There comes a time when inevitably, you will need to trust your dog to the care of a pet professional. This could be a dog sitter, a groomer, a daycare, a trainer, or even a veterinarian. If you are anything like me, you love your dog. And I don’t mean the same way that you love your car. Your dog is a family member, a living being with thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
She relies on you to be her advocate, and to keep her safe.
She can’t speak and let you know how her experience was, nor can she make a decision for herself. It is up to you to make the big decisions for your dog.
Being a dog professional for over a decade, I hear horror stories all of the time that involve dogs being left in the care of people who just don’t care about their wellbeing. On Long Island, NY alone, I have learned of:
-Dogs left alone in facilities with supposed 24/hr care for 12 hours at a time
-Dogs left traumatized, for life, by abuse sustained at the hands of so called “professionals”
…and the list goes on and on. The bottom line is, just because a facility exists doesn’t mean it is a good one, and just because a person claims to be an expert, doesn’t make that reality. I recommend throughly looking at those we choose to care for our animals… especially those who will be alone with them. This is what I myself look for when I choose someone to be trusted with my pet.
1. Real Experience:
A 60 year old owning a dog for their entire adult-hood does not make them a pet professional with 40 years of experience. I can’t tell you how many professionals lie about years of experience! I estimate that half of all pet professionals do just this. Owning a dog yourself does not make you an expert. Working at or volunteering at an animal shelter, working in a professional capacity at an established dog business, showing dogs in various sports, working at a dog daycare… these are all important experiences. Owning a Pomeranian doesn’t count towards this requirement. Dog professionals are typically working with large numbers of dogs in a stressful environment. Someone with only ownership experience simply does not have the expertise to safely run a pet business.
2. Go with your Gut:
Many of us pet parents are naturally trusting. We think everyone loves dogs like we do. Newsflash! Some people are in it for the wrong reasons. Dog businesses can generate big money, especially if corners are cut. If you get a bad feeling about a pet professional, or feel uneasy in any way, please go with your gut and don’t leave your dog in their care. Remember, your dog won’t be able to tell you if they’ve had a terrible experience. Trust your instincts. Look for little white lies and strange discrepancies. Let your neurotic inner dog parent come out.
Modern pet professionals get an education, and they have certifications. Beware of professionals who think they know it all, and don’t maintain their certifications. Industry leaders enjoy the continuing education that helps them to help more people. They uphold strict guidelines in order to maintain their certifications. Find out what kind of conferences they go to, and where their passion lies. Do they at least have a first aid certification? Where did they learn about dogs and dog behavior? If they stumble over this question, beware. Most dog professionals attend at least one conference per year, and enroll in continuing education classes frequently.
4. How are the owner’s dogs?
Meeting a pet professional’s dogs can be eye opening. This isn’t to say that all great dog care workers own dogs. Many wonderful professionals do not! However, watching someone interact with their own dogs can provide insight into how they may interact with yours. Do you feel comfortable with how they treat, and speak about, their own pets? Are you impressed by the training of their dogs? Your pet professional should have a loving, kind relationship with their own pets especially. You should feel at ease knowing they will treat your dogs the way they treat theirs. If you don’t … run! Don’t look back!
5. How do they interact with your dog?
Does your dog like them? Are they confident with their interactions, yet kind? Carefully observe how they handle your dog, looking for any red flags such as jerking on the leash, being pushy, repeating commands, lack of care, or even an obnoxious disregard for your dog needing their space. Remember, staff are on their best behavior in front of you. If you see something you don’t like, imagine it ten times worse when you aren’t watching.
7. Social media and Reviews:
Google is your friend. Does your pet professional have an Instagram or Facebook that is indicative of their love of dogs and competence with them? Do they love dogs like you do? Check yelp, google, and Facebook for reviews. Reviews must always be taken with a grain of salt. Some business owners post fake reviews (if an owner reviews themselves watch out) and some negative reviews are just plain false.
8. Positive Only:
Look for someone who believes in using the least amount of punishment possible. Watch out for words like “dominance” and “alpha”. Leaving your dog with someone who believes in “alpha” theory is akin to leaving a toddler at a prison. Choose professionals who are well versed in positive reinforcement, and promise not to use squirt bottles, choke chains, or worse on your dog. Ask them to explain their training methods, and look for an easy confidence when they do so. If someone can’t explain to you how they would break up a dog fight, teach a dog to sit, or how they ensure their environment is a safe one, it’s because they don’t know what they are doing.
It isn’t easy finding someone you can trust with your dog’s wellbeing. With so many options out there, making the right choice seems daunting. This guideline will give you a boost the next time you are searching for a new dog professional. Stay tuned for our next article… how to choose a dog trainer!