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Once upon a time, I thought about opening a boarding kennel for dogs. I’ve got the room if I get rid of the chickens, and my natural love of dogs seems like it’d be a good fit for the job. I’m also pretty realistic about the work involved, and I felt like it was a natural career path for someone like me. I had the plans for the kennel all drawn up, I knew what I was going to do with my hens, and I had even approached a bank about a start-up loan. But then something happened – I realized that I was lacking an essential skill to work with dogs: good customer service.
As it turns out, working with dogs is a lot less about dogs than you might think. The fact is that anyone who works with dogs, from vets to professional groomers, is actually working more with people. The dogs are just a part of the whole thing. And I knew from my days at the call center that customer service isn’t my favorite thing in the world. That’s why I got started with blogging about dogs instead, and it’s been the best choice for me.
But what if you are someone who is trying to find a career path, and you think working with dogs might be the answer? How do you know if you’re cut out for working in the veterinary field, as a groomer, or even as a dog walker? I reached out to Steve, my vet, and asked him if he’d let me pick his brain on what makes a great vet. I also did a bit of digging into the essential skills that a person needs to work with dogs in other areas, and here’s what I found. If you want to know if you are cut out to work with dogs, these are the signs that will let you know for sure:
1. You have a lot of energy and you’re good at getting things done
No matter what field you may want to work in with dogs, you’ll need to have energy and stamina to deal with a lot of pups all day. You also can’t be the type of person who doesn’t follow through. You wouldn’t send a dog home with half a haircut as a groomer, nor would you only walk a dog part of the way to the park.
2. You have a strong stomach and you’re willing to do things that seem “mean” to protect the dogs
At some point as a groomer, dog walker, or kennel worker, you’ll likely have to put a dog in a muzzle. Or, if you work in the vet industry, you’ll probably have to restrain a dog to give them a shot, or to poke at a wound. The point is that when you work with dogs, you’ve got to be willing to do something that the dog may not like, in order to protect the dog in the long run. This can be hard for people who are “animal lovers”, so don’t go into vet school thinking that just because you adore your dog, you’ll make a great vet.
This is the big reason why I ultimately chose not to work directly with dogs. It’s not that I’m bad with people, it’s just that after a few years of working in a call center, I’d rather not deal with them directly if I can help it. But any time you work with dogs, you are actually working with their owners. And there is no group of people on earth more passionate than a dog owner! If you accidentally cut Fluffy’s perfect hairdo a little short, or if Fido is still in pain after visiting your vet clinic, guess who will get the blame? You do need to be good at communicating with people and managing expectations. It helps if you are someone who really loves to educate others about dogs because you’ll be doing a lot of that.
4. You are interested in science – whether that means hard science like biology or soft science like behavior and psychology
Working with dogs involves a lot more science than you may think. As a vet or a vet tech, you’ll need to understand canine anatomy, the science behind medicines, surgery, and more. Even as a dog walker or dog groomer, you’ll need to understand behavioral science and canine psychology. If you aren’t a big “science person”, working with dogs may not be for you. However, don’t worry if you aren’t a fan of math, or if you got dismal scores in, say, physics. What you really need to focus on are those soft sciences I mentioned, as well as natural biology, chemistry, and anatomy.
In some dog jobs, you’ll form relationships with the dogs you work with. If you are a dog walker, you’ll likely see the same dogs pretty often. As a vet, you might have certain dogs you see a lot. But for most people who work with dogs, you rarely become a person that the dog really knows or trusts. And that means that they will act unpredictably around you because you are a stranger. So, you need to be a person who is able to be patient with dogs that don’t want to cooperate and calm around dogs that are anxious. If you tend to get annoyed when things aren’t sticking to schedule or staying on plan, you may not be right for working with dogs.
6. You are great at making decisions under pressure
When you are around animals that will act unpredictably and have the tools to injure themselves or one another (like claws and teeth), you will inevitably face emergencies from time to time. In order to work with dogs, you have to be the kind of person who can act fast under pressure. You’ll gain a lot of your decision-making skills from experience, of course, but it’s also important that you aren’t the type of person who naturally freezes in a conflict. There will be times when you’ll need to grab the protective gloves and wade into a pack of fighting dogs, or moments when you’ll need to sprint after a dog that is running away.
You’ll also need to be the kind of person who can quickly make less important decisions as well. For example, a vet is almost always overbooked with more appointments than they can handle, and that doesn’t even count emergency appointments that pop up throughout the day. So if a dog comes in for a routine check-up and you notice that they are having an issue with arthritis, you need to be able to quickly decide on a treatment plan or supplement, convince the owner of that plan, and then move on to the next appointment. This is just one example that Steve, my vet, brought up when we were discussing what makes a great vet.
No matter what dog job you go into, you’ll need to be the kind of person that notices the little things. Dogs communicate with subtle body language at times, and if you don’t pick up on the changes in their behavior, you could be facing some serious conflicts. If you are a vet, you’ll need to notice little details to diagnose a dog’s illnesses properly; as a groomer, you need to be able to zero in on all the small details that make a dog look and feel great; as a dog walker, you’ll need to know all the ins and outs of local dog parks, neighborhoods, and more. If you run a kennel, you’ll need to keep track of schedules, special diets, medications, and more. Being able to juggle details about dogs in general, the specific dog you are working with, and the environment, as well as the human owner, will be an essential skill for anyone who works with dogs.
What Dog Jobs Are There?
So let’s say that you read the seven signs listed above, and you thought to yourself, “Wow that describes me to a T!” That’s great! If you are the kind of person who can work with dogs, and wants to, then you’re a welcome addition to an industry that never stops growing. But how do you know exactly what you want to do with dogs? It turns out there are a lot of jobs in the pet industry. Some ways to work with dogs include:
Veterinarian: You’ll need to get a full-fledged medical degree to become a doctor for dogs, and you might be surprised to learn that competition to get into veterinary school is pretty tough. If you are a high school student thinking about this path, be sure you are pulling straight As in your science courses. This field is full of specializations, like being strictly a dog surgeon, or strictly a general veterinarian.
Veterinary Technician: You can sometimes get into this job without any extra schooling beyond high school, depending on your area and the vet who hires you. This is basically like being a nurse for dogs; you’ll assist the vet with medical appointments.
Kennel owner or worker: If you work in or own a dog kennel, you’ll be responsible for providing dogs with a temporary home. This could mean watching dogs during the day while owners work, or watching dogs for more extended periods of time while the owners travel. You’ll do everything from feeding to exercising, and even some training.
Groomer: Dog groomers usually learn on the job, and teach apprentices what they know. In addition to bathing and grooming, you may also have to watch dogs for any signs of illness or injury, and offer temporary boarding for a day if the owner can’t pick them back up till after work.
Dog trainer: Usually dog trainers have a bit of additional schooling through some sort of certification program. These people train dogs, of course, but more importantly, they train You’ll need to be able to work well with owners is this job, because you are teaching them how to communicate with their dog.
Dog walker or dog sitter: You’ll need to be able to control dogs in all situations, and you’ll need to have a lot of energy, for this career path. You might do this on your own, or through a doggie daycare or dog walking company.
Dog physical therapist: This is another career that typically requires a medical degree, and usually it’s a specialized focus during a veterinary program. This person will help dogs struggling with certain illness or injuries get mobility back. This may involve things like massage, exercise, water treatments, and so on.
Professional dog shower: Did you know that you can get a job as someone who shows dogs in competitions? It’s true. It generally takes experience in the field, which is learned on the job.
Animal Control Officer or Shelter Worker: It may seem like a strange job for a dog lover, but working for the city as a control officer can allow you to help stray dogs stay off the streets.
Educator: Finally, there are many ways that you could be a dog educator. You might be a professor in a veterinary program, or you may do something like what Franklin and I do here on Simply for Dogs!
There are a few other ways that you could choose to work with dogs, such as being a dog foster or being an animal rights lobbyist, but these positions are usually volunteer rather than paid careers.
So what do you think – are you cut out to work with dogs? If these seven signs sounded just like you, and you have a passion for connecting your love of dogs to the rest of your life, then I encourage you to explore your options! Dogs always need more passionate pet industry workers looking out for them.