No Experience Required: The Dangers to our Pets
Do you love dogs and dream of working with them? What would you like to be? A dog walker? A dog daycare attendant? A groomer? A pet sitter? A dog trainer? An animal rescuer? You are in luck. You can start any of these businesses with zero experience and you can call yourself an expert. How do you become an expert? All you need is a love of dogs and be a natural with them. Seems like a good deal doesn’t it? It may be great for the thousands of individuals who do this, but it is dangerous for our pets and we need to protect them. We can no longer allow the physical injuries, stress, emotional turmoil, behavioural set backs and even deaths that are occurring as a result of this.
The pet service industry is not regulated. This means that anyone can call themselves a professional. However, there are growing groups who self-regulate and gain the recommended education, certifications and experience to ensure they are providing the absolute best in care for the animal(s) they are responsible for. They invest in themselves and their team and consider education a priority for their work. And these same people work beside a whole other group who are not certified, or are certified through an organization that requires minimal knowledge and sometimes zero hands on experience. And each of them can call themselves an expert.
As a business owner, I feel that all too often I need to stay quiet about what is really happening within our industry. It is viewed as unprofessional, callous or that we are just pointing fingers to take each other down. I’ve been working on this for almost a decade. I built up a business based on a set of standards to see a change within our industry. I don’t want others to cease their business operations, but rather, make the right decisions and gain the proper education to ensure we are not causing damages to the animals in our care. I want to see the entire industry elevate and provide the proper care and handling to our pets. I have witnessed the dog owning public educating themselves over the past decade and asking for more from those who call themselves professionals. It’s time we understand what a lack of education and training is really doing to our dogs. Let’s work together to help them, keep them happy and social and do everything to ensure we are not causing the physical and emotional injury that is currently prevalent within the pet care industry. There are many amazing pet care providers out there who have built their businesses around the principles that ensure your pet’s emotional and physical well-being. This post will be a collaboration on why it is so important that whoever you hire to interact with your pet understands how they communicate and to handle them without causing fear or stress.
Would it bother you to learn that dogs have died at facilities in Calgary? And that there are serious injuries occurring regularly? Does it make you more upset to learn that all of these were preventable? Yes, injuries will happen in daycare and are not 100% percent preventable, but there are some important business decisions that ensure any serious injuries are avoided, and small injuries should be very occasional, not the norm.
There are no certifications for daycare, but it is something we will be introducing this year. There are however, many ways for daycare owners, operators and staff to gain the education in dog behaviour. This should be mandatory in all facilities. Only a trained professional can adequately assess and monitor a dog’s behaviour to ensure daycare is appropriate for them and that their play is safe. Dogs should be grouped with no more than 12 dogs per group and be supervised 100% of the time by trained individuals. Dogs need to be segregated into appropriate groups. Large ‘open concept’ style facilities will increase the risk of injury as well as be detrimental to a dog’s behavioural well-being. It is common for 20 and up to 50 dogs to be housed together with only one team member supervising them. This set up makes it impossible to monitor all of the dogs and will ensure there are more dog fights and more stress amongst the dogs. The fallout from this for the dogs is high. If your dog begins to show behaviour concerns, it is directly related to this set up. It takes a highly socialized confident dog to cope in these environments, and there are very few dogs who match this profile.
I cannot imagine how confusing the dog training world must be for an owner. Everyone claims to be an expert, there are way too many certifications out there and too many methods on how to train. The vet and animal behaviour professional associations have outlined what to look for in a trainer, and this is what should be mandatory for anyone to call themselves a professional. My friend, and exceptional trainer, Kirsten Rose of Canine Minds and Manners graciously provided her input on the dog training part of the pet care industry.
“I look at myself as an animal care provider because for me teaching a dog to live confidently in a human world is just as important to their lives as husbandry and medical care. For a dog who is uncomfortable in human society the world can be a terrifying place and they can make bad decisions as a result of their fear and discomfort. For such an important aspect of a dog’s life why then are the very people who are hired to help dogs and their people go safely through life, completely unregulated?
You can Google dog training and any number of businesses come up, all claiming to be the best with this certification or that one, so which one do you choose? Do you know what a CPDT is, or how about a Master Trainer, a KPA-CTP? These are all certifications available in the dog training world and they mean different things, different types of training. It is critical for the safety and understanding of the public that we as an industry have a governing body that regulates the type of training, certifications and qualifications of our members. This way the people who are looking for assistance with their animals can be confident in the skills and experience of the trainer they are hiring.
We have chosen to have our trainers and volunteers complete the certification through the Certified Council for Professional Dog Trainers. This does not guarantee a certain type of training but it does provide a standard that is valuable to me in that I know what has been taught and I believe it to be a good foundation for the student. As a business owner and mentor trainer it is now up to me to mould that raw knowledge into a highly skilled professional trainer. In addition each of our volunteers and trainers works directly with either my partner or myself during a training period and then continues to work with a senior certified trainer for a period of no less than 2 years. In this way we are self regulating and bringing up the standards of the industry as a whole. As professionals we owe an exceptionally high duty of care to our clients and as a part of that duty we owe it to the public and ourselves to opt for a regulatory body that governs us in the same way as any other group of professionals.”
Majority of groomers are certified, but they do not learn about canine communication and handling. Many rush to get through the work, ignoring or unaware when the dog is feeling uncomfortable and stressed. This is likely to have an adverse effect on the dogs overall behaviour and causes unnecessary stress. Nikki Triggs is the owner of The Wag Inc., which is located in our Killarney location and she has built her business through an open door policy and welcomes clients to observe them during her work. Anyone can walk into her salon and discuss and observe the staff grooming dogs. Nikki is not about how many dogs she can fit into a day, but focuses on the time required for each dog to ensure they are comfortable and happy with the grooming. And this is not an easy job. Many dogs are nervous, have had previous negative grooming experiences and owners and workers want the job done fast.
Nikki understands that the time spent keeping the dog comfortable in the beginning creates a stress free environment for both the groomer and dog. She is a certified groomer and is always learning from others. She works closely with the dogma team and helps us with our kinderPUPS (the only dog daycare designed exclusively for puppies) to ensure they are introduced to positive grooming experiences. “Knowing a dog personally or being able to determine why they are stressed takes a lot of skill that is gained over time. When I ask my clients why they chose me, it’s always for the above reasons. Their dogs want to come in my shop. If they don’t, I take the time to figure out why and do everything to help them overcome it.” I hope this knowledge empowers you to question your groomer or move to another shop if your dog is continually stressed when they go. This is not acceptable and we can teach them that grooming can be safe and a positive experience.
Would it shock you to learn that some boarding facilities leave the dogs unattended overnight? Or they are left in kennels locked up for 8+ hours and then they are punished if there are accidents in the kennel overnight? Or that all dogs are just left to roam in large groups at all hours without proper rest and time on their own? Or do not have access to a large outdoor space with adequate surfaces that are safe for them?
Boarding is stressful for any dog as they are away from their regular surroundings and they have no idea if or when you are returning. Care should be taken to ensure this is a slow and calm transition and that they are given adequate time to rest and be away from all of the activity. The same standards apply for boarding playgroups that should be happening at daycare. It is impossible to understand why we would leave our dogs for long periods with anyone who has zero formal education on dog behaviour and training.
Pet sitting is typically preferred as the dogs can still be at home. However, pet sitters may book multiple families and divide their time. Or they may not be pet first aid certified so lack the knowledge to understand when vet care is needed or something is wrong. They may cause damage to your home, have strangers over while you are away or many other things that put your pets at risk. As a minimum, pet sitters should be pet first aid certified and be bonded and insured. Speak with former clients and ask for references.
Most of us wouldn’t even expect a photographer to understand canine communication. However, a photography session can be stressful to your pet, so in order to ensure it is enjoyable for everyone, a select number of photographers are doing their best to ensure they have a solid understanding to ensure it is a positive experience for everyone. Holly Montgomery, Owner of Brindleberry Custom Pet Photography is the only local pet photographer that we know of who takes this seriously. She shares with me why she views this as such an important part of her job.
“Anyone choosing to work with dogs as a profession, or part of their profession, has a responsibility to them to learn more about them and how they communicate to us. As a pet photographer, I often have to take a dog outside of their comfort zone. The best photos of people and their pets require them to sit closely together, and often the dog is hugged, kissed, and embraced by people.
Dogs are often asked to sit closely to one another for a more esthetically pleasing photo. For most dogs, these situations are uncomfortable but doable, as long as we are positively reinforcing them and are watching them carefully for their signals of discomfort. If the photographer is inexperienced in dog behavior, things could escalate into a snap or a bite. Not only does that put a damper on the session, but also it puts the dog in danger of being labeled and/or re-homed or even possibly euthanized through no fault of his or her own.”
The business of dog walking has grown at an incredible pace! It is a high demand service that provides a critical solution to many hard working individuals who struggle to find the time to provide adequate exercise for their dogs. Well-meaning owners hire individuals to take their dog out for them so they do not feel guilty when they cannot find the time to do so. Anyone can call themselves a dog walker. The dangers we are currently witnessing are large groups of dogs being taken out by only one person. Adequate supervision is impossible and the risk of injury and set-backs to behaviour increase greatly.
Jessica Hanna, Owner of Steel Arrow Canine Services, shares her thoughts on this topic as well, “Because the industry is largely unregulated, it is not only important to select experienced caretakers for your pets, but ones who have, or are willing to hold themselves to a high standard. Look at it as another form of insurance; you are choosing someone who is experienced, certified, and abides by all bylaws as well as maintains the highest industry standards. Your pet is going to be safer and better cared for.”
Anyone choosing to work with dogs as part of their profession, has a responsibility to gain the required training. Every individual should have pet first aid and have obtained reputable and thorough training on canine behaviour and handling. Each team member should have structured and thorough training. And the facility design, policies and procedures and business practices should all obtain the highest standards to ensure the priority is each dog’s physical and emotional well-being. Physical corrections should never occur, and should result in immediate firing for any employee that physically corrects a dog. It is proven that corrections have a high risk at causing emotional damage and detrimental changes in dogs’ behaviour. It is especially dangerous when untrained individuals are administering corrections. It creates unnecessary stress for all involved.
I hope that those reading this find this shocking. We want to see this industry change. We can no longer ignore what is happening and must all work together to better educate ourselves and do what is best for our pets. I know we all love the animals we work with, so let’s take the first step to show this by making the changes to ensure their time with us is stress free, safe and positive for everyone. As dogs become more a part of the family, the world is changing for them and can be confusing and demanding. Let’s ensure we are doing everything we can to ensure this is successful and enjoyable for everyone. Education is always the best first step to making the right decisions.