Who Can You Trust with Your Dog?

dog looking up at man pixabayDog owners sometimes need a little extra help. Maybe no one is home during the day and the dogs need to be exercised, or there are behavioral problems and training is needed.  Turning to a professional would seem to be the obvious solution, right? It is, but when it comes to hiring a professional to care for or work with your dog, it’s a case of buyer beware. Check out these two recent news stories:

A couple in California hired a dog walker for Olly and Maggie through Wag, a popular app for on-demand dog walking. After a few weeks, the dog walker, Adam Vavrus, called the couple about an incident that occurred during a walk.  Shortly after the call, the couple say, Ollie “threw up blood and just laid there.” The vet told them the specks of blood were signs of severe stress. When the couple went over their home surveillance video from the time of the last walk, they saw that Vavrus had shown up with four other dogs (something that is clearly against company policy). A few minutes into the video, he was seen approaching Olly from behind in a way that caused Olly to snap and bite him. Vavrus told an investigative news show reporter that he, “needed to test Olly and make sure he understood who the pack leader was.” He was also seen on video, in the course of 12 minutes, chasing Olly around the house, growling at him, kneeing him in the chest, and whipping him with a leash. The couple filed a police report and Vavrus was charged with animal cruelty. It should be noted that although Wag does an initial background check, an incident had occurred three months prior where several people at a dog park had called police to complain that Vavrus had been behaving aggressively toward animals there. There was no official complaint, so it’s likely that Wag had no way of knowing about it. Wag did cut ties with Vavrus and offered the couple a refund plus $100 credit toward future walks. I’m guessing those are never going to take place.

In a separate incident, a family sent their rescued dog Oreo to a Sit Means Sit franchisee. Annette Mansfield paid almost $2,000 to have Oreo live in trainer Billy Salcido’s home for a week. Salcido showed her the remote collar (a.k.a. shock collar, e-collar) that would be used, saying it would be set to vibration mode to get Oreo’s attention. When watching a video after the fact of Oreo being trained, Mansfield noticed a bloody wound on his neck. She panicked and demanded that Salcido bring Oreo back immediately, which he did. A veterinarian confirmed there were pronounced burn marks on Oreo’s neck, as well as raw sores on his paws and multiple wounds on his body. The family was traumatized, and so was Oreo. According to Mansfield, Oreo is now distrustful, skittish, and nervous around strangers, none of which he was before. When made aware of the incident, Sit Means Sit pulled Salcido’s license, refunded the training fee, and paid the veterinary bills.

These types of incidents are certainly not limited to these two companies. And I don’t believe that either of these companies, or any company that serves the public’s dogs, ever intend to cause harm. No doubt they hire people they feel will do a good job, or in the case of franchisees, people who will carry out the company’s mission in the prescribed way. And both of those offenders clearly did things that were not company policy or procedure. But how careful can a vetting process really be? It is standard practice to look into criminal records, and to root out sex offenders and people on global watch lists. But beyond that, can you really tell how someone is going to behave with a dog? In the cases of dog walkers or pet sitters, there’s the added liability of the person actually being in your home. Surveillance cameras can help if something happens inside the house, but that offers only limited coverage.

So, what’s an owner to do? When hiring a trainer, pet sitter, dog walker, groomer, or other canine professional, do your homework. First and best of all, try to get a personal recommendation from clients who have used the service before and have been pleased with it. Check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure no complaints have been lodged against the company or individual. Do a Google search to look for any news stories or complaints. If there’s a dog-related Facebook group for your local area, check out the comments about various professionals and post your own inquiry. You’ll certainly get an eyeful, both in recommendations and complaints. As far as pet sitters, mine, who I trust completely with my home and my dogs, is a member of and certified by Pet Sitters International. She is licensed and bonded, was recommended to me by a friend, and was able to provide references from other clients before I hired her. She is also certified in canine CPR, regularly attends seminars to expand her knowledge of dog behavior, and is certainly kind and gentle with my dogs.

As far as training and behavior modification, a personal recommendation is still best, but if you can’t find one, organizations such as the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, the Pet Professional Guild, and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants all have online trainer search functions. Although a license is not required for dog trainers in most U.S. states, you can find a trainer certified by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, where becoming certified requires a certain level of experience, knowledge, and hands-on experience, depending on the level of certification.  But regardless of which search tool you use, speak to the potential trainer yourself and ask questions that go beyond pricing. You can ask about experience, but keep in mind that just because someone has 30 years of experience, it doesn’t mean they’ve evolved in that time. It might, however, weed out brand new trainers who might not be equipped to address more serious behavior issues. More importantly, inquire about training methods, and ask specifically which tools the trainer will and will not use and for what purpose. I also suggest asking, “When a dog is learning a new behavior, what would you do if he doesn’t comply?” The answer can be very telling. Answers along the lines of, “You just have to show them who’s boss,” for example, beg the question of how exactly that would be accomplished. My own approach to training is to set dogs up to succeed by teaching them in gradual increments. If a dog doesn’t comply while learning a new behavior, we go back to the step at which the dog was successful and build smaller steps from there. If a potential trainer gets their hackles up at these kinds of questions, move on. Ask too roughly how long the trainer thinks it might take to address your dog’s issues.

If your goal is to get your dog into a group class, watch the trainer teach class a few times before signing up. Any trainer who won’t let you do this should be crossed off your list. As far as board and train, be very, very careful. I’m not saying there aren’t good board and train facilities or individuals out there—there definitely are. But any time your dog is going to be not only out of your sight but out of your care completely, caution is warranted. (It’s important to understand too that even with board and train, you’ll still need to continue the training when your dog gets home.) Again, personal recommendations are best, but even then, interviewing the trainer who will be assigned to your dog is a must. Ask the previously mentioned questions and again, check for complaints against the company and do further research online. Ask whether you can watch the trainer work with other dogs before leaving yours in the facility’s care, and ask whether there will be a live feed or at least video of the training that you can monitor. Without any way to monitor the training, I would be very hesitant to leave a dog in anyone’s care.

Of course, anything could still happen with an individual who belongs to a reputable professional organization or works for a reputable company, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect on the organization or company as a whole (unless it seems to happen over and over to a particularly company, in which case, steer clear). And it’s true that there might have been no way for the owners to have prevented what happened in the two cases mentioned above. But in general, it is still incumbent on owners to check things out as thoroughly as possible, just as they would with a child, rather than blindly trusting any service professional with their dog. Above all, trust your instincts. Even with all the right credentials, experience, and everything else seeming perfect, if you get a bad feeling about someone, run the other way. There are plenty of good, qualified, ethical professionals who would be happy to have your business.
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You can find my books, seminar DVDs and blog at www.nicolewilde.com. Don’t want to miss a blog post? Subscribe above and be notified by email of new posts. You can also sign up for my Training Tips Tuesdays by going to www.nicolewilde.com and clicking on Join Nicole’s Inside Scoop List. You’ll get free tips on training and behavior weekly! You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

7 Responses to Who Can You Trust with Your Dog?

  1. k9muttblog says:

    As always excellent article–

    We recently in my small town had just such an incident that ended tragically. This family was going out of town. They made arrangements with someone to watch the dogs, come to the house several times a day. This was over the New Years week. Well the person NEVER went to the house, the dogs were either let out or somehow got out. A beautiful GSD and a Boxer. Well after using drones, walking miles , flyers etc. they were found. They had gotten over by the railroad tracks and had been hit and died. They were found about a week after the death. The family is devastated and will have to live with the fact they did not do enough homework or checking to see if the dogs were safe.

  2. puppyluver8 says:

    Thank you for posting this for all to see. A great service you have done here.
    Alot of sickos out there, just ask the dog rescues. Have known friends w/good experiences w/dog sitters, trainers. But not me, never again.
    These people (do we even call them people?) should be prosecuted. We need stiffer laws/penalties!
    Find a good, reputable boarding kennel w/owners on sight. Big indoor/outdoor runs, a bigger yard to play/exercise. Even if you have to travel a bit to find one, as I do. Worth it. And…do not leave them there too long. Dogs get depressed when owners are gone too long. Take road trips and take them with! Much more fun.

  3. martie13 says:

    I’ve only had 2 occasions to leave a dog, both for about week. The first was only 2 weeks after getting a 12-week old puppy (which was an unplanned adoption when an acquaintance dropped by with his dog’s puppies who needed homes – I couldn’t resist choosing one). I already had a trip planned so I asked my 22-yr. old daughter to take care of her. When I returned home I could tell by the condition of the room and bathroom where the pup was confined that she had not been adequately cared for. My mistake for depending on an immature, carefree young person to be conscientious and unselfish. The pup was fine but I worried that she was traumatized to some degree.

    The second time (10 yrs. later) I placed this same dog in my vet’s boarding facility. Since I trusted the vet practice completely I did not do any research on their boarding facility nor did I feel any need to check on my dog during the 4 days that I was gone. BTW, this was the occasion of the same daughter’s wedding 150 miles away at a beach location. Everything turned out fine and I had no indication or bad feelings about the care my dog received.

    After this article I now feel guilty of being too trusting and not doing my homework in advance of these occasions. This has been an eye-opener for me and I will certainly do a better job in future. I hope many people read this so they are made aware of the risks of not doing all they can to prepare for getting help for their dogs in the situations outlined.

  4. yaydogblog says:

    The National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (www.nadoi.org) also has a trainer search function and our certification is very rigorous and practical. Thanks for helping educate people, Nicole.

    • wildewmn says:

      Thanks, yaydogblog. I was thinking more in terms of solving behavior issues rather than training obedience, but I appreciate you mentioning it and now people will see it here in the comments. 🙂

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