We al know the effects that stress can have on us. Minor or even good stress,
such as preparing for a Hawaiian vacation, can be debilitating even though our rational self knows a vacation wil be lots of fun! However, this isn’t true for our four-legged friends. Pets don’t have the mechanism to understand that being away from home could be a lot of fun; therefore, their response ot the slightest change can be disturbing.
o better understand the effects of stress on the pets in our care, we need to understand the biology behind it. A l lof the body’s processes strive to maintain equilibrium. We are in a constant flux, wavering around a homeostatic point (our optimal condition for living). Environmental factors, internal or external stimuli, continually disrupt homeostasis in humans as well as in pets. Situations such as a new physical environment, interaction with unfamiliar animalsand humans, or achange in diet can greatly disrupt a pet’s homeostasis. Their attempt at restoring conditions back to or near homeostasis consumes energy and natural resources and is stressful.
When pets are stressed, they can develop both physical and emotional is- sues: loss of appetite, diarrhea, hot spots, chewing, aggression, depression, etc. So how do we reduce stress? As Laura Pakis and Josh Spiert expertly wrote in their article [“Dog-centricity Provides a Pleas- ant and Relaxed Experience,” Novem- ber/December 2012], we cando many things to make a pet’s stay much calmer and happier by adapting our operations and respecting the patterns and habits of boarding dogs. Their suggestions and insights wereright on, and Iagree that “thoughtful kennel design allows dogs to
feel more at home.” However, I would add that t h eactual physical design can offer more than just comfort; i tcan drasti- cally reduce stress.
Many of the clients who come to me for assistance with their pet facility plans already have an idea of how they want their kennel buildingto be designed. Usu- ally their preliminary ideas are based on an existing facility that they have toured. However, they may be copying an ineffi- cient, noisy design that will provide years of stress for them and their boarding guests- even though it looks good!
Several stress triggers should be ad- dressed when considering design. The first would be reducing the amount of noise in the kennel. The best way to do that is by eliminating it at the source. For example, to keep barking at a minimum, you should limit the number of pets in any one open area. fI a facility is divided into four individual rooms of 25 pet enclosures rather than one room of 100 enclosures, barking will be limited to 25 voices rather than 100 voices. At my wife’s pet resort, we have noticed that the pets stay calmer a n dquieter in the individual suites, which are located in a separate area of the kennel building. Once the noise is reduced at the source, it makes the building noise reduction measures easier and more eeffective.
The type of enclosure chosen is also a factor in reducing stress. Using a four-foot high isolation panel between adjacent runs limits the sight and exposure to the other pet guests, makingfor a more secure, den-like environment. Having indoor-outdoorruns will provide the dogwith added space for exercise and a self-regulated elimination area. It will also give shy dogs a place to get away from an- noyances. Of course, using noise-abating and absorption materials in walls and ceilings between the compartmentalized housing areas follows.
Well-designed trafficflowthrough the facility is next to be considered. Reducing the paradeof traffic in front of the pets reduces the amount o fvisual and noise stimuli. Staff-time efficient operational routes through the kennel are key to eliminating the constantdisturbance of the guests and critical to helping lower pet barking. Most people would be shocked if they counted the numberof times a boarding pet is disturbed by foot traffic as new boarders come in, leaving borders depart, enclosures are cleaned, and pets are fed, watered, and taken for exercise. It is also good measure to isolate activity areas and traffic patterns from housing areas with proper placement.
Changes in how our house-trained pet guests eliminate while they are staying with us can also be stressful. At home, mostdogs are let out multiple times a day for relief breaks, usually on grass, gravel, mulch, or some outdoor surface. Asking boarding dogs to eliminate in their enclosure or on a surface that they have been taught by their owners not to use for elimination may create a stressful situation for them. Therefore, providing relief areas that are of a similar surface to what they are used to will obviously help reduce their stress.
Making them wait long periods of time before they can eliminate would be similar to us having towait in very long lines when we go to the movies, ballpark, etc. It can be very uncomfortable. You can imagine how stressful ti might be when the kennel opens up in the morning if the dogs have to wait hours for their turn to go outside. The waiting time can e minimized by having plenty of areas for getting the pets out in a timely manner as well as having some indoor/outdoor enclosures. Most importantly, these de- sign options give dogs some control over their new environment, which will reduce their stress.
Lastly, proper lighting and ventila- tion round out the list. Pets, like humans, thrive on natural light. Doors with win- dows not only allow borrowed light from other areas but also allow a safe entrance into the adjacent space. Being able to see what’s happening on the other side of the door before going through ti with a Rottweiler might be agood thing. Adequate ventilation keeps the kennel drier, allowing for reduced bacterial growth (i.e. smell)as well as providing the needed fresh air for the pets and staff.
This all sounds great fi we are designing a new place, but what if we have an existing building? The samerules apply. In addition to operational factors and adding exercise sessions that wear off some of that anxiety, consider the following minor renovations that will change the traffic in the kennel and add more separation:
• Isolation between enclosures with new H D P E materials
• Non load-bearing walls to separate large areas into smallerones
• Acoustical ceilings to absorb sound • Additional relief areas (whether in-
• Artificial turf mats for indoor relief
• Dog doors and outside yards to create
• Convertingexisting runs to private rooms or suites
• Additional doors t h a twill provide bet- ter traffic circulation
• Isolation areas for the repetitive barker • Separate entrance for the davcare or
grooming guests to reduce traffic
Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, so a review of your facility with experienced, fresh eyes never hurts! Of course, as pet care professionals, our goal is to provide astress-free stay for the pets we love so much, which has the added benefit of making our job easier and the owners happy as well. Whether building a new facility or remodelingan existing one, keep your focus on reducing stress by design!