Home boarding dogs – the pros and cons

Home boarding dogs can be a life-invasive service to provide, but when it is well managed it can be great fun and extremely rewarding. So let’s take a closer look at the nuts and bolts of home boarding dogs, how things can go wrong and what you can do to breathe longevity into this service.

The really great things about home boarding dogs

  • You can work entirely from home. People bring their dogs to you and providing you have good local walking – a prerequisite, I would say – you don’t even really need a car to transport them.
  • Home boarding dogs is our number one, most frequently requested service, making up about three quarters of all our initial enquiry calls. Unless you are very specific about which dogs you will take, you are very likely to be able to build a full work load from home boarding dogs, if that’s what you want.
  • Most councils allow up to 4 dogs to be boarded at one time in an average sized home. You can, of course, set your own limits if you feel you want to board less than this. The average pay for boarding is around £20 per day, per dog, so you could earn anything from a full time wage to a top up wage (perhaps in early retirement).
  • You are in full control of how many dogs you care for and how frequently you have time off.
  • If you have a sociable dog at home the incoming dogs can offer an added dimension to your own dog’s life. This will however reduce the number of dogs you can host.
  • If you don’t own your own dog, home boarding dogs is a lovely way of sharing your home with canine loveliness for short periods.
  • You are working from home, so will have plenty of time to do other things at home if you fit them around the dogs’ care.

Difficulties that crop up with home boarding dogs

home boarding dogs
It’s fun to play with a new friend

1. Sociable dogs, who do not usually live together, may get on very well in your home, but they are likely to play more frequently and exuberantly with each other during their stay, than they would if they were used to living together.

Solutions:

  • board single dogs and board them on their own.
  • board adult dogs over 3 years who have usually settled a great deal and only take a second dog if he’s a good match.
  • board multiple dogs from the same household.
  • provide a playroom for the dogs without any of your special furniture or possessions.

2. Your garden will doubtless suffer from having a throughput of dogs in your home, with everything from urine burns on the grass to digging in the flowerbeds.

Solutions:

  • consider getting an area of artificial grass and an outside hosepipe which is the ideal set up for toileting.
  • fence off an area of garden for growing beautiful things.
  • if the garden is a real issue for you, board small breeds only, as they will do much less damage.
home boarding dogs
Be prepared for extra cleaning!

3. Your house will require more cleaning, and there will be greater wear and tear on flooring, glass doors (scratches) and furniture – many dogs are used to being allowed on sofas and beds.

Solutions:

  • choose easily cleaned flooring (not carpet) for the areas of your home where the dogs will be allowed
  • have a good supply of large dog towels, wipes etc., and always clean dogs well after a walk
  • use washable throws to protect furniture
  • again, if the house is a real issue for you, board small breeds only, as they will usually, bring in less dirt and do less damage.

4. Dogs sometimes regress in their behaviours when boarded,  because of the loss of routine and their familiar environment. Male dogs – especially those who aren’t castrated – often mark inside a home where many dogs have been before them. 

Solutions:

  • Give time at the initial booking visit to ensure that you understand the dog’s usual routines and behaviors. Try to replicate these and encourage the owners to bring the dog’s own equipment. Familiarity is comforting.
  • Only board neutered dogs.
  • Choose easily cleaned floor coverings for the accidents that do occur.
home boarding dogs
Just say no!

5. Unless you are ruthless about saying “no”, it can be very hard to get time off once you have a regular client base. We all realise that if we can’t provide for our clients’ needs, they will find another company who can. Unless our service is exceptional,  or our client relationships very strong that may be the last we see of them.

Solutions:

  • Work out your own parameters and stick to them, unless, of course, they stop working for you, in which case,  tweak them.
  • Bear in mind that you are working – at least in the sense of being responsible for the dogs – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Since most licencing requirements include only leaving the dogs for a maximum of three hours (and not repeatedly), you will need to specifically pencil gaps into your boarding schedule for time off and holidays.
  • Know when to say “no”!
  • Make good use of any quieter periods to really look after yourself and your family.
  • If you only have one or two dogs staying, take the opportunity to do social things where they can come with you.

6. When booking a dog in, it is important that you get an accurate picture of the dog’s problem behaviours. Many negative behaviours can go unreported by an owner eager to get a home boarding placement for their dog.

Solutions:

  • Ask direct questions about problem behaviour, such as, “Does your dog bark in the house?” Most owners won’t lie if asked directly.
  • Have a clause in the terms and conditions that states that you must be supplied with relevant information about any problem behaviours, and list those that are important to you.
  • Set your own parameters for which behaviours you will and won’t accommodate.  Excessive barking is always an issue for me as I am noise sensitive, and it saps my strength and resilience.
Home boarding dogs
How to manage pulling…

7. Some clients may want you to sort out their dog’s negative behaviours during a stay. To some extent you’ll want to at least minimise the impact of such behaviour on yourself,  your family and your neighbours. But don’t forget – you aren’t being contracted as a behaviourist or trainer, and even if you are qualified to give this kind of help, you’re not being paid to do so.

Solutions:

  • Be very clear at the booking visit exactly what you are willing and able to offer. It’s fair enough to adjust and manage behaviour to make a dog’s stay more pleasant for both of you, but you aren’t obligated to do so.
  • Have a good supply of equipment that will help you to manage dogs who pull, or are anxious or destructive and such like.

8. Some behaviour – notably barking – can have an impact on your relationship with your neighbours.

Solutions:

  • Keep the dogs – especially when left alone for periods – away from any rooms that are attached to the neighbours property.
  • Try to address the barking if possible, using tools such as calming bands, distraction and removing visual cues (by closing blinds).
  • If you host a particularly noisy dog, drop in on your neighbours and apologise for the barking, assuring them that the dog will be going home in a few days. Try to be proactive in keeping relations good, rather than letting things escalate.

 

 

12 Pet sitting business models

There are many permutations and combinations of pet sitting business models, but these seem to be the most common.

  1. Dog walking business which focuses on group walks using a van to transport the dogs. Minimum of two staff to enable safety and control should there be any unforeseen occurrence on the walk or at one of the houses.
  2. Dog walking business which focuses on one-to-one walks on foot from the house (no van needed, but transport to get between houses in minimal time is essential). Where two dogs live very close together – and are compatible – walks could be paired. This type of business can survive and thrive with only one person other than the issue of cover for emergencies/illness or holiday.

    pet sitting business models
    Small animals need home boarding too.
  3. The popular ‘catch-all’ of pet sitting business models, that is often used interchangeably with  the term “petsitting”, at least in the UK. This model offers every conceivable kind of pet care service, including in-home boarding (for dogs, reptiles and smaller caged animals), walking (dogs), day care (dogs), home visits (any pets) and so on. A team approach is needed.
  4. Home-based dog boarding business, which only takes dogs for weekend and holiday boards. An excellent model for a sole trader, working alone in the first instance, so long as you have an emergency plan in place for extreme situations.
  5. Dog day care business, which offers day care only. Another good model for someone working alone in the first instance, so long as you have an emergency plan in place for extreme situations.
  6. Hub model for home boarding, where a central administrative hub manages a number of satellite boarding homes. The hub markets the business and generates clients who are then matched to a suitable boarding home. Hub boarding businesses can be small and in one geographical area, right through to being nationwide.
  7. Large premises dog day care facility, often providing transport for the dogs to the centre as well. This model needs a premises, a team of staff and a vehicle. This is one form of pet care business that probably benefits from employing staff, rather than using independent contractors.
  8. Home-based dog care, which is a combination of 4 and 5, covering both day care and home boarding. Works well for one person working alone in the first instance, so long as you have an emergency plan in place for extreme situations.
  9. House sitting service – this can be one person, in one area of the country – or indeed one person covering a much wider area, so long as they are not firmly rooted in their own home for any reason.
  10. Hub model of the house sitting service, where a central administrative hub manages a number of individuals willing to carry out house sitting duties. These are usually national organisations.
  11. Pet sitting service that only does home visits (for any animal) or walks, but does not also offer boarding or day care in the sitters own home. May offer overnight sits too.

    pet sitting business models
    Reptile holiday cover can be a popular service.
  12. Speciality service, such as reptiles only, small animals, or – in some areas – horses or smallholding care.

I started with the catch-all model (as many people do) as a sole trader, without co-workers. With hindsight, I wish someone had told me that this model requires a team approach. I worked for almost 18 months doing it all, with the support of a house full of young adults who ensured that no holidaying dogs were left alone, while I went off to do a list of walks and the odd cat visit each day. I was soon exhausted and struggled to build any part of the business, other than home boarding, which is such a popular service it kind of grows itself. How much more productive I could it have been, had I begun to build a team from the beginning? I would suggest that – unless you want to do your own work for yourself and never grow your business – you consider the merits of building a team from the very beginning. More on this in the co-workers section of the site.

pet sitting business models
House sitting can involve multi species households

With a name like Custom Canine Care, it was almost inevitable that we would end up as a dog-only service provider, but it took over 4 years and a lot of heartache getting there. As a company we provide home boarding, walking, day care, home visits and house sitting – all for dogs. However, each individual member of the team, bar one, specialises in either ‘in home’ or ‘out of the home’ care. It’s rarely satisfactory in the long term to try to do both.

Taking all this into consideration, it’s wise, before you start up your business, to have a clear idea of which of the pet sitting business models you want to pursue and where you would like to end up. If your chosen model involves co-workers, I would encourage you to get them on board from the earliest possible opportunity.