2 black dogs in their dog suite at a dog boarding facility

10 Things To Look For In A Dog Boarding Facility

I recently needed a dog boarding facility for my Boxer mixes Missy and Buzz!

Under normal circumstances, I would haven taken the pups along on a fun road trip to my final destination. But since I was only able to stay for 2 days, I opted for flying and against driving.

Enter my need for a trusted pet sitter or dog boarding facility.

Since I’m a professional dog walker & pet sitter myself, I have very high expectations of whomever will watch my pups.

I actually wasn’t able to find a pet sitter who’d be able to care for the pups in the comfort of their home, but thankfully I had another option.

The Riverbark Pet Retreat in Spring Lake, NC.

It’s a 5***** dog & cat hotel which also offers:

  • Doggie day care
  • Grooming services
  • Dog training classes & workshops
  • Dog swimming sessions in their heated indoor doggie pool
  • Therapeutic treatments such as hydrotherapy, laser treatment, & K9 massage therapy

The Riverbark Pet Retreat gained my trust by ticking off my checklist of requirements for providing a safe & entertaining boarding experience for my pups.

Now, without further ado, here are my recommendations of what to look for in a dog boarding facility!

10 Things To Look For In A Dog Boarding Facility

10 things to look for in a dog boarding facility

Disclaimer: This blog post was originally published in 2017 and has been updated in 2023.

1) First Impressions When Touring The Dog Boarding Facility

You should always be able to tour the facility without having to announce yourself first.

The moment you walk into the pet hotel, you should feel at ease and be welcomed immediately by friendly staff.

There should never be any lingering, foul-smelling odors in the air, and the place should be impeccably clean.

I had been to the Riverbark Pet Retreat on several different occasions – both with my own pups, with a client’s dog, as well as by myself when I looked into their boarding options/touring their boarding area.

The pet retreat looked spotless each time I went, and their staff were not only friendly, but honestly interested in making each experience a fun, rememberable one.

2) Being Current On Vaccines

All dogs should have to show proof of their current rabies, distemper, and bordetella vaccines prior to their first boarding (& day care) adventure.

You may know that I’m not a fan of over-vaccinating my pups, but I accept the retreat’s vaccine protocol.

Unfortunately, they now also require the pups’ being vaccinated against K9 Influenza since outbreaks of the disease are more likely to occur in areas where large groups of dogs are in relatively close contact.

That meant that Missy & Buzz had to get that shot.

I wasn’t overly thrilled about it because it doesn’t have the capability of preventing the disease from occurring (but is supposed to reduce the severity of it once contracted).

But I didn’t have a choice if I wanted quality care for the pups while I was out of town.

I hope that I’ll be able to get a titer test measuring the levels of antibodies in Missy’s & Buzz’s blood against the disease before having to re-administer the vaccine.

3) No Aggressive Dog Behavior

No dogs displaying aggressive behavior should be allowed to mingle with other K9 hotel guests at doggie playtime.

This will keep both K9s and humans safe and ensure that everybody has a good time.

4) Separate Play Rooms

There should be separate rooms for larger and for smaller doggies, ensuring that everyone has a safe time playing. Larger dogs may hurt smaller pups unintentionally during playtime.

Riverbark has separated play areas both inside as well as in their huge, fenced-in outside play area!

5) Pet First Aid

It’s important to know which protocols are in place should a medical emergency arise. Make sure to ask if the staff is knowledgeable in first aid and whether or not a veterinarian is close-by.

Riverbark Pet Resort provides the ultimate peace of mind by having their very own veterinary hospital RIGHT NEXT DOOR – Riverbark Veterinary Hospital.

RiverBark Pet Retreat AND RiverBark Veterinary Hospital

6) Timely Clean-Up Of # 1 & # 2

Do accidents get cleaned up in a timely manner? This is very important for hygienic reasons and your pup’s overall comfort, and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask this question.

If you get laughed at for inquiring about this, find a different pet retreat!

I noticed that one of the pups must have had an accident in their suite because their bedding was missing when I checked in on them via the webcam at one point in time.

A few hours later, the bedding was back in! When I picked the pups back up, I was informed about the accident and that their bedding was promptly washed.

7) Webcams To Check In On Dogs

Having a webcam you can access online & on your smartphone to check in on your pups is an awesome, reassuring feature to have.

I wouldn’t leave my dogs anywhere without having the option of checking in on them throughout the day or getting “pupdates” in text or video form.

This dog boarding facility has dog rooms with webcams

RiverBark Pet Resort has suites that are equipped with webcams and also regular rooms with the webcam feature. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to book a suite with a webcam 🙂

8) Access To The Outdoors

It’s a nice bonus for dog boarding guests to have access to the outdoors for potty breaks, ideally with some refreshing dog pool areas for the hotter summer months.

RiverBark Pet Retreat offers both!

It was pretty warm throughout this week with temperatures in the 70s, which made Buzz pant in no time. He has such a hard time with the heat.

The RiverBark staff noticed this & brought him back inside so that he wouldn’t overheat.

9) Dog Boarding Facility Special Rates

Just a day here & there at a dog boarding facility is unlikely to break the bank. But if you’re boarding 2+ pets for several days or even weeks, it’s nice to catch a little financial break by being offered discounts.

RiverBark Pet Resort has 6 different rooms/suites with different features (TV, Webcam, Window) and prices to chose from (from $35/night to $75/night).

They also offer a discount for multiple boarding guests.

Plus, they don’t charge extra for regular playtime throughout the day.

I booked a swimming session for Missy & Buzz on day 2 of their 3 day stay, which came in at $15 per pup for 30 mins.

Missy & Buzz Swimming At Riverbark's Indoor Doggie Pool

Since it’s usually $25 for 30 mins of pool time by appointment, that was a nice discount I did appreciate.

The pups aren’t exactly the least expensive “hobby” for lack of a better word, so saving 20 bucks here and there is nice 😉

10) Personal Items & Instructions

As far as I know, RiverBark Pet Retreat offers complimentary meals for their boarding guests.

I personally think that it’s less stressful on a digestive level for dogs to stick to their regular diet. So I would definitely recommend you ask if you can bring your own food.

Providing my own food was a no-brainer since the pups are on a raw diet, and RiverBark Pet Retreat had no problem whatsoever feeding the pups their regular food.

I made sure to scoop their allowance for each meal into a labeled food storage container and brought it over in a thermo bag they could just stick into a fridge.

Pre-portioned and labeled raw food for dog boarding

By the way, they returned all containers washed AND sanitized. Wow, way to go!

Besides bringing my own food, I also brought the pups’ daily allowance of dehydrated duck feet and beef lung.

Pre-portioned and labeled dehydrated treat allowance for dog boarding

I also brought their own stainless steel food bowls & doggie bedding, and of course Buzz’s favorite chuck-it-ball!

I also asked the RiverBark staff not to exercise the pups for an hour following their breakfast & dinner in order to avoid bloat. They made a note of it and stuck to my request.

If you don’t know what bloat is, you can read more about it here.

Have you boarded your pup(s) or are you currently looking for a safe doggie hotel?

As always, we’d love to hear from you in the comment section below this blog post!

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Barbara launched her blog K9sOverCoffee in 2014 and has been feeding her dogs raw dog food since 2015. As a former professional dog walker, she’s passionate about balancing species-appropriate exercise with healthy dog nutrition. Barbara is raw dog food nutrition certified from “Dogs Naturally Magazine” and the author of several e-books about minimally processed, balanced raw dog food.






14 responses to “10 Things To Look For In A Dog Boarding Facility”

  1. MilitaryWifeandPugLife Avatar

    Such a great post! We take the pugs everywhere. If pugs can’t come, we don’t either. LOL!

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Thank you 🙂 I LOVE that you take your pug babies everywhere!!!

  2. Elaine Avatar

    I’m so glad you found a great place to board Buzz and Missy. I agree, the webcams are must and a sign that a facility has nothing to hide. It must have given you lots of peace of mind that they took such great care of your pups while you were gone.

    I’m looking forward to reading about those great expo products and I can’t wait to go next year! Glad you had a wonderful time there. 🙂

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Thank you, Elaine, it was a huge relief knowing they’d be well cared for and safe while I was out of town! LOVE that webcam feature 😉

      I just put together a little sneak peek picture of some of the brands I checked in with at the Global Pet Expo in my newsletter. Can’t wait to talk about them all!! AND I’m already looking forward to going back down to Orlando next year – I really hope we’ll be able to meet in person then. I met Shannon from @walkswithrama:disqus & Susan from @talent_hounds:disqus this year (also Chloe from BlogPaws).

  3. Kate Obrien Avatar
    Kate Obrien

    Great tips – I’ve never been comfortable boarding our dogs and have always used a sitter, but the time may come when I don’t have a choice.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Thanks, Kate – that time came for me this week 😉 My first choice will always be a sitter.

  4. Julie Smith Avatar
    Julie Smith

    That place looks wonderful!! It is such an important responsibility to care for our pups and you want the best. I do not want Cocoa put in a crate for the day. And cleanliness. YES!! Oh my goodness the web cam is so cool. I would love to see Miss Cocoa during the day when she is at Christopher Robins. Hope you had a fun time!!

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Thanks Julie, I’m so glad I was able to go – it was totally worth it, although I was only there for 2 days. I would have had the option of boarding the pups with my vet, but they would have been crated for the majority of the day, and that was NOT going to happen.

  5. Colby Avatar

    We’re lucky to have lots of great puppy sitting friends through our guide dog group and also have friends and family members that help off when we go on vacation without the pups. Archer takes obedience classes at a dog boarding facility and I’ve had the chance to see/watch the dogs at playtime. They do a great job keeping all of the dogs happy and under control. I’d have to research further, but I believe this facility meets all the “things to look for” on your list.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      That’s so great that you have puppy sitters through your guide dog group. I can only imagine that they’d be doing a fab job keeping your pup safe & entertained, as well as follow all your instructions. The two ladies I’d have no problem leaving my pups with live in Florida & California. Sigh – a little far away from NC.

  6. JoAnn Stancer Avatar
    JoAnn Stancer

    Great post, I’m glad you found a nice facility to board your dogs. Hope you had a safe trip.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Thanks JoAnn, it was relieving to know that they’d be well taken care of! It was a great trip filled with new impressions 🙂

  7. 2 brown dawgs blog Avatar

    When we board, we board with our field trainer because they also have a boarding kennel. Our list of requirements is much different from yours. First I want someone who understands our breed. I do not want our dogs mingled with other dogs and I do not want strange people having any access to our dogs (like with facility tours). It is a family run facility (for 40 years) and while the dog is staying there you can ask to have your dog walked around their beautiful pond by trained staff. The other huge benefit is that for just a bit extra (and provided the trainer has space) the dog can receive field training so they are not just hanging around. The down side is that it is about 1 1/2 hours away.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      It’s always good to get another perspective on things 😉 Your field trainer sounds like the perfect place to board your pups. While I do think that impromptu facility tours are a nice feature, they don’t offer access to the boarding dogs. You simply get to see their accommodations and a view of the indoor & outdoor playing areas. You don’t actually go in there (at least not at the RiverBark place).

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