If you’ve ever planned a vacation without your dog, you know that sinking feeling that comes when you have to leave him behind.

But leaving your furry friend at a kennel is infinitely easier when you know he’s in good hands, says Barry Kellogg, VMD, senior veterinary advisor for the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. Since kennels are not regulated or even inspected on a regular basis, it’s important to do your own research before leaving your pet behind. Here’s some expert advice on how to ensure your pooch is kept snug and comfortable while you’re away.

1. Do the inspection and sniff test

Ask friends, family and your veterinarian for a kennel recommendation. When you visit a new kennel, ask to see where the dogs are boarded. If officials decline your request, Kellogg says to consider this a red flag. “There’s absolutely no reason for a kennel not to let you see where the dogs are kept,” he says.

Make sure the enclosures, food and water dispensers are kept clean. Needless to say, the living and playing areas should not smell of urine. If your state requires kennel inspections (not all states do), make sure the kennel displays a license showing that they meet mandated standards.

Some kennels also go through a voluntary certification process established by the Pet Care Services Association. This evaluates them on 250 standards in 17 areas of pet facility operation. Once certified, the kennel is given a Voluntary Facilities Accreditation certificate. Ask to see the certificate if it isn’t already on display.

Related: 10 Ways to Take Care of Your Pet on a Budget

2. Ensure your little escape artist will stay put

It’s important to see what safeguards the kennel has in place to prevent your dog from breaking free. Kellogg says to look for a kennel that has fencing around the perimeter, so that even if your pooch gets loose, he won’t be able to exit the kennel’s grounds.

“If you’re worried about your dog breaking free from their leash when they are being taken for a walk, ask the kennel to use a double leash,” Kellogg says. “Dogs shouldn’t wear collars while at kennels since that can be a strangulation hazard.”

3. Plan for medical surprises

Consider what will happen if Biscuit or Butterball becomes ill or injured while you’re on vacation. Does the kennel contract with a local veterinarian and/or emergency vet? Do they have someone on staff that can handle minor ailments, such as a broken toenail or upset stomach?

“It’s the best case scenario if a kennel is able to work with your own personal vet,” Kellogg says. “They know your dog, they have his records and your dog will feel more comfortable being treated by someone he knows.”

If your dog is older or has health concerns, you may want to look for a local veterinary office that also provides boarding care.

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4. Ask about safety alarms and emergency protocol

Does the kennel have smoke detectors, a fire alarm and a carbon monoxide detector? Ask the staff how they handle emergencies. Is the kennel staffed at night, or does someone live nearby who can respond in the event of an emergency?

“It’s important to know if someone will be on the premises, or if they are at a nearby house and will be checking in at the kennel at regular intervals,” Kellogg says. “Some kennels have motion detectors and also have web cams set up so that staff, and even the animal’s owners, can check on pets.”

5. Guard against dog flu

There’s nothing worse than returning from vacation and finding a sick dog. Although most kennels require that dogs are up-to-date on their shots and have been given the vaccine for kennel cough (Bordatella), it’s still possible for dogs to get an upper-respiratory infection.

The problem, Kellogg says, is the Bordatella vaccine doesn’t protect against all strains of canine flu or upper respiratory infections. “Ask the kennel if they have had any respiratory-disease outbreaks in the last few weeks or month” he says. “If the answer is yes, look for a different kennel.”

Related: Yes, Your Dog Can Get the Flu

In addition to the Bordatella vaccine, ask your vet whether you should get your dog the canine influenza vaccine and a heartworm preventative before boarding him.

“Leaving your dog in a kennel can be hard for pet owners, but if it’s a good facility, it can be a positive experience for your dog,” Kellogg says. “For dogs who feel safe, spending time at a kennel is similar to going to summer camp.”

Linda Childers is a mom, pet-owner and California-based health writer.