Considerations for the City Dog: The Commandments of Working With a Service Provider

I worked with groomers, daycare providers, dog walkers, overnight care providers, animal control, and vets to come up with this cheat-sheet for working with a service provider. This can be found in my book, Considerations for the City Dog, out this spring. 

The Commandments of Working with a Service Provider:

      You should work in partnership with us, just as you should with your kids’ teachers and coaches. Yes, we are being paid, but in order for the relationship to work and your dog’s safety ensured, you have to work with us every step of the way.
      You need to share everything, everything, about your dogs with your provider, including that Sparky had French fries the night before, and that he once got away from you and disappeared for a week.
      You need to have reasonable expectations of what a professional can accomplish in the limited time we spend with dogs. A trainer can only get so far if you aren’t putting in the time to work with your dog after a class. A dog walker can give your dog a nice little outing, but your dog might still need to run with you when you get home. A groomer can only do a light trim if you are also brushing at home- otherwise, it’s “shave and a haircut-two bits!” A vet can only diagnose and give you a plan - it’s up to you to follow the plan.
      If you are going to frequent dog parks and other dog recreation areas, you need to learn what constitutes healthy (and unhealthy) dog play. “Just let them work it out” works in some cases, but not all cases. If you want to study on your own, pick up Patricia McConnell’s book on safe play[1] or look at Dr. Sophia Yin’s website on safe dog park etiquette[2] so you know when to intervene, when not to intervene, and how to diffuse a situation safely. You can also talk with qualified, certified trainers to help you.
      You need to know about common illness that spread when dogs play in groups, like giardia, coccidia, papilloma and kennel cough. You should be aware of the symptoms of these common ailments, recognize them, know how to prevent them, see a vet for diagnosis, get treatment when applicable, and report them to your provider.
       See a vet if your dog has diarrhea, signs of any skin infection, an ear infection, limping, and coughing. We are all dog service providers, but we are not all medical professionals, so please, please, please see your vet for any ailment. (I personally can’t tell you how many times I’ve told students “he’s limping. I think it might be his knee, but you need to go to the vet” only to have it be the shoulder, the neck, a toe, and in one really bizarre case, an ear infection.) We can only tell you that something’s wrong, but the vet can tell you what is wrong and how to fix it. We are all part of the same team. Put another way - while Tom Brady is a great quarterback, he’s not going to be an effective lineman. If you are not sure if it’s serious, call the animal hospital and ask if your pet should be seen.
      If your dog has diarrhea, please don’t bring it to the park, daycare, or participate in group activities.
      The same goes for pink-eye...
      ...and puppy warts.
      If you are calling a service provider into your home for help, please tell us in advance if the dog is going to jump on us, run away from us, bark at us, or try to eat us. It’s just a nice thing to know walking in.
      You need to be willing to call the Animal Control Officer when a situation arises that poses a threat to other dogs and owners. Additionally, you need to know what information to get from another owner if your own dog gets attacked, or is the attacking dog. Fear of quarantine is not justification to avoid calling animal control. You should have this number in your phone. When in doubt, call. 

Thanks so very much to Pat Dains of On the Run, a dog playgroup service in Somerville MA for helping me with this list!

[1] Patricia McConnell, Off-Leash Dog Play: A Complete Guide to Safety and Fun! (C&R Publishing, 2008).

[2] Sophia Yin, "Dog Park Etiquette: Rules to Help Dogs Get Along," August 23, 2012 (http://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/dog-park-etiquette-rules).