The Dog Journal

Panel Discussion:

Building or Upgrading Your Kennel

So many Options, Tile or linoleum, enclosed or open runs, ground or den whelping, dry or wash down, and the list goes on and on.

If you’re looking at upgrading or building a new kennel, you might easily become overwhelmed with all the choices and options available, all the designs and features, and worst of all, all the opinions coming from the people around you. If this is you, you won’t want to miss this Panel Discussion, and take the opportunity to tap into the advice of the experts.

We’ve selected a handful of breeders, builders, designers, etc. that have experience and insight on this subject, and we’re excited to share it with you.

The Dog Journal June/July 2023


Expert Advice Provided by:

Jonas, owner of TruBuilding Design got started with building design & drafting after working for a general contractor for a number of years, and seeing the demand for more designers. After being involved in designing for a few years, he saw a major need for a designer who would specialize in dog kennels. Being a small breeder himself, and always looking for the next challenge, he decided to take this on himself. Although he still does drafting for a large variety of buildings, he is very passionate about helping dog breeders design custom, onsite kennels. Jonas is also active with PAWS (PA Animal Welfare & Safety) and is currently serving as an Expo Team Member.

Ivan and Barbie Ann Fisher, along with their family, own IBAR Canine Companions, and acquired their first Boxer in 2012 and their first Miniature Dachshund in 2013. They strive to find and utilize breeding stock with great temperaments, and that are free and clear of any genetic diseases. Their goal is to become better educated about breed standards, which in turn, can create a better customer experience. Having recently built a brand new kennel that meets the state and USDA requirements, they hope to become Canine Care Certified sometime in the future.

Ivan Stoltzfus, with Stony Meadows Canine, recently moved to a 135-acre farm in Northumberland County, PA and put up a new commercial kennel. For the last 5 years they have been specializing in mini golden retrievers and have now expanded into AKC cavaliers, golden retrievers, and the new AKC Biewer terrier. They also sell puppy supplies including whelping dens, and are open to kennel tours showcasing the GDM setup. 

Joseph and Sara Ann Miller and family, with Peaceful Valley Pups, have had a kennel ever since they married back in 1997. Long haired Dachshunds, Maltese, and Shitzus are their main breed, and their goal is to have a quality, healthy puppy when it arrives at its forever home. There are members of the OFCA and are currently serving on the board. Some of their best breeding practices include OFA certifications on their dogs, and having a vet come to their kennel on a weekly basis. 

Mel & Marian Lapp with Paw Tale Puppies (where every puppy has a story), specialize in raising high quality Bichon Frise and Boston Terriers. They started breeding in January of 2020 and have been dedicated to breeding to the standards of each breed. They are currently getting ready to break ground on their new facility and have put countless hours of consideration into the new building.

Framing beam of new house under construction home beam construction

When thinking about upgrading or building a kennel, where would you suggest to go and what would you do to begin planning for this?

TBD: The first thing that comes to my mind is, “Have a plan. Not just a basic plan, but a well thought through plan.” I cannot stress this enough. Hire a design professional or kennel consultant if you are not familiar with kennels and regulations. If you think you cannot afford to pay a professional to do the design work, you might be surprised. The time and material that your contractor will save when working off a blueprint, will probably more than pay for your design fees. 

If you wish to do the design yourself, do your kennel research first. Visit other breeders, kennels, kennel supply stores, etc. Invest in a pack of grid paper, ideally no less than 11×17 inches, and set aside a few hours a week for several weeks or months, to dedicate to this design project. Very important; draw your plans to scale with a ruler! An accurate design will save you a lot of labor and stress once you are actually building. 

Don’t forget the legal work! If you live in a regulated area with zoning, obtain a copy of the ordinances from your county, borough, or township. Make sure you can meet all the zoning requirements and will actually be able to obtain a permit for a kennel, before you get too far with the design. In some situations, a variance or special exemption will be needed to qualify. Please do not attempt this without a Land-Use Attorney! If you do, you risk getting yourself into a situation that is hard to back out of. 

IBC: Whether you are upgrading your kennel or building a new one, I would highly recommend to visit other kennels that were recently built or remodeled. If you’re building a new one, you probably want to go to your local township with an attorney representing you to help you get all of your permits. Also, make sure you get a professional kennel designer who knows or can research what

your state regulations are, and knows how you want your kennel as far as efficiency and the well-being of your dog.

SMC: Find a designer that specializes in kennels, and tour as many different kennels and kennel styles as you can. Join the PAWS organization or your home state’s breeder association and get them to review your preliminary plans before you finalize them. Talking to your state’s dog law enforcement officer can also be beneficial.

PVP: We have a lot of great kennels in our area here in Ohio, and a good way to get some ideas is to take the day off and go visit them. Take a few friends or fellow breeders, and gather as much information as you can. When building a new kennel, we had a lot of choices on who to hire to do the construction. We chose David Miller Construction to build our last kennel, but there are a handful of other contractors that would fit the bill as well. For the construction of the pens, we have always had a good experience with New Fab. Remember to include enough solid flooring to meet the ODA requirements.

PTP: Find out your state’s regulations, whether that be calling your state or local council group PAWS, ICAW, OFCA, etc. Also consider going on a few kennel tours and seminars throughout the states. While going through this process have a vision of how you want it. But be open minded. Your vision will be your foundation, but don’t be scared to make changes to your vision. By being open minded you will be able to grab new ideas from other breeders that you can implement into your vision. Do not be scared to ask questions. And always ask yourself, is this a good situation for my breed.

What are some features that you have in your facility that you wouldn’t want to be without?

TBD: One of the best features in our kennel is the fiberglass, sloped whelping floors from ROF. These floors can be custom built to any size, and have a 2’ diameter heated area in the center.


A small drain in the very center of the floor allows for drainage when washing down. These floors work nearly 100% to keep the puppies in the center of the floor until they are a few weeks old, eliminating smashed puppies coming from mom pushing them against the wall.

Another product that I do not regret investing in is the stainless steel kennel fronts from Tigworxs. They are easy to clean, and I don’t have to worry about them rusting or wearing out. In-floor radiant heat is also an investment that I have not once regretted. Not only does this provide maximum dog comfort, but it also allows me to quickly dry the floor after washing down the kennel, simply by turning the thermostat up for a few hours.

Credit card terminal. Is this a must-have? Maybe not, but would most certainly not want to be without one! Setting up to receive card payments may be easier than you think. I would recommend a wireless terminal. All you need is a power source for charging. Also, this will allow you to be mobile if the need arises, and the wireless models generally have more features, such as being able to text the receipt directly to your customer.

IBC: A narrow bottomed continuous drain system with water lines attached for easy cleaning. It is also money well spent to invest in a good wall and floor covering that cleans easily and cannot be easily destroyed by your dogs.

SMC: In my opinion, the GDM whelping setup that we have is the best whelping setup you can find. This gives us a much quieter and cleaner facility. We also have a spacious lobby with couch and a “living room” look where we can take puppy pictures inside if it’s cold or rainy outside. One thing we don’t have yet but would like to add in the future is a puppy dryer cabinet to blow-dry the puppies after bathing.

PVP: One of the things that we like in our facility is our G.O. thermal cooling system, and we run it 24/7. It keeps the kennel cooler in the summer, and in the winter the airflow always stays the same. We have definitely experienced quality air control with this system. The play area is also very important to us for socializing puppies and taking videos and pictures of them.

PTP: Having your whelping area separated. This will give your mothers a more peaceful environment, during such an important stage of the puppies and their mother’s lives. Having a vet room is huge, and this area will be dedicated to being a spot where we can have everything in 1 room if we run into different situations, and will allow us to have supplies ready and correctly stored.

We can’t help that we will run into emergencies, but we can help better handle these emergencies if we are prepared for them. Outside runs should have steps and ramps. I believe I will see benefits for this in different ways, like overall better muscle tone, a better mind development for the dogs, an entertainment attraction for the dogs, and it will also help with the rehoming process. Remember, a happy dog will be a healthier dog.

What are some things you would keep in mind when designing the area where your new customers meet their puppies?

TBD: I always recommend a private office, as well as a customer service counter. Keep all your bookwork in the private office, and bring it to the service counter as needed, when doing transactions. 

An important feature is a separate play pen or exercise area where you can put your puppies when the customers come. This will keep any puddles or piles confined to one area, instead of anywhere on your rugs or in your retail area. Keep your floors clean! The first thing a lot of people do when they see a litter of puppies is to sit down on the floor and play with the puppies. Make sure you have a floor covering that is easy to keep clean.

IBC: A well-lit, spacious room outfitted with a table, some chairs, and possibly even a couch. Put up some decorations, frames etc., anything to create a welcoming, home-like condition. I would also recommend to go to any measures needed to eliminate echoing in this room.

SMC: You definitely want a heated well-lit area. Again, a couch, an area rug, maybe even a recliner, anything to give it a “homey” feel. Also, a large puppy playpen where the children can go in with the puppies, or just let the puppies run loose in the room. You can even have a counter with extra leashes, chew toys, etc. for the customers to buy if they wish. A small desk and a few office chairs where you can sign paperwork makes it look more professional.

PVP: Having plenty of room where your customers can get down on the floor and play with the puppies is important. This should be in a separate room, away from your other dogs.

PTP: Be creative (You have 7 seconds to make a first impression). 

Keep it simple but interesting. Have an exercise pen in this area for your puppies to be in when your customers come. We have to realize some of these children have never had a puppy before and will be frightening when a few puppies come and start jumping all over them. This will give the option for them, where they can just be outside the pen and watch and pet the puppies, or they can also jump into the pen and play with them. This will allow the customers to stay at their comfort level.

Would you recommend an exercise yard, and if so, what would you like to see in it?

TBD: Why would you need an exercise yard? Actually, this is very important if you want to have your dogs and puppies socialized! Having well established grass or artificial turf will help keep your canines clean while they romp and play. Scatter the yard with some durable chew toys, and if you can afford to take it to another level, add some playground equipment. You will be amazed at how much the puppies love to jump, slide, and romp around on these! I promise, your puppies will sell better, as they will be better socialized, and you will be able to get sharper, perkier pictures for your online listings.

IBC: This is something that we are anxiously waiting to implement in our kennel. I see this as being one of the best investments you can make for your dogs and for good public perception. Your dogs will appreciate an area large enough so that they can run at full stride before needing to make a turn. An elevated platform with ramps and steps to enter and exit at their pleasure helps to prepare them for rehoming, as they will very likely be living at a home with a long flight of steps. Also don’t forget the chew toys and treats.

SMC: Absolutely you want a play yard! Our outdoor runs are 10 feet by 24 feet. Yes 24 feet! We still want to fence in an acre of grass area beyond that to let the dogs out for a daily run to burn off some energy. Install some playground equipment with stairs, tunnels, ramps, etc. and a bunch of stuff to chase and chew on. It has been proven that giving dogs and puppies different levels to walk and climb on, different surfaces i.e., grass, gravel, concrete, etc. enhances their development and quality of life.

PVP: Yes, we would recommend an exercise yard! We have three exercise yards, but have not used then a whole lot due to not having the right fence installed, leaving gaps for the small dogs to slip through. So always keep in mind if you have small dogs, you need small fences. We are in the process right now of putting up a new fence, so we are looking forward to using it more this summer. We put a rock garden in, and are also adding a Rump and Play House, and other toys for the dogs. It’s also good to make sure your dogs have access to water in the play yard.

PTP: Definitely! Who doesn’t like seeing that look of pure joy on dog’s face running around and interacting with other dogs that are not their roommates. I believe your play yard will be key to a number of things. A better kennel environment, an easier rehoming process, and a happy dog will be a healthier dog. Consider having a variety of different objects. Ramps, Steps, Playhouses, Tunnels, and much more. Be creative.

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