As the holidays draw near, I keep seeing more and more evidence of everyday normal folks getting pulled into using unprofessional people for dog services – whether it be training, boarding, dog sitting or walking, or anything.
Just because somebody has fancy letters after their name, a website, a business card, or even a location (and sometimes even good reviews) doesn’t mean diddly squat about their qualifications. And, perfectly competent dog folks come from every spectrum of the rainbow and in 1/10 instances even if they have various philosophies you might hit somebody who can really help you out.
So how can you tell a good dog professional from a bad one?
1) Their dogs
The dog professional should have their own dogs (if they don’t, please run away quickly). Somebody committed to the craft will make a way to keep dogs, even if it’s just one. If they don’t have dogs, you can’t tell what kind of dogs they produce. Look at their dogs – are they healthy? Not fat, coat in good condition (unless they are anciently old), nails trimmed, teeth in good order? Are the dogs “cool” – calm, collected, generally either friendly or aloof and under control? If the dogs are frantic and out of control, do you want somebody who can’t control their own dogs trying to work with yours? Is their whole household a big chaotic swirling mess of dogs without any order? You want somebody who can be calm, and orderly, and controlled with dogs, and if they can’t do that with their own, they can’t do it with yours.
2) Their handling of your dog
Can they handle your dog, even if it isn’t trained? Do they make your dog feel awkward or uncomfortable by getting into their space rudely? Are they “syrupy” to the dog excessively? (which is a dead ringer for somebody who is at best a passionate amateur and NOT a professional) If they let your dog jump all over them, drag them around on the leash, drag them out the door and generally treat them rudely, how can you trust this person to have the handling skills to prevent your dog from jerking the leash from their hands and running away, or shoving them out of the way and running out the front door? You want somebody who has handling skills – confident, cool, and in control of the situation even if your dog needs . . . well . . . work!
3) Their Perceptiveness
Finally, professional dog people watch dogs. They watch them, maybe not obviously, but all the time. They have excellent situational awareness and are perceptive about what the dog is doing to an almost paranoid level. Even when you are conversing with them, don’t be insulted if they drop the middle of a sentence or don’t make eye contact because they are watching the dog – that’s a GOOD thing. They are aware of other people in relation to your dog, to other dogs in relation to your dog, to what your dog is doing and how the situation feels. They step in if the feel the situation isn’t in control, and pay attention to what is going on around them. If a boarding facility employs eighteen year old girls with Iphones glued to their faces, don’t use them. Dogs die in the space where people aren’t paying attention to what’s going on.
It’s not that hard to spot a true professional, and as much as we love our family and friends, most of them aren’t true professionals. If you want your dog to be safe in the hands of another person, use somebody who is really invested in knowing dogs, and knowing how to house and work them safely.
After all, saving some money on boarding or training doesn’t make a bit of difference once your dog bolts out your mother in law’s front door and gets hit by a car, or strangles themselves overnight on a cobbled-together kennel in a nonprofessional boarding facility that has undertrained, noninvested staff, or gets ripped to shreds by daycare dogs in a facility run by somebody who “just LOVES doggies”.
Protect yourself. Protect your dog. It’s your duty.