Sometimes, despite all our love for dogs, things don’t work out. It may be a bad personality match. (Most of us have met a dog or two who just gets under our skin, though we feel badly admitting it.) More often it’s a behavior issue that becomes too challenging or risky to manage—stranger aggression or active resource guarding or a tendency to want to chase after joggers, for example.
It’s never easy to decide to fire a dog, even when you feel you have no other choice. And most of the time, the decision making process is difficult and fraught with emotion. But making the decision is just the first challenge. (If you’re struggling with this challenge, our article When To Fire a Dog can help.)
Once you know it’s time to let a dog go, how do you actually do it? What do you say to the client? How do you say it?
Here are some tips for communicating with dog walking clients when you’ve decided you can no longer walk their dogs:
What to say
Firing a dog is an inherently uncomfortable situation for both dog walker and client. We positive reinforcement-based dog professionals don’t tend to like conflict, and we care about how our actions and words impact others. Plus we love the dogs and care about our clients. On the client side, most dog owners feel their dogs’ behavior is a reflection on them, so in addition to feeling disappointed or stressed by your news, they may also experience embarrassment and feel defensive.
The trick to letting a dog go gently is helping your client see how your decision is in their and their dog’s interest, and that you’re acting from concern, not judgment. It’s a balancing act of gentle diplomacy and firm, clear language to avoid misunderstanding and discourage clients from pressing you to reconsider.
How to say it
Let’s look at some sample language. Say Barney the dog’s resource guarding has reached a point where you no longer feel it’s safe or responsible to manage it. You might share your decision this way:
Dear [Client’s name],
This has been a very difficult decision, as I so enjoy Barney’s infectious energy and truly love him. But it is my responsibility to provide Barney the very best care and experience, and I feel I can no longer provide him the walking environment he needs.
As you know, Barney’s resource guarding me from other dogs has presented a challenge. Of late Barney has becoming increasingly agitated about other dogs approaching or interacting with me. It’s not uncommon for guarding to escalate, and I believe the pressure of having to share with three other dogs is becoming too much for Barney. We’ve had several snarky incidents recently, and I’m noticing that both Barney and his group mates are showing increased signs of stress during our walks. I feel badly about this for Barney and for the other dogs I’m responsible for.
I have thought long and hard about this and, though it breaks my heart, I believe Barney would be happier with a walker who provides single walks, where he can enjoy the full and undivided attention of his walker all to himself.
[Here you can provide a reference if you have one, or some advice on what to look for in a new walker. If you feel it’s safe and appropriate, you can also give the client some time to find your replacement. Either way, be sure to include the last date you will be picking Barney up, or let the client know if you are ending services as of today for safety reasons, etc.]
I want you to know how honored and grateful I am to have been trusted with Barney’s care. I will miss him. Please let me know if you have any questions or would like to talk by phone.
All my best,
Notice how this letter does several things:
- Clearly but gently communicate that the decision has made and is not open to argument.
- Explain the dog’s behavior without expressing judgment about it.
- Explain how the decision is best for the dog and/or the client.
- Provide specific details about how the decision will be carried out.
- Provide support resources to the client as possible and appropriate.
- Provide emotional padding to the client by opening and closely with positive statements about the dog and/or client, and by expressing true care for both.
This kind of careful, thoughtful language packages potentially distressing news in a way that is easier for clients to hear. Not only is this a kindness to the client, it also reduces the chances receiving a defensive or angry response.
Delivering the news
In most cases, sharing your decision with your client should be done via email. While telling your client face-to-face or via phone is more personal, it also puts everyone on the spot and increases the chances of an emotionally uncomfortable exchange, or even conflict. Texting is not ideal, as in most cases you’ll want to share more detailed context than messaging comfortably offers. Email provides for professional communication without the pressure of an immediate response, giving clients the time to digest your news.
Firing a dog is a hard decision for any professional dog walker, but getting your communication right can make it easier on both you and your client.