Choosing a pet professional team

We get a lot of questions about who is the best in town – the answer has to be ‘it depends’.  The right pet pro for you and your pet may not be a fit for the next family.  The important thing is to be confident that the people you choose to put on your dog’s team will provide the level of care you expect.

We are always surprised how few people ask about our qualifications – and we work with people all the time who wish they had asked the first trainer or two they worked with more questions about how they work!  We know in many cases, knowing which questions to ask may be the challenge.  A real professional will welcome your questions, as an opportunity to demonstrate how they stand out.

No matter whom you choose, you always have a right to advocate for yourself and your dog – you can ask to stop, request an explanation, or seek a second opinion.  Your best friend is counting on you to keep them safe and happy – and if you or your dog don’t feel comfortable, speak up so that can be addressed.  Don’t accept being bullied just because someone is the ‘expert’.  Force/intimidation isn’t needed in interactions with dogs or people.   

When researching behavior professionals (trainers and consultants), know that anyone can claim to be a trainer and take clients.  Look at their experience, reviews, and if they have any credentials.  If they have a credential or are a member of a professional organization take the time to look it up and make sure they are an active member and understand how one gains membership/credential.  If someone claims to be a Behaviorist – they should have a significant credential  (ACVB or CAAB/ACAAB).  Without one of these credentials, claiming to be a ‘behaviorist’ is meaningless and should raise some red flags.  Here are some things you can ask when interviewing a behavior professional:

  • Can you explain your training philosophy?
  • What types of tools do you use, can you explain why they work?
  • What will you do when my dog does something right?
  • What will you do when my dog does something wrong?
  • What do you do if a dog is aggressive or fearful during training?
  • What type of education/certification/credentials do you have?
  • Do you carry liability insurance?
  • Do you work with mostly obedience and manners, or behavior problems?
  • What is your maximum class size (# of dogs/instructor)?
  • Have you ever worked with a dog you felt couldn’t be trained/helped?  What did you do?
  • What types of cases will you refer to someone else?
  • What other behavior professionals in the area refer to you?

Great medical care in the Columbus area isn’t hard to come by with the vet school at OSU.  Finding a practice is comfortable with a dog’s behavioral special needs, or will take the extra time and care to avoid using outdated restraint, handling and pharmaceutical protocols may be more challenging.  The good news is there is momentum focusing on the psychological wellbeing of both the pets and their people in veterinary medicine.  Ask to speak to the practice manage or a vet to gather more information.  You can ask if they do continuing education for staff to help reduce stress for pets visiting the practice.  Ask for some examples of how they do this when meeting with patients.  They may participate in a formal program, like Fear Free.  Vets can also be a great source of referrals to other pet pros – do ask them why they recommend a particular professional and what their personal experience with them has been.

  • Do you allow/encourage happy visits?
  • Do you use treats in your practice?
  • If my dog is too fearful/aggressive to do a procedure, what will you do?
  • Do you/your techs use low stress handling techniques?
  • Do you do anything else to reduce fear/stress or help pets feel more comfortable coming to the vet?
  • Are you comfortable helping me if I need to explore behavior medications, or do you refer out?
  • If my pet has to spend the night, are they monitored by a staff member?
  • Do you have emergency hours?
  • How long does it typically take to get a sick appointment (non-emergency)?

There are wonderful, low stress handling protocols to help dogs learn to enjoy grooming.  There are some groomers that take seriously the physical and psychological state of the dogs they see, and others who would rather just get by powering through and then fire a dog when they get too difficult.  If you plan to use a groomer, be sure your pet is in good hands – it is far easier to prevent than fix a handling concern.  If your dog already has behavior problems around handling and grooming – you want a team of a groomer and behavior pro who can work together to help resolve those problems.  Increased restraint just makes things worse.  The most important thing you can do, ask how the appointment went at pick up, every time – and get details and ask how you can help make things easier next time.  Don’t just take ‘fine’ for an answer.

  • What type of certification/training do you have?
  • Do you have liability insurance?
  • Can you explain what you will do during a grooming session with my dog?
  • Will you tell me if my dog struggles or seems uncomfortable at any time during their groom?
  • Do you use treats when grooming?
  • Do you allow/encourage happy visits?
  • Do you use grooming muzzles or other restraints?  How long will they be left on?
  • Do you do anything to reduce stress while grooming?
  • If my dog is fearful/aggressive what will you do?
  • If my dog is afraid of a grooming implement, what do you do?
  • How often does my dog need a professional groom?
  • Can you show me what matting feels like?
  • Will you demonstrate how to maintain nails/brush out the coat between grooms if needed?
  • Are you trained in pet first aid?
  • Are dogs ever left unattended?
  • How often do dogs get let out for potty breaks?  How are they taken outside?
  • When did you last attend continuing education?  What was the topic?

There is huge variability in boarding/daycare facilities.  Be sure to ask lots of questions, take a tour, and read up online about the facilities you are considering.  Clean and safe should be the first priorities – focus on those aspects, not how pretty they make it look for people in the lobby.  Open play isn’t a fit for every dog – your dog must enjoy lots of playful/pushy dogs and unfamiliar people.  Daycare is not a good place to socialize a dog, and is likely to create problems if a dog isn’t comfortable there.  A typical kennel may be a better fit for some dogs, but if they are fearful/anxious you may want to consider an in home option.  Look to see if the facility offers cameras – they can be a great way to check in.  Do look on your tour to see what areas are not covered, and ask when the cameras are available.

  • What are the minimum staff to dog ratios?  In open play, what is the max number of dogs per actively supervising staff?
  • How are dogs moved from place to place?
  • What training/certifications do the staff have?  How much training do they have in body language and behavior?
  • What is the dog fight break up plan?
  • What is your policy on dogs that bite (people and dogs)?
  • What is your policy on dogs that are too afraid to eat/interact?
  • When a dog does something wrong, how does the staff respond?  If they won’t stop doing the behavior what happens?
  • If a dog gets sick while at  your facility, what happens?
  • If a dog is injured while at your facility what happens?
  • What do you do to reduce stress for dogs in your facility?
  • Do you implement any tools (muzzle, choke chain, electronic collar, spray collar, spray bottle, air horn) to correct behavior?  Are there dogs in free play wearing these tools?
  • Do you do anything to encourage good behavior, or do any training with dogs during their stay?  If so what is your training philosophy?
  • Are treats/toys provided to the dogs while they are at the facility?  Are they given in the presence of other dogs?
  • Do big and small dogs have access to one another?
  • What protocols do you have in place to prevent bloat?
  • Do you carry liability insurance (especially ask of smaller/home run facilities)?
  • Will you feed my dog’s regular food?
  • Will you give medications?

Dog sitters are a good option for dogs that have fear/anxiety, young puppies, older dogs, or otherwise don’t do well in a kennel environment.  In many cases, if you have multiple pets, a sitter can also be more cost effective.  You also have the benefit of knowing exactly who will be caring for your pets – the same person should be available to visit.  Some sitters also offer overnight options.  Dog walkers do short visits during the day, and can be great for dogs that need a mid day break or potty let out, young puppies especially can benefit.  They don’t have to walk your dog, they can play in the home or yard – specify what activities you prefer.  Establish a relationship early, before you need services.  Walkers and sitters usually book quickly, especially around holidays.

  • Will you work with my trainer so we can maintain consistency in the handling/training of my dog?
  • Do you have employees, or are you the only sitter/walker?
  • What happens if you get sick and cannot come for a scheduled visit?
  • What is your emergency plan in a dog is sick or injured under your care?
  • What do you do if a dog escapes while in your care?
  • What certifications do you hold?  Are you a member of any trade organizations?
  • Are you certified in pet first aid?
  • Do you give medications?
  • Do you carry liability insurance/bonding?
  • Do you ever walk dogs off leash outside of a securely fenced area?
  • Do you walk dogs privately or in groups?
  • Do you ever take dogs to the dog park (you are liable for your dog’s behavior even if someone else is walking them)?
  • If a dog pulls on leash while you walk, what do you do?
  • If a dog has a potty accident while in your care what do you do?
  • What do you do when a dog in your care does something good?
  • Do you use equipment provided by the owner, or apply your own (if so what kind)?
  • What kind of training/handling philosophy do you use?
  • Do you update after visits?  How often?  How do you reach out?
  • If a dog is destructive in the home what do you do?
  • What activities besides walking do you like to do with dogs in your care?
  • How long does it usually take to schedule a pet sitting visit (ie if I have an emergency can I get in)?