The pet care industry is as dynamic as it is unique. New technology, new breeds, new standards of health; all these factors and more lead to an ever-changing field for the people who care for our pets. Dog and cat ownership has evolved dramatically just in the last few decades. More and more adults are choosing dogs or cats instead of children. And even those who don’t view their animal as their child often still have elevated standards for their pets. Leaving Spot in the backyard all day with a bone and dog house just doesn’t cut it anymore. And why should it? We’ve long known that dogs and cats not only depend on us, but share many of our physical and emotional needs. Pet owners also find that the love they give to their animals generally comes back several-fold.
The new demands and challenges of caring for today’s pets can make the industry an interesting landscape to traverse. The range of expectations from pet owners is likely larger than it ever has been. From busy professionals who only see their animals for a few hours each day, to millennial dog parents who want constant care and attention for their furry son or daughter. Through it all though, there are some consistent, reliable ways to make sure you stand out from the crowd as a pet care professional. Here are some strategies to be a superhero to pets and pet parents alike.
1. Remember the Details
Barkly walkers and customers are lucky to have all the important information about bookings right at their fingertips. From basic directions like pickup location and walk time, to more intricate details such as feeding instructions or route preferences, the app provides both sides of the platform with all the tools for success. Still, striving to remember these details can be the difference between the average dog walker and the superhero.
And no, you don’t have to have a photographic memory, even if you walk a lot of dogs. Jot pertinent information down, either in physical form (how archaic!) or in a simple note-taking app on your smartphone. Just the act of writing something down can often make you remember it. Pet parents might be delighted to see you remembered which park their dog likes, even though they forgot to put it in the notes this time. Dogs will appreciate your attention too. The less time it takes you to get their routine down, the more time they spend outside.
2. Be a Friend, Not Just a Service Provider
It may sometimes be awkward or difficult navigating relationships as a provider of a service. It’s easy to become friendly and close with someone you work for every day, but it’s often important to maintain a barrier of professionalism. Animals however don’t see you as a provider of a service but as a new friend. Take advantage of this to construct the most positive, rewarding relationships with your animals as possible. It can be so easy to move throughout a busy day just going through the necessary motions. You may have a streamlined approach to caring for pets that focuses so much on accomplishing the goals of the booking, it doesn’t allow for actual enjoyment of the time you spend with that animal.
When I enter the home of a customer, their dog often greets me with a wagging tail and happy, expectant eyes. I meet their excitement with my own, talking to them in that happy tone dogs love so much and scratching their favorite spot. A few seconds is all it takes for that dog to become extra pumped for our time together that day, and our walk has an air of a play date rather than just something we both have to do to keep on with our days. Remember, dogs respond to your mood; if you’re having a good time, they usually will too.
3. Always Come Prepared
As with so many endeavors in life, one of the biggest keys to success as a pet care provider is being prepared. When it comes to dog walking, preparedness is definitely one of the differences between the average walker and the superhero. Walking dogs demands that a person have a few basic things in their arsenal: poop bags, a towel for wet paws, proper apparel for the conditions outside. But there are a few extra items that don’t cost a lot but go a long way.
My personal favorites dog walking gadget is the trusty carabiner. I use them not only to keep keys organized and close at hand, but to add a level of security to my walks. Clipping the leash of a strong or overly exuberant dog to my waist or backpack means if the leash somehow slips out of my hand, that dog is still not getting away from me. Other items like spare tennis balls and collapsible water bowls can make an average trip to the dog park an extraordinary one. Always be thinking of what you can include in your bag to make both your and your dog’s experience more enjoyable and safe.
4. Be an Animal Scholar
In most cases, you don’t need an advanced degree to be a pet care professional. Still, a little bit of knowledge can contribute heftily to your confidence and capability as a pet care superhero. Building a mental library of breeds is one way to impress customers right out of the gate. BAM! Betcha didn’t think I would recognize your New Guinea singing dog did you?
More valuable though than learning specific animal appearances is learning their mannerisms. Take a course in animal behavior (many are offered online) or just do some reading in your spare time. Understanding a dog or cat’s body language can not only improve the animal’s experience, it can dramatically reduce the risk of you being bitten or scratched!
5. Plan for the Worst, Expect the Best
It’s definitely not fun to think of all the terrible things that could technically happen while you’re caring for someone else’s pet. The dog or cat could escape, potentially running into deadly city streets. The animal could get sick, leaving you panicked and conflicted. Or the animal could be hostile towards you, forcing you to make an uncomfortable decision to preserve your safety. Being aware of these scenarios and having a plan for them on file in your mind is essential.
Though you never expect for any of these things to happen while with your furry clients, the more animals you interact with over the months and years, the higher the likelihood becomes that something may go wrong. Being aware of the dangers of caring for animals, especially outdoors in a crowded city, is the first step towards avoiding them. Take time when crossing busy streets, keep dogs close to you, and be vigilant of things that may spook or agitate dogs, such as construction clamor or rats. And always keep an eye out for dangerous edible trash like chicken bones. Beyond these precautions, have a plan in the back of your head for when mayhem can’t be avoided. Have the number for the closest emergency vet saved in your phone and a plan for how to get there. Know the legalities of taking animals on public transportation or in cabs in your city. Having these details on hand could save an animal’s life.
It’s easy to be great at your job when you love it. Taking a second to remember why you’re a part of the industry goes a long way. You’re probably a dog walker, pet sitter, trainer or groomer because you love spending time with animals. Remember that you are being paid to hang out with other peoples’ pets and rejoice in this fact. You have one of the greatest jobs in the world — go out and be a superhero at it!