Ask The Dog Trainer: Give Moxie a trial separation before traveling

My son and I are avid readers of your advice column, and are trying to decide what to do with our dog Moxie for our annual trip to Idaho. We’ve never been separated from her and are overwhelmed with the options of dog boarding, pet sitting or asking family to watch her. Can you give us any insights or suggestions?

- Amy and Keith.

Dear Amy and Keith,

The holidays present many unique training opportunities, and one of them is preparing your pup for the traveling they often bring. As a dog trainer I frequently work with both owners and pet boarding companies to help make the dog’s stay as pleasant and as comfortable as possible, and I’m happy to discuss the subject with you and your son.

To begin with, I suggest deciding if Moxie should stay in your home or be lodged at an outside location, such as with a friend or at a boarding facility.

To help you make this choice, consider Moxie’s personality, past experiences and daily routine. Does she become agitated when separated from you or when her daily schedule changes? Is she a social butterfly at dog parks and family gatherings or more reserved? Does she require a fenced back yard or frequent walks or daily trips to the dog park to feel satisfied? Does she need to take any medication or receive any special care? What is your budget for her care while you are away? Do you have any friends or family who are willing and able to help? Is Moxie comfortable with strangers or does she need a more familiar face? Is your house a safe and secure environment for her to remain in with minimal supervision, or is she a latchkey dog?

If Moxie is anxious when in the company of strangers, then whether you are planning on boarding her at a facility or hiring a pet sitter, it will be a good idea to introduce her to your new helper. Most reputable boarding locations offer “meet and greets” and single day trial stays so your dog can slowly become accustomed to the unfamiliar faces and location. When hiring a pet sitter I prefer to interview them at my home so my dogs can meet them and I can observe how the interactions go. Meeting and becoming familiar with those who will be watching over Moxie will make everyone involved more comfortable.

If Moxie has any destructive tendencies or severe separation distress where she might injure herself in your absence, then hiring specialized or knowledgeable help will add an additional layer of safety and peace of mind.

Some boarding facilities specialize in anxious dogs and provide appropriate precautions. They may have stronger kennels, larger dog runs and more secure outbuildings. Some boarding facilities even offer enrichment activities such as agility equipment, dog training classes or canine massage, reading your pup a bedtime story to soothe them or playing white noise throughout the day. Medication prescribed by your veterinarian can also be helpful to make an anxious dog’s stay as enjoyable as possible.

If you have a friend, family or pet sitter who is willing to stay at your house, then this is often a great option. Keeping Moxie’s established schedule as closely as possible is ideal, and it is even better if your sitter can uphold your same household rules. When my dogs go for sleepovers at my parents house, I send them over with their crates, bedding and nighttime toys. If my pet sitter comes to my house, I ask that she doesn’t allow my dogs on to my furniture or to enter my kitchen uninvited. This way, either at another house or in my own, my dogs have a sense of routine and safety.

If having someone stay at your home isn’t possible, and instead Moxie will be staying at their home, then it is advisable to visit the location, meet their pets, discuss any rules or boundaries you would like enforced and to make sure that Moxie and her host are comfortable with one another.

Lastly, whether you are leaning toward boarding at a facility, hiring a pet sitter to stay at your home or sending Moxie to a family member’s house, I strongly recommend doing a trial run prior to the actual event. Take the opportunity to go see a movie, stay overnight in a hotel and give everyone involved time to discover any kinks.

Often people forget to practice these skills, and upon dropping off their dogs for vacation are dismayed to discover they become destructive or anxious, resulting in veterinary bills or a shortened trip. Even if it’s one night a month, send Moxie on a “date” with a trusted friend or introduce her to the experience of doggy daycare. This will set your family and Moxie up for success when you leave for Idaho.

Kendall and Chandler Brown are owners of Custom K-9 Service Dogs, a dog training business serving Minden/Gardnerville, Carson and Reno. For information go to or email


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