It’s kind of an eye-grabbing headline, “Dog Barks Himself to Death.” The article goes on to describe a situation in which an English Bulldog left at a Manhattan veterinary clinic/dog boarding facility actually barked for such a prolonged period of time and/or at such an intensity that his throat swelled up enough that he suffocated. If you’re thinking this sounds far-fetched, you’re not alone. I had never heard of a dog “barking himself to death” before either, and it’s unlikely the kennel staff considered it a real possibility prior to the event.
The article states that the kennel initially attributed the death to heart failure due to an enlarged heart, but after the owner pursued legal action, they performed an autopsy and discovered the swollen throat. Court papers filed by the dog’s owner against the facility state, “Defendants ignored obvious signs of Cowboy’s distress, allowing Cowboy to continue barking for days without proper care or intervention, until his severely swollen throat suffocated him and caused his death.”
I don’t think anyone deliberately and maliciously caused Cowboy’s death. In fact, barking dogs are pretty much par for the course at boarding facilities. As soon as the door to that kennel opens, the chorus kicks up. Kennels are, by their nature, a somewhat strange and stressful place for dogs that are used to having more freedom and being in a home environment. So is your dog barking himself to death at the kennel something you need to be worried about? Not if you’ve mentally prepared your dog to be able to handler a higher stress environment, and you board him at a facility that meets his needs.
How to Find a Dog Boarding Facility That’s Right for You
First off, be honest with yourself about your dog’s behavior and emotional stability (or lack thereof). Some dogs have no issues to speak of and are relatively “bullet-proof.” These dogs whom nothing fazes will probably be alright just about anywhere, from the sparse accommodations at the vet’s office to a high-end luxury facility. Cost or convenience may be the determining factors in your final decision. Other dogs are extremely sensitive and don’t deal well with change, or may even lash out aggressively when subjected to a new environment or routine. For these dogs, you need to be more selective about their physical environment, but also the experience level and expertise of staff, their willingness and ability to proactively communicate with you, and their comfort level and access to medication or other management tools should they be necessary to manage your dog’s behavior.
Your decision on where to house your sensitive dog while you’re away could be crucial in determining whether his experience is traumatizing or relatively relaxing. In Cowboy’s case, unfortunately, the consequences of selecting a facility that did not meet his behavioral needs may have contributed to his death. As the article states, Cowboy was in good physical health when he entered the facility. The kind of excessive and violent barking Cowboy would have been engaged in to ultimately cause suffocation would be due to being anxious, lonely, severely agitated, or frustrated about his situation, and there was no mention as to his emotional or behavioral health upon entering the boarding facility.
Fix the Problem if You Can
If your dog exhibits anxiety, fear, or aggression towards other dogs, people, or in certain situations such as when separated from you, confined, or in new and novel places, seek the help of a professional dog trainer experienced in working on these types of issues prior to exposing him to a situation that will cause him stress that he’s unequipped to handle. Note that behavior change may take four to six months or possibly longer. So if you wish to fix the problem by increasing your dog’s threshold for anxiety or frustration, and teaching him how to self-regulate and cope with feelings of stress, instead of just avoiding it or managing it, you’ll have to plan ahead.
Different Types of Dog Boarding Facilities
Individual dog boarding facilities vary greatly but generally fall under one of these four categories
The kennel attached to a vet hospital: Usually pretty basic in its accommodations or amenities, this is simply an additional service veterinarians offer because, well…they can. They already have the facilities and can provide an additional value and service to their existing clientele. Kennels are either runs or cages, dogs are let outside individually to potty a few times a day or walked around a potty yard for a few minutes until they eliminate, they’re fed two meals per day and administered any necessary medication. If your dog LIKES your vet, this may be a good option since it’s familiar. However, many dogs already have negative feelings about the vet’s office, so having him board there for an extended period of time may actually add to his stress.
The kennel attached to a dog daycare facility: This often consists of kennel runs that are a part of the daycare facility. In an open format, dogs are never confined. The upside of this is that in an open format, there’s usually at least one staff member on duty around the clock and it may be a nice option for a dog that doesn’t deal well with confinement. If your dog is already accustomed to the staff and daycare location and he likes it, boarding there may be relatively easy and stress free. When boarding at a daycare facility, it’s presumed your dog is going to play, socialize, and interact with the other dogs during the day.
The kennel attached to a dog training facility: These are generally sparse accommodations, similar to the vet setup. In these scenarios, the focus is on training rather than providing a luxurious experience for the dog. The benefit of a situation like this is that ongoing nuisance behavior, such as barking, likely won’t be tolerated, and your dog will be regularly cared for by (presumably) a highly qualified dog behavior and training professional. A “board and train” provides a dog with a lot of mental stimulation so he doesn’t have the time to get bored or the energy with which to engage in unwanted behavior. Plus, you collect a better-mannered dog than you dropped off on your way out of town.
The private (sometimes up-scale) dog boarding facility: Facilities whose primary focus is on providing boarding accommodations will range from relatively simple to all-out luxurious. There may be private suites instead of kennel runs, 24/7 outdoor access via private outdoor runs, real beds, flat-screen TVs, swimming pools, grooming/spa treatments, personal trainers for exercise, 24/7 webcam viewing so you can always see what your dog is doing, and anything else they can think of. These facilities can typically do a pretty good job of keeping your dog mentally and physically stimulated, and monitoring their behavior and well-being since that’s the primary focus of their business. However, you will pay for it! It’s also more likely that the general staff that interacts with your dog is less likely to be able to deal with more difficult dogs. They’re in the business of hospitality, not training.
In addition to these standard options, many businesses offer pet care services either in your home or theirs, meaning your dog never has to step foot in an unfamiliar kennel environment if you don’t want him to. Having a combination pet and house-sitter may be a smart option if going away for an extended period of time and/or you have multiple pets for which the boarding costs and logistics might become burdensome.
So, you’ve determined what type of dog boarding facility you think will bring your dog the least amount of stress—and it’s not always the most posh accommodations. It might be different than what works for your neighbor, and it may not be the closest facility to your home. In fact, simply basing her decision on perceived convenience rather than what was most appropriate for her specific dog may have been a pitfall that the Bulldog’s owner, Moore, accidentally stumbled into. Both Moore and her mother were boarding their dogs at the same place, suggesting that perhaps convenience played a part in the selection of that facility.
After some initial online research, you’ll want to visit the facilities in person and take a tour. You won’t probably be able to bring your dog along unless you have proof of her being current on all required vaccinations. In any case, make sure you ask ahead of time.
Visit the Dog Boarding Facility and Ask Some Questions
When you visit the dog boarding facility, actively observe your surroundings and ask questions, such as:
- How much and what kind of training does staff receive? For example, are they certified in pet first aid and CPR? Are there any trainers on staff that have knowledge of behavior problems?
- On average, how much hands-on experience does your staff have with dogs?
- Is the facility staffed 24 hours a day?
- How will I be notified in case there is an emergency involving my dog? (phone, email, text)
- How often are dogs let outside and/or checked up on?
- Do you take any special measures to manage dogs that bark excessively? How do I know my dog will get adequate rest/down time?
- Do you have a veterinarian in-house? Where will my dog be taken in case of a medical emergency?
- Will my dog be interacting with other dogs while here or are dogs kept apart?
- Approximately how many staff members will my dog interact with during her/his stay? (The fewer the better for sensitive dogs)
- How often are the kennel runs cleaned? (at least once per day)
- Is the number of dogs you’re seeing in front of you average or is it an uncommonly slow or busy day? When are their peak busy times? (And will you be needing their services during these times as well. If so, consider if additional dogs, staff, and general chaos will be okay for your dog.)
- What certifications or accreditations does the facility hold? Be sure to do a little research into the certifying body to find out what is necessary to qualify. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of paying a membership fee.
While at the dog boarding facility, notice if dogs generally seem to look healthy and not overly-stressed (keeping in mind that a kennel environment is inherently stressful on many dogs). How many staff members are around (hopefully, several). Are staff clean and professional in appearance, and are they behaving in a friendly manner towards the dogs or are they stressed and irritated?
Does the facility look and smell clean and well-maintained? It doesn’t have to be new to be clean, well-ventilated, and not overly crowded or noisy. Does it reek of bleach or harsh cleaning chemicals (you can bet it’s irritating the dogs’ noses more than yours). Are they playing music and if so, does it add to the chaos or create a more relaxed environment? Note if there’s any effort being made to reduce noise like fabric or carpeting on walls or ceilings.
If you’ve done all your due diligence and feel comfortable about a particular facility, do a single overnight trial run to see if the place agrees with your dog. Explain to them that you really want and need an honest assessment about your dog’s behavior (no sugar-coating please!), so you can make an informed decision regarding a future extended stay. The trial run means you’ll be home in case your dog experiences any problems and you need to come pick them up early. I suspect had Moore gone through a thorough process of making an informed selection based on her dog’s temperament and behavioral needs, researched and visited different dog boarding facilities, and done a short trial run, she may have realized her dog wasn’t a good fit for the environment she was planning to place him into, and the tragedy may have been avoided.
Short-Term Solutions, Quick Fixes
A short-term or short notice solution may be appropriate in some situations. We’re talking here about management tools to help a dog feel and/or behave in a calmer manner.
- Anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication. This will generally have to be started several weeks before being kenneled in order to be effective.
- A high-quality electronic bark collar. Modern technology and high end models respond to the bark emitted from the dog wearing the collar, not the barks of nearby dogs. In a kennel environment, it will be important to use a model with “bark recognition” technology. If a dog truly can bark himself to death, I would argue that an electronic bark collar should be seriously considered as it is a far more humane alternative to death.
- DAPP diffuser or familiar blanket or bedding from home.
- Calming dog-safe essential oils such as lavender diffused into the air.
As a final option, more and more hotels and tourist destinations endeavor to be pet-friendly by accommodating dogs. Depending on the type of trip or vacation you’re taking, it may be possible to bring your dog with you and that may be a good solution for many people who just can’t stand the thought of leaving their pooch behind!
Links for Additional Resources
One alternative to sending your dog to a boarding facility or having someone stay in your home.
Check out this site for all kinds of care-taking services, including pet sitting.