By Nan Arthur, San Diego and Ventura, CA Dog Walking Academy instructor and owner of Whole Dog Training
As a dog trainer, I can attest that many trainers and behavior experts wish there were some sort of dating-like service to help them find the perfect match. Not for dating, of course, but to help connect with experienced dog walkers and pet sitters for the invaluable service you can provide when dealing with specific training and behavior issues. Dog walkers would benefit from such a service, too, to help find qualified trainers to assist when you’ve let a client know some extra help is needed. And everyone wins from the referrals such networking brings.
Unfortunately, finding competent professionals can be challenging in an unregulated industry. Here are some tips for successful industry “dating.”
Finding the Match
Long before online dating services were abundant, people had to meet, get to know each other, test the waters with dinner, maybe a movie, and then decide over time if the relationship should move forward. Finding trainers and behavior experts who fit the needs of pet care professionals, and vice versa, is a similar undertaking.
Start by constructing a list of open-ended questions you need answers to (think of this as setting up your dating profile), interviewing prospective trainers (the dating stage), and finally getting and contacting references to find the behavior professional who’s the right fit for you. It’s a bit of work, no doubt, but your business, your clients, and their dogs will be affected in the long run, and that makes it time well spent.
Fortunately, there are a few organizations that help to simplify the process so you can begin the without quite as much stress—whichever side of the profession you’re on:
For the dog training/behavior community looking for pet care pros, dogbiz is the first on the list. dogbiz developed the Dog Walking Academy, an international program which educates and certifies dog walkers and pet sitters with a three-day, hands-on program that includes safety, business practices, first aid certification, and positive reinforcement training practices for leash walking and more. Graduates are held to an agreement that includes humane training equipment and handling practices, helping force-free dog trainers find pros to support their positive training practices. Pet Sitters International is another organization that offers membership and insurance, but they don’t vet their members, so careful interviewing is important.
For pet care professionals looking for support and referrals by connecting with dog trainers and behavior experts, there are several organizations to get you started. The Karen Pryor Academy has a list of certified dog trainers in the U.S. and around the world, and the program’s certified training partners also sign an agreement to use and endorse only positive methods. Other resources include the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, an organization that certifies animal behavior consultants who adhere to humane practices. The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers certifies both professional dog trainers and behavior consultants, using the same sort of humane guidelines.
Each of these organizations will point you toward qualified people you can refer to when the dogs in your care require training or behavior modification.
Benefits For All
Dog trainers and behavior experts often deal with dogs who need more than just the typical hourly training appointment. As part of our training plans, we often recommend more exercise, or ongoing visits due to separation anxiety, house training, medication visits, and more. If the pet parents can’t provide what the dog needs to help them past their behavioral challenges, a qualified dog walker is a necessity to the success of the training program.
Having reliable pet care professionals to refer clients to for help maintaining training plans is a great asset to trainers. If you are that go-to professional for a trainer, it can be a boon to your business. Trainers are routinely asked about other services the dog owner needs, and if yours is the first name on that trainer’s list, you will reap the benefits even when you aren’t needed as part of a behavior plan. Trainers often share the names of trusted referral partners with each other, too, bringing the potential of even more business.
The First Date
An interview with a potential pet behavior professional should include a list of open-ended questions. These types of questions lead to “the story,” rather than simple yes or no answers.
A good example of an open-ended question would be, “What are your favorite tools in your equipment toolbox?” Contrast that with, “Do you ever use pinch collars?” The former gives you more information about the person’s preferred equipment, and you can start a dialogue about the reasons you don’t prefer pinch collars. By contrast, the latter results in a yes or no answer that might place the person on the defensive. It might even lead the person to hide important information from you.
If you’re hoping to team up with someone to handle the behavior needs of a specific dog, ask questions about the needs of that dog and his owner. Does this professional have experience dealing with the specific behavior issue the client is hoping to address? What will her approach be? Get the details you need by asking the right kinds of questions. If your goal as a walker is to improve the dog’s manners on leash, will the trainer invite you along to the session so that you are able to learn her strategies and reinforce the work she is doing during your walks with the dog? On the business end of things, ask about their liability insurance and what it covers. Do they carry bonding insurance for employees? What type of business entity are they—an LLC or sole proprietor? Do they have a current business license on file? People who run legitimate businesses should be able to answer these questions with clarity and confidence.
In addition, the Internet is your friend. Doing a name and business name search for the person you are considering is important. Check sites like Yelp, look at the quality of the website—no website? Move on! —and then ask for references from current clients and at least one peer, and call them to ask the same kinds of open-ended questions you would ask the potential partner.
Finally, if all looks good, schedule a meet-and-greet between the trainer and your client. This is critical. You are recommending a professional to handle issues that lie beyond the scope of your role as a pet care professional. Your client needs to feel comfortable with not only the person but also the person’s credentials, so be sure to provide their experience and any certifications to your client.
This dating process does require a lot of work, but if you are truly looking for that perfect match (and sometimes several for different clients and situations), taking the time to get the relationship right will benefit both your clients and your business.