By Tim Falk
Published: 02/09/2022, edited: 02/09/2022
You’re a Pet Caregiver with Wag!, and you’ve just received a dog walking or overnight care request from a Pet Parent. There’s only one problem: you’re not comfortable looking after their particular breed of dog.
Maybe you’ve had a bad experience with that breed in the past. Maybe you’re worried the breed is prone to aggression. Or maybe you’re concerned you’re simply not physically strong enough to manage a dog of that size. Whatever the reason for your reluctance, you still find yourself in a very awkward situation. So what can you do?
The good news is that you can turn down a request from a Pet Parent if you don’t feel comfortable or if you’re not capable of looking after their dog. Keep reading for tips on letting them down gently, as well as advice and resources you can use to make yourself a more confident Pet Caregiver.
We know you love dogs, and we’re sure turning down the chance to spend some quality time with a pup (and get paid for it!) is the last thing you want to do. But the reality of the situation is that if you’re not comfortable caring for a particular breed of dog, they’ll receive better care and be much safer in the hands of someone else.
So there’s no need to feel embarrassed or ashamed about turning down a client — while you might have your own best interests at heart, you’ll also be doing the right thing by the dog. Most Pet Parents will appreciate the fact that you’ve been upfront and honest with them rather than trying to take on a job you don’t feel comfortable doing.
If you see a request in the feed, you can simply ignore it. But if a Pet Parent contacts you directly through the "Browse and Book" chat functionality and you're not comfortable caring for their pet, you'll need to decline the request.
Turning down a client is a delicate process. You obviously don’t want to be rude or upset them, but tiptoeing around the issue isn’t going to help, either.
The best bet is generally to be upfront and honest with the Pet Parent, but to do so tactfully. For example:
Instead of saying, "I don’t want to walk your dog because I believe [breed X] is aggressive and vicious," try saying, "I’m very sorry, but I’ve had a bad experience with [breed X] in the past and I just don’t feel comfortable that I can provide the level of care your dog needs."
Instead of saying, "Your dog looks like a hulking beast that would yank my arm out of its socket even by pulling gently on their lead," try saying, "[Dog’s name] sounds absolutely adorable, but I simply don’t think I’m strong enough to keep them under control on a leash."
As a dog lover yourself, you’ll no doubt understand just how protective Pet Parents can be towards their fur-babies. So be gentle and polite, but be honest too. Answer any questions they may have, and offer advice on how they can match up with a more suitable Pet Caregiver through the Wag! app.
In other situations, you might not find out that a dog isn’t a good match for you until after you’ve walked them or cared for them overnight. If that’s the case and the Pet Parent wants to arrange another booking, turning them down can be doubly tricky.
If a Pet Parent requests an overnight and you're listed as a Preferred Pet Caregiver, you'll see the request, but you can simply ignore it. However, if a Pet Parent arranges a direct booking with you and opens up a new chat, you'll get the chance to decline the request and offer an explanation.
The good news is that you will already have established some sort of rapport with the Pet Parent, which can make it a little easier to explain your decision to them. Once again, be upfront and honest with them and explain exactly why you don’t feel comfortable taking care of their dog.
Emphasize the fact that you’re turning down their request in the interests of their dog’s safety, and your own. If their dog is too strong and you can’t keep them under control on a leash, say so. If you felt intimidated or were hurt by their dog jumping on you excitedly, let them know. It might be a little awkward, but honesty is the best policy if you want to ensure a happy outcome.
You’ll find plenty of other useful info to help you handle the situation tactfully among our tips for communicating with Pet Parents.
Dogs, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. And while they’re all cute, some are strong, some are strong-willed, some are a little on the naughty side, and some are just poorly trained.
As a Pet Caregiver, you can expect to meet dogs who fit into a variety of these categories. Even though you might have an idea in your head of your “perfect” canine client — looks, size, behavior, and even breed — it’s inevitable that you’ll one day be asked to care for a dog that doesn’t fit the mold. So what can you do to become a better Pet Caregiver to all breeds of dog? Here are a few simple tips to consider:
Understand different breeds
Some dog breeds have a bad reputation for being difficult, hard to handle, or even aggressive. For example, breeds like the Pit Bull, Doberman, and Rottweiler are often stereotyped as vicious guard dogs, but meet one of these pooches in real life and you’ll find that’s often not the case. In fact, some of them are just big softies who love nothing more than spending time with people.
So instead of making snap judgments based on a dog’s breed, be prepared to look past your preconceived ideas and judge each dog on their merits.
Learn about dog body language
Do you sometimes struggle to decipher exactly how a dog is feeling? Brushing up on your dog body language knowledge will help you understand the signs that indicate when a dog is happy, anxious, frightened, or angry. This can make caring for any dog a whole lot easier.
Boost your training skills
Next, boost your confidence when dealing with dogs of all breeds by developing your training skills. The more you know about building a relationship with a dog and effective techniques for managing their behavior, the more confident you’ll feel when faced with a strong, misbehaving, or intimidating dog.
There are plenty of training schools and courses out there to choose from — just make sure to find one that uses humane training methods based on positive reinforcement. The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and the Pet Professional Guild are just a couple of good places to start.
Recognize the causes of bad behavior
Just because a particular dog misbehaves when in your care doesn’t mean they’re "naughty" or trying to "show you who’s boss". Instead, it’s important to recognize that there are many factors that contribute to doggy behavior, and one of the most powerful ones is fear.
With this in mind, you might like to complete a certification such as that offered by the Fear Free program. The program is designed to educate people like you who care for pets on how to prevent and reduce fear, anxiety, and stress in pets.
Set the tone
When a Pet Parent has requested a walking, sitting, or boarding session with a new canine client, it’s important to try to start off on the right paw. To do this, you need to teach the dog that good behavior will lead to good things.
However, please note that this absolutely does not mean trying to position yourself as the alpha or pack leader by establishing your dominance. Instead, the aim is to build a positive connection with the dog right from the start.
Chat with the Pet Parent about their dog’s favorite reward — this could be playtime with a much-loved toy or a smooch and a cuddle. But for many dogs, it’s food. Then, you can reward the dog for doing the right thing early in your visit, such as sitting on request or calming down after greeting you with a little too much excitement.
It’s a small and simple thing, but it could be a big step toward building a relationship of trust with the dog.
Practice makes perfect
Finally, perhaps the easiest way to boost your confidence around dogs is to, well, spend more time with dogs. The more time you spend getting to know individual dogs, including learning their unique quirks and finding out what makes them tick, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with difficult four-legged clients.
Start slowly with dogs you feel completely comfortable with, then broaden your horizons to meet dogs of different breeds, ages, sizes, and levels of training. As a dog lover, it’s not like you need an excuse to spend more time with gorgeous puppers, and doing so will help you take your skills as a Pet Caregiver to the next level.
Got any other questions or concerns? Check out our support center for Pet Caregivers to find answers and advice for a wide range of FAQs and common problems.
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