Vacationers usually make their own travel plans early. But more often than not, they put off finding comfortable accommodations for the dogs they leave behind.
Although a boarding kennel may not provide the dog's accustomed ''run of the house'' life style, a reputable kennel is probably the safest environment for a ''vacationing'' dog. During popular vacation periods, last-minute phone calls may reveal that all local kennels are solidly booked. So more and more dog owners who want to travel knowing Charley is enjoying his vacation, too, seek kennel accommodations before they reserve their own.
When looking for a good kennel, ask another dog owner or inquire at a veterinarian's office for recommendations. Look for ads in your local newspaper and cull names from the ''kennels'' section of the Yellow Pages.
Once you have a list of prospects, start making phone calls. Find out about visiting hours. Some excellent kennels don't want visitors on rainy days, when dogs are inside and the building is too noisy for easy conversation. Others set specific visiting hours between kennel chores, when there's sufficient time for tours and questions.
If for any reason a kennel doesn't allow visitors, cross its name off your list. Chances are you wouldn't want your dog to stay there.
No matter how or through whom you find out about local kennels - nor how attractive their advertising appears - a personal visit is mandatory. A kennel that's adequate for a vet or acquaintance may not be good enough for you or your dog. An ad may read like the perfect dog establishment, but may list meaningless features and make misleading claims.
During your visit, see if the kennel's reputation or advertising holds up. Is the kennel room clean, dry, well-ventilated, and in overall good condition? Are dogs quartered in roomy, individual enclosures? This is where your dog will eat, sleep, and be housed on stormy days. Damp, abrasive cement floors are unsatisfactory.
Unless your breed cannot tolerate immoderate temperatures or your dog is unhappy outdoors, he should be out where he can run during the day, weather permitting.
You don't want your dog cooped up indoors with 50 or more dogs for a weekend, a week, or a month. So, investigate outdoor areas, even if the kennel advertises individual ''runs.'' Suppose an indoor kennel houses up to 50 dogs, but you count only 10 runs. When four of five dogs share a run, how much outdoor time is given each dog? Be equally skeptical about statements such as: ''We walk your dog through our park-like property twice daily.'' It sounds good, but it may indicate an inadequate solution to a shortage of runs.
Runs should be large enough for your dog to move around in. A 3-by-8-foot run may accommodate a Newfoundland, but he won't get any exercise in it. Runs should provide partial shade, with pea gravel or dirt underfoot. Good kennels have runs at least 3 1/2 feet wide and up to 40 feet long.
Ask about the kennel's feeding schedule. Will it provide two small meals a day instead of one big one, if that's what your dog is used to? If you provide your dog a special diet, will the kennel see that he gets it? Some kennels allow toys (except squeakies) and bedding. Others do not. You should also ask about security and veterinary services. Find out if the kennel accepts your particular breed. Some breeds do not take change well, are fence climbers, or generally make unsatisfactory boarders for other reasons. If you have a puppy, determine at what age the kennel will accept him. Kennels differ on what inoculations they require, so you should inquire about these as well.
Once you've selected a boarding kennel, make reservations. Scheduling several months ahead is not unusual for peak periods, including holidays and school vacations.
Be clear about the kennel's check-in and check-out hours and procedures. Most kennels want dogs to arrive by noon, so they can settle in before mealtime.
Check-out hours are usually anytime between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Some kennels are fussy about disrupting the dogs after they're quietly settled down for the night, and they strictly adhere to certain hours. On Sundays and holidays many kennels are closed and will not check in or release boarders. So, if you plan to return Saturday night and want your dog for the remainder of the weekend, try to have someone else pick him up for you at the appropriate time.
When you drop your dog off, leave a list of his idiosyncrasies. If he's boarded on July 4 and the sound of a distant firecracker makes him go bananas, the kennel should definitely know about it. If he doesn't like women, men, or birds, they should know about that, too.
Except for exclusive dog ''hotels,'' expect to pay up to $8.50 a day, depending on the dog's size. Ask about special rates for more than one dog and for stays of 30 days or more.
Like most services, cost does not guarantee quality. A superior kennel may cost less than a mediocre one. If the accommodations pass your inspection and those who care for the dogs appear to be knowledgeable, responsible people who like dogs, you'll enjoy your vacation more for knowing Charley's having a good time, too.