More than playing with puppies: the reality of working with dogs.

If you’ve ever worked in a profession that involves dogs – training, grooming, boarding, day care, shelter, vet office – you’ve probably heard this a million times: “So you just play with PUPPIES all day?! That sounds like so much fun!” And that does sound like fun, right? Imagine laying on the floor with a dozen puppies crawling all over you for 40 hours each week (and getting paid for it). If only that was our reality.

The vast majority of us get into this industry because we love dogs. If you’re thinking about pursuing one of these professions, you probably love dogs, too. There’s so much more to it than just playing with puppies, though. If you’re wondering if the dog industry is right for you, take some time to consider these aspects of the job.

It’s hard work.

While this varies depending on what type of profession you’re in, many dog jobs are physically demanding. Many professions require being on your feet all day (and usually on concrete – it’s hard to get dog pee out of nice, cushy carpet). You may also need to be able to lift a medium or large dog, carry things like large bags of food, and be able to bend/crouch/kneel throughout the day. If any of these things are difficult for you to do, take some time to do some additional research and speak with a few people who are currently in the profession of your choosing. Someone with hands-on experience will be able to give you the best idea of what a day-in-the-life will entail.

You will get dirty.

And you’ll probably get poop on you at some point. Or a lot, especially if you are working at a daycare or in a shelter. You will go home covered in hair, slobber, and probably some unidentifiable substances, smelling like dog. In fact, you will likely get so used to all of these things that you won’t even notice them anymore… until someone points them out to you (for some of us, this is actually a perk!).

You’re going to run into some ‘difficult’ dogs.

Dogs are individuals. Every dog has his own story, his own experiences that have shaped the way that he behaves around other dogs, people, and during handling (like grooming and vet care). Not every dog is going to be happy to see you. It’s extremely important that you are able to ,,identify dog body language quickly and accurately, and to be prepared to manage dicey situations safely. It’s also important to recognize that a dog who doesn’t like to be handled, doesn’t like other dogs, or growls/snaps/bites out of fear or discomfort is not a ‘bad dog.’ The patience to meet each dog where he is at and the ability to act compassionately towards every single dog will be vital to your success.

You have to handle the people, too.

If you’re considering a dog job because you hate working with people, I have some bad news. Almost every profession that includes working with dogs also includes working with people – and in some cases (especially in the veterinary, shelter, and training fields), working with people who are emotional, frustrated, or struggling. We are often meeting people when they are in crisis – their dog is sick, got into a fight with another dog, bit a kid. Just as we need to meet each dog with compassion, we have to meet each person with compassion. As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey; the ability to be kind, understanding, and patient with people, even when they may not be demonstrating all of those qualities in that moment, will take you far.

That being said, you’ll meet some of the most amazing people, too. People who love their dog to no end, who are willing to learn, and who are simply kind and friendly. They make your day easier and make up for the people who, well, don’t.

Emotional weight.

There are so many good things about working with dogs and helping them (and their people) live better lives. The success stories are something to be proud of; they’ll inspire you and keep you going. Sometimes, though, it’s not all sunshine. Meeting people who are struggling or in crisis can be emotionally draining, and seeing dogs who are struggling with things like fear and anxiety, or who have had horrid pasts, can be heartbreaking. Helping people make difficult decisions, like rehoming or euthanizing their dog, takes its toll on us, too.

If you’re going into a veterinary, shelter, or behavior field, it is so incredibly important to have a support system that understands what you’re experiencing. Developing healthy coping mechanisms, strategies for working through grief, making regular time for non-work (and non-dog) activities, and practicing self care can make all the difference.

Ways to get involved without making it your profession.

Don’t think a profession in the dog industry is the right fit, but still want to surround yourself with as many dogs as possible? Consider one of these options:

• Volunteer. Your local rescue or shelter is almost certainly looking for new volunteers. Volunteer duties can be as hands-on or hands-off as you like; while one person may love getting dirty walking dogs and cleaning kennels, another person may enjoy designing flyers or setting up fundraisers instead. No matter what you do, the dogs will benefit from your help.

• Become the neighborhood dog walker or sitter. While this can certainly be a full-time profession, too, walking and sitting are easy ways to spend quality time around dogs when it fits your schedule. You can choose to accept any dog that comes your way, or pick and choose dogs that you feel are a good fit for you. Making some extra cash is a bonus, too.

• Clean up your local dog park. Worried about being the weird guy without a dog at the dog park? Grab a garbage bag, put on some rubber gloves, and spend some time picking up garbage (or poop!) around the park. Help make the park a better place and get some puppy kisses, it’s a win-win!



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