I’ve talked from time to time about people who are involved in animal care – my vet, Dr. Stephen, in particular – and I’ve also offered up the opinions of trainers and animal behaviorists. Most recently, in 19 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Dog Walker, I talked a bit about professional (and not-so-professional) dog walkers. In that article, I also pointed out why I avoid certain dog-related occupations – specifically, the ones that are going to cause me to fall in love with someone else’s dog and want to take him home with me, or the ones that would involve having to see injured dogs or participate in euthanizing.
So, I guess that takes me out of the running of pretty much any job that would bring me into contact with dogs. My hat is off, though, to anyone who wants to make a career out of working with dogs. There are a lot of jobs out there for that type of person. Some require a high level of knowledge and a lot of commitment, and others do not. So take a look at the following 11 jobs for people who want to work with dogs; you just might find your dream job on the list!
1. Dog Handler
Not everyone loves showing, but the fact is a lot of people do it, and owners may not have the time – or even necessarily the inclination or the ability – to do their own showing. So, they hire handlers.
As a dog handler, you could end up traveling every weekend to one show or another, and you might be going with dogs of the same breed, or dogs of different breeds. You could be working with a dozen or more dogs, or just a few.
Your clients pay you to take their dogs into the show ring. If the dog wins best in show, best of breed, or a group placement, you will also be paid a bonus. Clients are also expected to pay your travel expenses (or a part of the expenses if you are serving more than one client who is also contributing to your expenses) including motel fees, kennel expenses, etc. If the dog is living at your kennel periodically, the client will also pay boarding fees. If you are working with assistants that you have hired, their expenses are your responsibility.
Working as a dog handler can be very rewarding, but it is also a lot of work. It is your job to make sure that when the dog enters the show ring for his or her two-minute examination, the dog is in top physical shape, has a healthy coat, feels confident and is able to stand and gait properly. Also, if you’re thinking “That would be great work because I like dogs so much better than people,” I hear you, but keep in mind that you’ll also have to work with owners, negotiate contracts and coexist nicely with other show entrants.
Generally speaking, though, if you like dogs, dog shows, travel, and aren’t troubled by long hours, you might to very well as a dog handler.
2. Dog Show Judge
To be a dog show judge, you need to know a lot about dogs. Generally, you get that knowledge by breeding and/or handling, and learning how to identify what makes a champion in one or more breeds. Most judges are very knowledgeable in more than one breed.
You might also begin as a steward at dog shows. This is a volunteer position, kind of like an internship, and you would be handing out armbands, calling dog into the ring, and ensuring that the prizes and ribbons are at hand when needed by the judge. Then as you learn, you can get some practice by judging at matches, which are shows for inexperienced dogs and puppies. No points are actually awarded at matches, so nothing you do will affect a dog’s chances at a championship.
You won’t become a judge overnight, either. The AKC will expect you to have been involved in showing for at least 10 years, have produced at least four litters and two champions from a single breed during that time.
You are not going to get rich being a dog show judge. In fact, all you’ll earn is a small fee plus your travel expenses. I thought it was worth throwing in here, though, because a lot of dog handlers do eventually want to become judges. Keep in mind, though, handling can be a job. Judging is a hobby.
3. Dog Groomer
I love grooming my dogs, and don’t mind the time doing it in the least. Of course boxers are a short-haired breed, so usually all it takes is a quick brushing and rarely, a bath. So I don’t judge anyone who takes their dog to a groomer.
Dog grooming enables you to help other people keep their dogs in good condition. If you want to be a groomer, you will need to be able to handle all types of dogs – young and old, quiet and squirmy, gentle and aggressive. To become a groomer, you will need to learn the best ways to bathe, comb, brush, shave, trim, clean ears, clip toenails and deliver flea treatments. You will also need to learn the special requirements that certain breeds may need if they are headed for the show ring.
As a professional dog groomer, you could work for a grooming service, work out of a veterinary clinic or pet shop, or set up a grooming service in your home or a mobile service out of your vehicle. Dog groomers can make a decent living, but need to be prepared to do work that is hard on the shoulders, hands and wrists.
4. Boarding Kennel Worker or Operator
Boarding kennels really tend to fill up in the summer months and also during winter school holidays as people make family travel plans. This is where an enterprising student with a love for dogs can make money during the time off school, and also learn some of the basic procedures when it comes to running a good boarding kennel. Workers will do everything from feeding and walking to cleaning out cages and grooming.
If starting up a boarding kennel appeals to you, then you should have a good business sense and good people skills (after all, you will probably depend a great deal on repeat business and recommendations). Of course the most important things are that you care about dogs, and you keep a clean kennel. Remember, too, that boarding can be a sporadic business; one week, you might have only a few dogs, and the next you could be overrun. So don’t assume that a good week is the start of a continuing trend, and keep a close eye on the budget.
5. Dog Trainer
As a dog trainer, you could teach dogs, or dogs and owners together. Perhaps you might offer group obedience classes where owners learn how to teach good manners to their dogs. Or, you might specialize in training for agility competitions, or for herding, hunting, schutzhund or search and rescue. You might also specialize in training dogs that have behavioral issues.
You might operate your own business, or work for a veterinary clinic, pet supply store, animal shelter, police department or boarding kennel. A good way to learn how to train is to get started with your own dog, reading lots of books and articles, or by taking him to obedience class. If you can a professional trainer to apprentice with, you can learn a great deal about what it takes to get started in this exciting career. Depending on how good you are, and how hard you work, you can make a good living as a dog trainer.
6. Pet Supply Store Operator
Manufacturers of dog food and supplies always need stores to stock their products. Some companies will specialize in specific types of food or products, and others may make a huge range of pet supplies. So, your pet store can be as small or large as you want it to be.
You could purchase a franchise, or start up on your own. Whichever avenue you choose, you’ll be assured of meeting a lot of dogs when you operate a pet supply store.
7. Veterinary Medicine
If you don’t mind studying hard, for a long time, then you could become a veterinarian. You’ll need a four-year undergraduate degree, and then four more years of veterinary college. If you want to specialize, you will also have to take extra training. If working with dogs is your goal, then this line of work will definitely bring you into contact with a lot of dogs (and other animals as well), but not always in the best of circumstances. I talked about this in Veterinarians, Vet Techs and Job Burnout, pointing out that some of the things vets are called upon to do can tear your heart out. However, it can also be a very rewarding career, both in terms of job satisfaction and income.
You could also consider being a veterinary technician if you don’t want to commit to a minimum of eight years of study. Vet techs study for two years, learning how to do a number of tasks including preparing animals for surgery, drawing blood, taking x-rays and performing other tasks that make animals comfortable during their stay at the animal hospital. Veterinary technicians are not often highly paid, and again, they do see some terrible things, but they are in it for the love of dogs and other animals.
8. Dog Walker
This is a great entry-level position for any young person who loves dogs and enjoys helping people. You’ll make a bit of pocket money if you start out by walking a neighbor’s dog while he or she is away on vacation, and might ask for recommendations to other people who need dog walking services. If you’re particularly ambitions, you could even eventually parlay this into a full-time business where you have a number of dog walkers working for you to serve your clients.
9. Artist or Crafts person
A lot of the time, people who are artistic are also very much in tune with animals, and you will often see artists travelling the dog shows with wares like jewelry, sketches, paintings, fashion items and more. I’m not sure how lucrative this type of work is, but it sure sounds like fun!
If you’re handy with a camera, you might consider advertising your services for people who would like to have a photo shoot for their dog. You could do this on a mobile basis, or even set up a studio. With a few props and some nice backgrounds, you can provide dog-lovers with images that are perfect for using on Christmas cards, displaying in frames throughout the house, or just sharing with friends and family.
11. Animal Control Officer
If you’ve ever heard the term, “I wouldn’t hire him for dog catcher,” ignore it. An animal control officer is much more than a “dog catcher.” As an animal control officer, you will need to respond to complaints, investigate cases of animal cruelty, and sometimes may be called on to testify in court. Usually, you will be working with a local animal shelter, and you will be providing a much-needed service that benefits dogs and other animals as well.
This is just a smattering of ideas when it comes to jobs that you could do if you want to work with dogs. I was nothing short of amazed when I started researching this topic just how many dog-related jobs there are. So if working with dogs is your passion, then find your niche and go for it. Just Google vigorously, as I did, and you’ll find the information you need to find the job you want. I’m just getting you started here, so have fun with it, and let me know how it goes – leave a comment!