Boarding & Pet Sitters for Malamutes

Finding a sitter that can understand "Alaskan Malamute" can be pretty difficult.  While they are dogs, they aren't like most dogs. Most will test the resolve of an inexperienced pet sitter and make them wonder why they are doing this for a living!  We've pet sit some of our own puppies and they've made us pull our hair out! You need someone that understands the pack mentality, their possessiveness toward food and toys, and their need for exercise - but also that they won't necessarily come when called and can't be walked off leash.  A tall order!  If you have more than one pet, your difficulty is increased again because you have to add the interactions between the Malamute and other pets.  This article is to help you know the questions to ask, and the qualities to look for in a pet sitter or boarding kennel, specifically pertaining to Malamutes but it can apply to many breeds.  While you always want someone that understands animals, has a clean and well run operation, and is responsible - there is more to consider when your pet is an adult Malamute. 

First, things to ask yourself (be honest!).

  • Is my mal dog aggressive? (to what kind of dogs? sex? breed?)
  • Is my mal people aggressive (and to what kind of people)?
  • Does my mal guard toys, food, water?
  • How much exercise does my Malamute need?
  • Does my mal have any emotional needs that need to be met while I'm gone?
  • Is my Malamute a known escape artist?
  • Is my Malamute destructive when under stress?
  • Can my Malamute be trusted alone in the house, unsupervised, while I'm gone (and what will he get into)?

While many breeds are just fine while their owners are gone, a Malamute might just consider this an opportunity to check out what's in the fridge or to eat the sofa.  A housepet malamute will take total advantage of being in someone elses' house and try and bend the rules. He may be separation anxious.  He may just sleep. He may stop eating in protest that he has been unjustifibly abandoned and will scare the sitter that he may never eat again. Whether it's because he's stressed or just bored, consider this before you get a pet sitter that will just check on the dog 2-3 times a day. Odds are pretty good something will get destroyed in the process.   It's also important to be honest with yourself about any dog aggression and guarding behaviors.  These are important for the pet sitter to know for her own safety.  Also, she should always be made aware of any interaction issues with other pets or people.  Just like when you're home, you should not leave your Malamute with any small dog (and sometimes the cat) unsupervised for long periods. You need to make the petsitter aware of any situations that have developed in the past so she can be prepared.  You don't want to put her or any pet into a situation that could be dangerous.  If she knows up front what the issues might be, she can be prepared with a plan to work with them. Depending on your answers, you likely have 4 options:

  • In house 24/7 sitter (professional or friend)
  • Visiting sitter
  • Boarding Kennel or Day Care
  • Relative or Friend (at their house)

Ideally, a 24/7 in home sitter is best - if it's someone the Malamute knows and loves all the better. It's also best if she knows your routine and preferences and will follow your guidelines to the letter.  Most professional services take great pains to learn what these are.  A visiting sitter is at a disadvantage because she only sees your dog for short visits throughout the day, but a good sitter will play with the dog a little and generally pick up on any abnormal behavior/health issues.  A boarding facility or day care that has a professional staff that is familiar with Malamutes is a good option for giving your dog a way to expend energy - but you want a staff that understands Malamutes and their propensity for dog aggression.  You don't want them "kicking your dog out" after you've left on vacation leaving you and your dog in a precarious position of finding a solution by phone. If you use a day care for boarding, make sure you take the dog there ahead of time so the dog becomes familiar with the surroundings and you can see how the staff interacts with your Malamute.  You don't want a staff that will blame your dog for every infraction between dogs. 

If you have a friend or relative watch your dog, make sure they have the facilities to do so - a securely fenced yard and good supervision skills (with other pets and children).  A boarding facility is a good option if you can't find an individual to do in-home sitting.  They are typically set up for  large, hairy dogs and are a good option as long as your dog likes going there.  Some dogs love visiting the kennel, others take issue and feel abandoned without the comforts of home (bed, couches, familiar surroundings) - you have to know your dog.  This is often a better option than an unprepared relative as caretaker.  Many relatives are just not equipped to be alpha to a full grown Malamute.  If it's a bad match you'll return with the caregiver standing terrified on a table while the Malamute chews contentedly on a rawhide.  Know your caregiver and accept their limitations - sometimes a boarding kennel is the better option.

You basically are looking for:

  • Someone with Malamute experience or at least savvy, and NOT a negative perspective of the breed
  • Someone that understands the importance of walking the dog on leash and in a fenced area (and won't let it run loose)
  • Someone that understands the mal is not going to necessarily be "best friends" with every other dog it meets
  • Is not fearful of big dogs
  • Knows how to handle tense situations (food guarding, a fight, a dog that won't come when called, escape artists, etc.) humanely and correctly.
  • Someone the Malamute LIKES. 
  • Someone that will take the time to meet the dog's emotional needs (play, talk to the dog...not just feed, water and leave)
  • Listens to your instructions (if you say the dog jumps fences, they don't think it will happen to them and let the dog out anyway)
  • A calm, confident, alpha person that can handle any situation and is knowledgeable about dogs and this breed in particular (otherwise you'll be doing some major educating - and worrying)

Listening to you is the most important trait I believe a pet sitter needs to have.  There is nothing worse than telling your sitter the dog does not like another pet in the household and they don't "get it" and let them out together. Or feed them together.  Or "forget" and leave them together when she leaves.  Make sure you interview your sitter well, and you will be rewarded with a long term, wonderful relationship.  It's a good feeling knowing you have someone that cares about and understands your Malamute apart from the obvious needs such as giving medicine, feeding, exercising your dog.  It's reassuring to know you can leave your mal in the safe hands of a knowledgeable and experienced sitter. 

Pet Sitters

A pet sitter is a professional, usually bonded, that is a individual paid to care for your Malamute in your own home and sometimes theirs.  A pet sitter also spends quality time with the animal, gives him exercise and knows how to tell if he needs veterinary attention. Rain or shine, they will show up at your home to let the dog out and take care of his needs.  Some will water your plants, and check on your house as well (though that's not the main part of their job - your Malamute's welfare is their first obligation!). pet sitters run the gamit from trained professionals to someone that just loves and has an affinity for Malamutes.  One dear friend that's a pet sitter was amazing.

You will want to interview and meet anyone that has access to your Malamute and your home.  You'll want to assess is this person reliable and trustworthy, do they love animals, do they have common sense?  The advantage of a pet sitter is your Malamute gets to stay in a familiar environment, has his regular diet and routine, avoids the stres of unfamiliar places and animals, and gets attention while you are away.  A pet sitter is almost always the best option for an older dog so it's not exposed to things like kennel cough or the stress of a boarding kennel. It also may be the best option for a young, shy puppy. While an outgoing puppy might LOVE a boarding kennel with other playmates, a shy puppy may be overwhelmed.  So you will have to judge what is best for your pup.  A pet sitter will likely charge by the visit...whereas a kennel by the day making it a less expensive option.  But you must look at your Malamute's situation first. 

The worst choice (usually) is having neighbors and friends care for your Malamute that have no idea what they're in for.  It's one thing if they know and love your Malamute, but don't burden a neighbor just because they are close unless you are sure it's someone that will be reliable - Mals have very specific needs that can not be met by an unprepared neighbor!  Finding a pet sitter is not always easy.  You can start with a recommendation from a friend, neighbor, veterinarian, humane society or dog trainer. Check online or in the Yellow Pages under "Malamute Sitting Services." You can also contact the National Association of Professional pet sitters (856-439-0324) or pet sitters International (336-983-9222).

It's important to learn all you can about a prospective pet sitters' qualifications and services. Before selecting a pet sitter, interview the candidates over the phone or at your home. Important questions to ask are:

  • Is she insured (to cover accidents and negligence) and bonded (to protect against theft by a pet sitter or her employees)?
  • What training has the pet sitter completed? (can she do CPR, lift and transport a sick Malamute, recognize the signs of poisoning?)
  • Will the pet sitter record notes about your Malamute—such as his likes, dislikes, fears, habits, medical conditions, medications, and routines? Our sitter was wonderful, she came just to learn their routines and to better understand personalties! 
  • Is the pet sitter associated with a veterinarian who can provide emergency services? Can you use your own veterinarian? 
  • What will happen if the pet sitter experiences car trouble or becomes ill? Does she have a backup? This is EXTREMELY important.   
  • Will the pet sitter provide related services such as in-home grooming, dog walking, dog training and play time?  Is there additional cost for these services?
  • Is there a written service contract spelling out services and fees?  You don't want surprises.
  • If the pet sitter provides live-in services, what are the specific times she agrees to be with your Malamute? Is this detailed in the contract? How long does she stay and what does she do when in your home? (most of that time should be centered on your Malamute!)
  • How does your pet sitter make sure that you have returned home?  Just because you say you'll be home doesn't mean you'll make it.  Dogs have died because the pet sitter thought someone was home but instead were delayed by days. She should ALWAYS check to make sure you made it back before ending her service.
  • Will the pet sitter provide you with the phone numbers of other clients who have agreed to serve as references? Call them!
  • What if she finds items destroyed? (Mals will do that!)...does she know enough to look for 'pieces' and make sure nothin dangerous was swallowed?

 Have her come to your home ahead of time and watch how she interacts with your Malamute—does your Malamute seem comfortable with the person? If this visit goes well, start by hiring the pet sitter to care for your Malamute during a short trip, such as a weekend excursion. That way, you can work out any problems before leaving your beloved Malamute in the pet sitter's care for longer periods.

Helping the pet sitter and your Malamute

Even the most trustworthy, experienced pet sitter will have trouble if you haven't also kept your end of the bargain. Here are your responsibilities:

  • Make reservations with your pet sitter early, especially during holidays - the busiest time of year.  She may need additional help to visit all the animals she has requests for.  Meet the help if possible!
  • Ensure your Malamute is well socialized and allows strangers to handle him.  How is her Malamute experience?  Many are intimidated by this breed and you know the Mal will have a lot of fun with her if she isn't confident and firm. If he becomes growly or aggressive what is her plan?
  • Affix current identification tags to your Malamute's collar.  Accidents do happen.
  • Maintain current vaccinations for your Malamute.
  • Leave clear instructions detailing specific Malamute-care responsibilities and emergency contact information, including how to reach you and your veterinarian 24/7.
  • Leave food and supplies in one place inaccessible to the dog. 
  • Buy extra dog supplies in case you're away longer than planned. 
  • Leave a key with a trustworthy neighbor or relative as a backup, and give him and your pet sitter each other's phone numbers. Be sure those extra keys work before giving them out. 
  • Show the pet sitter your home's important safety features such as the circuit breaker and security system, lock the yard, and show her any potential escape spots so she can be aware should it look like he's trying to get out of the yard.  When we had a pet sitter we told them to only use one of our yards, as it was more secure than the other one and had a taller fence.
  • Leave instructions as to what parts of the house are off-limits to the dog - whether crating is necessary or not.  Make sure she understands there is to be no deviation from these important points for the safety of the dog and your house. 

Finally, have a safe and fun trip. Remember to bring your pet sitter's phone number in case your plans change—or you just want to find out how much destruction your house has sustained in your absence ;-).

Boarding Kennels

A pet sitter is not always the best option.  Much will depend on the age and personality of your Malamute.  Some just love the busy activity of a boarding kennel and thrive on the social interaction there.  For others it's too much and a others just do not like other dogs....in that case, a pet sitter may be a better option.  Either way, it's important to know the staff and who will be the Mal's primary caretaker. 

A facility specializing in care and overnight boarding allows your Malamute have a vacation of his own - socialization with other friendly dogs.  You won't have to try and find a hotel on the road that welcomes dogs.  Many mals would consider a boarding kennel the ULTIMATE party atmosphere...they can howl loudly, play rough, and don't have to be alone.  A staff that is knowledgeable about health problems can spot illness sooner that in a dog at home that is only seen a few times a day.  Best of all, kennels are built to thwart escape artists...

On the downside..the stress related to staying in an unfamiliar environment can be too much for some dogs...especially Malamutes that are extremely dog aggressive.  It may make their dog aggression worse.  Kennels are breeding rounds for health problems - kennel cough and other viruses tend to run rampant in them when sanitation is not exemplinary (make sure she has a bordetella vaccination!).  Many kennels are anti-Malamute - perhaps they had a bad experience with dog aggression or fights...so make sure your mal is socialized well and you have a backup plan should everything go south.  A lot of mals get kicked out of Doggy Daycare, and while boarding kennels tend to keep dogs apart more, it still may be a problem if there is a "community playtime" and your dog creates problems with other dogs. 

Finding a Good Kennel

Talk to friends, neighbors, your veterinarian, animal shelter, or dog trainer for a recommendation. You can also check the Yellow Pages under "Kennels & Malamute Boarding." Once you have names, it's important to do a little background check.  Always go and visit the facility and talk to anyone that will have contact with your Malamute. Find out whether your state requires boarding kennel inspections. If it does, make sure the kennel you are considering displays a license or certificate showing that the kennel meets mandated standards. Use the smell test....does it smell clean?

After selecting a few kennels, confirm that they can accommodate your Malamute for specific dates and can address your Malamute's special needs (if any). If you're satisfied, schedule a visit to check them out.

On your visit, ask to see all the places your Malamute may be taken. Pay particular attention to the following:

  • Does the facility look and smell clean, are surfaces left wet when dogs play on them?
  • Is there sufficient ventilation and light? 
  • Is a comfortable temperature maintained? 
  • Does the staff seem knowledgeable and caring? 
  • Are outdoor runs and exercise areas protected from wind, rain, and snow?
  • Are resting boards and bedding provided to allow dogs to rest off the concrete floor? Can you bring your own bedding?
  • Are cats housed away from dogs? 
  • Are Malamutes required to be current on their vaccinations, including the vaccine for canine kennel cough (Bordetella)? (Such a requirement helps protect your animal and others.)
  • Does each dog have his own adequately sized indoor-outdoor run or an indoor run and a schedule for exercise?  How big is it?
  •  How often are dogs fed? You will want it to be as close as possible to your dog's regular schedule to reduce the risk of bloat from stress. 
  • Can you bring your Malamute's food? What treats do they use and are they ok with you?  
  • What veterinary services are available? Are other services available such as grooming, training, bathing? 
  • How are rates calculated? What happens if you are delayed or don't return as expected? 
  • Malamutes are known to howl their brains out when at unfamilar places away from their pack...can they handle this?

How to prepare your Malamute

Be sure your Malamute knows basic commands and is well socialized around other people and dogs; if your Malamute has an aggression problem or is otherwise unruly, she may not be a good candidate for boarding. Before taking your animal to the kennel, make sure she is current on vaccinations and is familiar with the facility.  Ideally your Mal has been there before (perhaps for daycare) and has doggy and people friends there.  It will make the transition easier and lessen the howling for pack that Mals tend to do when staying.  If you have two dogs, request that they be kenneded within view or next to each other.  Even if they aren't best friends, they will find comfort in each other's presence.

It's also a good idea to accustom your Malamute to longer kennel stays by first boarding her overnight or a weekend. This allows you to work out any problems before boarding your Malamute for an extended period. Malamtues can become quite depressed if kenneled for long periods if they are not comfortable with the facility.  Several of our puppy owners have kenneled their dogs only after working at the facility (and bringing the Mal) or spending a LOT of time there with the Mal....and it makes it much easier for the mal to adjust if that is done.

Before you head for the kennel, double-check that you have your Malamute's medications and special food (if any), your veterinarian's phone number, and contact information for you and a local backup who would be willing to take in your dog should something go awry.  There was a worst case scenario I heard of that the owner went on vacation, the Mal was picking fights with other dogs and the kennel owner had enough and just dumped the dog at a shelter!!!! (totally unprofessional - so KNOW your kennel provider). They had to rush back from vacation to get the dog out of the shelter before it was euthanized!  Talk about a scary situation!  So always know your boarding provider and what their back up plan is with a dog they can't handle.

When you arrive with your Malamute at the boarding facility, remind the staff about any medical or behavior problems your Malamute has, such as a history of seizures, dog aggression to other females, or fear of thunder. After the check-in process, hand your Malamute to a staff member, say good-bye, and leave. Avoid long, emotional partings, which is more likely to upset your dog. Feel free to check in now and then to make sure all is going well and have safe trip, knowing that your Malamute is in good hands.  Expect on your return to be greeted with lavish kisses or be totally ignored...(how DARE you abandon me)....either way he still loves you, even if he doesn't show it...just rememer little kids are like that too!