dog looking out window

You’ve got a trip planned and you couldn’t be more excited! There’s one family member, however, who may not be: your dog. Like humans, dogs crave consistency. When routines and settings change, it can throw them off.

For dogs already prone to separation anxiety, time away from you can be even more difficult.

What does separation anxiety look like in a pup?

It can include behaviors like:

  • Door scratching

  • Excessive barking or whining

  • Extreme drooling or panting

  • Pacing or trembling as it nears time for you to leave

  • Potty accidents in the house while you’re away

If you’ve noticed any of these signs, it’s possible your dog experiences separation anxiety — and may have those same reactions while you’re away on vacation.

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go or that they can’t work through the challenges.

These tips can help:

Familiarize your dog with the place

Unfamiliar places can make dogs feel uneasy. It’s a mix of not knowing where they are — and also not knowing if and when you’ll return. That’s especially true if your dog is staying at a kennel for the first time.

To help prepare your pet, some kennels will let your dog come for a play day or overnight stay for a fee to become familiar with the place. A short visit allows them to sniff the place out (literally). It also allows you to show them that you plan to drop them off temporarily — not leave them there forever.

If you’re not able to fit in a play day or overnight stay before your longer trip, a tour with your dog may be a quick (and free) option. However, some boarding kennels don’t allow tours because having another dog walk through the halls can upset the dogs already staying there.

Once you have a short list of potential boarding kennels, see what the options are to familiarize your dog with the place.

Let the staff know your dog may have anxiety

Our pets rely on us to communicate their needs when they can’t. To advocate for your pet, make the boarding kennel staff aware of any health conditions (including anxiety) your dog may have, as well as any tools or veterinary-prescribed medications required to treat them.

Some pet owners may worry about being turned away if they share too much. However, look at it as an opportunity to find the best boarding kennel for your dog’s needs.

If the kennel isn’t able to accommodate your pet’s health needs (for whatever reason), it’s better to know that before you book their stay, rather than while you’re on vacation or after the fact.

Pack a beloved toy, bed or personal item

Comforts from home can help a pet feel more secure in a new place. Ask the boarding kennel how many personal effects you’re allowed to bring and which types. For example, they may allow you to bring two items, such as a bed or a preferred chew toy (which can also help with anxiety).

They may ask you to leave other items at home, such as a blanket. In some instances, anxious dogs may turn to chewing on the blanket and ingesting some of the material. Leaving the blanket at home can help to prevent a boarding stay from turning into a medical emergency.

Other items to pack may include:

  • Food and feeding instructions

  • Veterinary-prescribed or veterinarian-recommended medications and dosing instructions (especially those for anxiety)

  • Emergency contacts (a trusted friend, your veterinarian and the address for your preferred vet emergency hospital, if you have one)

  • Personal items allowed at the kennel, with your pet’s name labeled on them

If your pet is anxiety prone, consider booking an appointment or consultative call with your veterinarian prior to your dog’s stay. Ask if your veterinarian recommends any anxiety medication or calming tools, such as anxiety jackets for dogs.

Ask about socialization and exercise opportunities

Socialization and physical exercise are natural ways to alleviate anxiety — in dogs or humans. When considering a boarding kennel, ask what physical activities and socialization opportunities will be available to your dog.

Some kennels have outdoor dog pools or water to wade in. Others have spacious backyards for dogs to interact and roam. During this time, dogs are able to exert pent up energy, which contributes to anxiety, and also engage with other dogs.

It gives dogs the opportunity to do something different — and may even be something you can recreate back home. BringFido has a great list of off-leash dog parks across the U.S.

Don’t prolong goodbyes

Saying goodbye to your pet can be tough for them and you. However, when you prolong it, that separation can become even more difficult. When we act casual, our pets will sometimes follow suit. Conversely, when we extend the goodbye, it can make the anxiety build for our pets. It also makes the moment feel more monumental than it really is and can exasperate worries of, “Will they come back for me?”

Instead, consider giving your dog lots of pets and attention at home before you leave. Once you get to the kennel, a quick goodbye, pat on the head and pass-off will make things easier for everyone.

As a pet owner, you may be anxious about leaving your pet behind, too. To calm your own nerves, ask the boarding kennel to send periodic pictures and updates. Most will be happy to accommodate. There are some boarding kennels that also have live feeds of group play time. It’s a fun way to check in on your dog and have the visual reassurance that they’re OK.

Explore the alternatives

Dogs who are extremely anxious, older or who have special needs just might not be able to get comfortable at a boarding kennel — no matter what you try. In those instances, you might consider enlisting the help of a trusted friend or highly-recommended pet sitter. If it’s someone you know well, they might be able to watch your dog for the duration of your trip — and you could return the favor during their next vacation.

Alternatively, you could also bring your pet with you. There are many pet-friendly hotels worldwide. Certain cities and specific venues will, naturally, be more accommodating with pets than others. To help you narrow down the options, we compiled this list of our favorite winter vacation destinations with your dog.

Whether you board your dog or bring them along, planning ahead will allow you both to enjoy the time away.