Essential Elements of Modern Kennel Design

The Animal Care College

Caring for people caring for animals

David Cavill FRSA F Inst D

In the last few years there have been many changes in the way in which we think about kennel design. Traditionally we concentrated on ‘quick and easy’ solutions to keeping dogs safe and reasonably comfortable, in an easily cleaned and manageable area while providing some exercise. The emphasis was on economy of build and ease of operation with simple processes, procedures and practices. These remain important considerations but we have seen a fundamentally different approach which is demonstrated in the changes which were made to the Model Licence Conditions (MLCs) for catteries three years ago. If you compare them to the MLCs which were published in 1995 (I was on the working party for both) you will see that the emphasis has changed: instead of setting out criteria based almost entirely on the physical environment the focus is now to fulfil the accepted ‘needs’ of our ‘guests’ as defined in the Animal Welfare Act (2006). Discussions are now virtually complete in the revision of the MLCs for kennels and I am sure the same approach will be taken.

The ‘five needs’ are set out in the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 and apply to all animals:

  • need for a suitable environment
  • need for a suitable diet
  • need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  • need to be housed with, or apart, from other animals
  • need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

Of course, we have to apply some common sense in applying these criteria for it is normal behaviour for dogs to bite and cats to scratch (and to mate as and when they able or feel so inclined) but the principles are sound enough and they reflect the significant changes in approach to animal care which have taken place recently. The most important of these is probably the understanding of the need for an enriched environment which stimulates interest for the boarded animal and which has been shown to contribute to its health in a confined environment. This has had a ‘knock-on’ effect on kennel design and some extremely interesting new configurations are being introduce by forward thinking kennel owners.

At the same time, local authorities and licensing officers are becoming more conscious of the impact of kennels on their surrounding environment and, it seems to me, becoming much stricter particularly with regard to noise and waste disposal.

There is no doubt a good design can contribute to alleviating the inevitable annual trauma of a visit from a Licensing Officer or Environmental Health Officer.

The key elements of such new approaches arise from understanding the need to reduce negative stress and there is much which can be done at the design stage and in refurbishment to ensure that dogs coming into kennels enjoy a positive experience. Recent research indicates that in general, dogs enjoy their time in kennels (http://www.iboarddogs.uk/pge.php?page=7) but there is much that can be done to avoid negative stress.

Examples of worst-case scenarios, most of which are already avoided of course, is to

  • have a cat boarding facility hard up against kennels
  • facilities which are close to the road or overlooking the kennel car park
  • runs beside which there is a constant flow of staff with buckets, bowls, food and cleaning paraphernalia
  • very limited visual interest (walls, fencing panels and the like)
  • lack of exercise
  • minimal human contact (especially when there are ‘human’ noises and smells nearby)

Back in the early 80s I was proudly shown round a kennel which was well designed with feeding and cleaning as automated as you could get in those day. Dogs were let out into their runs through sliding pop holes operated from the kennel corridor and food and water bowls were dropped into hoops which were swivelled into the kennel. There was virtually no human contact with the dogs from the time they came in to board until the time they left.

We have to be efficient, of course, but it is important these days, if clients are going to return, that a determined effort is made to continue human contact with both dogs and cats. By carefully designing the kennel layout, enrichment can be integrated into the building.

I do not need to explain to experienced kennel managers the three or four layouts which have been traditional for many years. Most kennels are based on the corridor principle which is relatively easily to manage and relatively inexpensive to build. The H block layout with kitchen and sometimes grooming facilities across the centre provides a configuration which is both economical in construction and efficient in use so long as there is sufficient space for the ‘guests’ to allow for enrichment inside the kennel and its surroundings.   Added to this is the decision whether, as suggested by the current MLCs, to have a ‘kennel and run’ configuration where each kennel is relatively small but has access to a larger ‘run’ on the basis that there is enough room for exercise over short periods or the alternative (which is my personal preference because it ensures that dogs come more often into intimate human contact) is the ‘kennel and exercise area’ where the kennels are larger but the dogs are taken to (or allowed out into) much larger runs or paddocks on a regular basis. Some kennels market themselves on the basis that dogs are walked away from the kennels. I have always thought this is irresponsible for although the likelihood of dogs breaking free is low it is still very much higher than within a kennel area surrounded by safety fencing. This may seem a tad over cautious in these days of dog walkers, home boarders and pet sitters but I believe that clients coming to a ‘proper’ boarding kennel or cattery are entitled to have confidence that there pets will be absolutely safe.

However to return to the question of modern kennel design. One of the most interesting layouts I have ever seen was in the South of France: the kennels were built into a cliff face and inevitably, the ‘runs’ were vertical and used ramps, curves and steps between several levels so that although the footprint was really very small the exercise generated was immense. The configuration also allowed for a wide variety of different ‘views’ for each ‘guests’, none of which involved a direct line of sight into other kennels. I was able introduce these concepts to the architects of Battersea’s ‘new’ kennels in the early 1990s and they continue to be very successful.

Anything that you can place in the dogs area of activity is going to be an improvement of their kennel. There are few catteries which do not provide shelves, branches, boxes or hanging feathers in their pens but we seldom see such innovations in dog kennels. Just having different levels makes a difference and a half wall seems simple but immediately provides the occupant with two spaces from which it can choose.

The ‘direct line of sight’ to other dogs, in my view, engenders negative stress so if you have a row of kennels the barriers between each pen should be opaque so long as the dogs looking out at the end of the run can see something of interest. This doesn’t have to be complicated: dogs are happy see birds flying, trees waving in the breeze and people to which they are accustomed working in the area. Single corridor kennels do not allow visual sight to other dogs across the intervening corridor but if you have a double bank of kennels with a central corridor it is as well for the end panels to be at opaque: a quick and easy way to reduce tension and noise.

Some of these problems can be solved using the Parasol style of build which was popularised by Wood Green in the 1990s. I have never felt that these were particularly effective: they need a surprising number staff time to keep clean and use a lot of space for relatively few occupants. They look imposing, certainly, but my discussions with those who use them have not been very positive

Sound absorbing panels, which are also fireproof, are easily available for lining ceilings and walls and the increasing use of PVCu glazed panels are making a significant difference to kennels by decreasing the perception of imprisonment created by ‘bars and cages’ and making the area seem more ‘homely’ for owners if not for dogs. For many years I recommended the use of pig board for lining kennels. It is cheap, effective and hard wearing but the modern solution is to use PVCu panels and it certainly looks more attractive.

An important and unexpected result of using any sound absorbing materials is not just that they absorb sound but that they also reduce the amount of ‘echo’ and ‘sharpness’ in the tone: this seems to affect the level and length of ‘bark’ possibly because there is a lower level of satisfaction for the dog making the noise.

It is likely that in the future kennels will be enclosed in the equivalent of an agricultural barn which will be virtually soundproof and provide both kennels and exercise areas using entirely modern materials which are easily cleaned and very long lasting. If dogs can be fed inside rather than outside in their runs, this immediately reduces a great deal of noise: after they are fed they are much less likely to bark once they are let back out into the fresh air.

The surface of runs has always been controversial. Clearly they must be easily cleaned and there have always been concerns about the transmission of disease although it could be argued that as all dogs coming into kennels should be fully vaccinated this should not be a problem. However, grass runs become muddy, sand when dry gets everywhere and when wet is worse, concrete does not do paws any favours (even the hardest wearing paints do not last long) and gravel, too, is hard work. Some people have found slate gravel works well. I have also seen recently carefully constructed and well drained exercise areas which are covered with artificial grass and this is proving surprisingly hard wearing and remarkably effective.

David Cavill is a consultant to the pet industry. He has owned and managed both a large and a small boarding kennel and cattery and has been deeply involved in the training of kennel staff. He re-wrote Running Your Own Boarding Kennels based on Sheila Zabawa’s original publication and wrote (and is the tutor of) the Diploma of Kennel Management, a distance learning course administered by the Animal Care College (www.animalcarecollege.co.uk). He is the administrator of the National Register of Boarding Kennels and Catteries (www.iboarddogs.uk), the National Register of Groomers (www.igroomdogs.uk), the National Register of Dog Trainers and Canine Behaviourists (www.itraindogs.uk) and the Register of Accredited Petcare Professionals (www.accreditedpetcareprofessional.org.uk)

 

 

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