cleaned as needed.

Many facilities do not allow you to bring personal items with your dog because they will get lost or destroyed. We specifically WANT people to bring items from home, such as beds and food bowls. We want dogs to settle in and feel like this is their home away from home. Bringing familiar items helps dogs to feel more at home. If nothing is familiar to them, it can be more stressful and create a less desirable experience for your dog.

Other Health and Safety Related Items

What to look for:

  • Is the dog allergic to certain foods and what are they?
  • Water: do the dogs have multiple sources of water? What is the water quality? Are water bowls stainless steel?
  • Are birds kept away from water sources?
  • What hazards exist with radio frequencies and electromagnetic radiation?
  • Is there an evacuation plan in place and where will dogs be evacuated to and how will they be cared for?

What we do:

We always ask about food allergies because we often use our Peak Power Dog Treats with guests and want to make sure that the ingredients in our treat products are OK for guests. Guests are welcome and encouraged to bring their own treats, especially if dogs are on a restricted diet.

Our water is high quality well water that we test every few years and is free of fluoride and chlorine. We only use stainless steel water bowls.Plastic and Ceramic can harbor unwanted germs and biofilms even with cleaning.

Birds do not have access to our water bowls. Water bowls are kept inside, one which is located inside the entry way to the backyard common area. During the summer or nice days when we leave the door open, dogs can come in to drink. Be careful about water kept outside that birds can access, as birds can transmit diseases to dogs via shared-water sources.

RF and EMF is a growing problem with all the wireless devices we use. Unfortunately we are not able to do anything about this. We need our wireless networks operating 24/7 o for our webcams, air sensors and security devices. Wireless routers and access points are the biggest source for RF and EMF and we make sure they are located way from places where dogs are likely to sleep and hang out.

Our biggest potential hazard where we live is wildfire. We keep the risk as low as possible through mowing and removing dead branches and trees on our property. We have water sources setup strategically throughout the property and additional equipment fire fighting equipment (65-gallon water tank on our tractor filled during summer season and large capacity extinguishers along with it) should a fire hazard arise.

We have in place three minute, fifteen minute and two hour evacuation plans to follow should the need arise.

We have a large passenger van configured to carry dogs and we can fit whatever number we have boarding at any time to evacuate quickly. Any supplemental bedding or food will also fit and if needed, we have a closed trailer than can store what we need. Our van has been fully converted to 4-wheel drive with refrigeration capacity and overnight sleeping capabilities, as we use it for trips with our dogs and can accommodate boarders as well for overnight stays as needed. We have family locally where we could evacuate to and our extended network of dog owners and trainers also affords us additional resources for safely relocating dogs.

Other hazards include power outages, which can be a problem in winter since we rely partly on electricity for heat. We have emergency generator capacity with at least 100 gallons of fuel at all times that would last us potentially weeks if required. Our natural gas storage for propane heat includes a 1000 gallon tank that is filled each fall so we have plenty over the course of the winter.

If we experience extreme cold weather or deep snows and have to take a dog to a vet, that is not a problem for us as during bitter cold periods we use engine block and battery warmers so we can be ready to go quickly. Our vehicles have very robust 4-wheel drive with high clearance for deep snows.

Pics of the large plastic containers we use to keep guest food and other personal items, or dedicated refrigerator for dogs and our tack wall.

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