How to Set Up a Comfy Dog Kennel
1. Pick Up on Personality
For every vacationer who dreams of the luxury of buffets and naps on a cruise ship, there’s another who dreads such a lethargic atmosphere and longs for hikes up rocky mountains. Likewise, in your Holiday Inn for Hounds, catering to the individual dog must remain a top priority: For every playful, people-loving spaniel, there’s a droopy Dane who only wants to sleep, and you can keep stress levels low by picking up on the personalities of individual dogs.
Location is key, and you can satisfy your guests by first going through your kennels with a fresh eye and figuring out which kennels are best for active dogs, which are best for shy dogs, and which are best for all the pooches in between. Walk through at different times of day, and try to notice which areas are noisiest, which have the most human activity going on, and which are more quiet—you can even make a chart to remind yourself where most of the hubbub occurs. For example: If the door from the kennels to the feeding room tends to slam when staff come in and out, you don’t want to put the nervous, shivering terrier mix in the cage near that door. Instead, find the beagle who loves the noise and attention—and relocate Sir Terrier to a quieter spot, where he can relax and start feeling more friendly.
2. Build Benches for Furry Bottoms
Plush, wall-to-wall carpeting is not practical for your doggy hotel, and the usual alternative, concrete floors, is often unavoidable. But this fact of life (and shelter design) means you have to ensure your pooches’ toes and bellies have some respite from the often chilly floor.
Many shelters have raised benches built into their kennels when they’re constructed, but benches or raised beds can also be added later through retrofitting. These can be pricey, but you can purchase them gradually and defer the costs that way. Wooden benches should be avoided, because they can absorb germs, and concrete benches aren’t much better than the cold floor, but there are a variety of benches on the market that are comfortable for dogs and easily disinfectable.
The best are usually PVC-coated and easy to clean, and there are advantages and disadvantages to most types. Plastic “beds” shaped like baskets may make dogs feel more secure, but they tend to get chewed, and chewed areas are difficult to disinfect. Raised benches with mesh centers are soft, but can be flimsy; if you purchase a kind that has a mesh center, make sure the mesh is strong, but fine enough that canine tongues and dewclaws can’t get snagged in it. The best option may be a flat, plastic bench—these can be easily moved and cleaned, but will still protect against the chilly floor. Once you’ve selected the benches that will work best for your kennels, consider adding them to your shelter’s wish list so your community will know you need them.
In placing the benches within the kennels, be mindful of your dogs’ comfort. Try to mount the bench away from the door of the run, away from the front of the cage, so that the dog won’t be forced to be close to visitors if he doesn’t want to be.
3. Plan for Particular Pooches
Whenever a new dog moves into your kennels, you’ll need to give the dog and his surroundings a once-over to determine what might be special about his needs. As a general rule—but especially if you have combination indoor/outdoor runs, or if it’s winter and your shelter is drafty—you should provide a clean towel or blanket for the dog to keep throughout his stay. And if the dog is elderly or losing some hair, such cuddly comforts are doubly important. Just make sure that such items are washed and disinfected thoroughly (with a solution of one part bleach to 32 parts water) before reusing them with new canine guests.
Be aware of a dog’s placement in relation to other dogs. If you sense that the big rottie mix and the Chihuahua who’re housed next to or across from each other are stressing each other out, it may be time to relocate one of them.
When a new canine guest arrives, make sure the cage accessories are appropriate to the occupant. A watering system that automatically refreshes empty bowls is a great thing—but if the rim of the bowl or bucket is too tall for that little puppy, that amazing technology will go to waste. Likewise, a resting bench may need to be raised or lowered to suit the dog. And to lessen the chances that any of your poochy guests will turn their quarters into kibblety mud puddles, fasten food and water bowls to the insides of the kennel doors so they can't be toppled.
4. Add Accessories
There’s nothing like a round of golf or a mud bath to make a tourist feel relaxed and pampered, and toys are the canine equivalents of such luxuries. Stir-crazy hounds can release lots of energy on a tempting toy, making the long hours in the cage pass more quickly. Be careful of rawhide and flimsy plastic toys with squeakers, because there’s a potential for unattended dogs to choke on them and also for the toys to get lodged in the kennel drains. Durable, hard rubber toys like Kongs and nylabones are a great choice, because they can stand up to plenty of gnawing and are easily disinfected. You can even add a little bit of peanut butter to holes in the Kongs to make the chewing more interesting—just keep the spread to a minimum to avoid problems for easily-stressed-out canine tummies.
Whatever toys you provide to your guests, they should stay with the same dog throughout his stay and should either go home with the dog at adoption or be thoroughly sanitized for the next guest’s protection. This will prevent disinfection problems and the spread of diseases.
Music may soothe the savage beast, but it may also irritate the lonely and neurotic one. If you want to play music in the kennels to make your canine guests and visitors feel more comfortable, just remember: The shelter already produces plenty of sounds unfamiliar to dogs, so any music should be calming—new age, classical, and jazz are good options—and kept at a very low volume.
If you follow even these basic tips for comfort, your adopted doggies will head home feeling like they’ve had a week at the Ritz, and will be more likely to adjust quickly to their new environments.