Hiring good staff is the hardest part of running any business. A bad employee can not only cost you a small fortune and ruin your reputation – they can also be a source of endless stress. And when you’re running a pet care business, the most important angle is the welfare of the animals with whose care you have been entrusted.
Not everyone is cut out to be a dog walker or pet sitter. You need to demonstrate a special affinity with animals, an ability to work with and control potentially difficult or disturbed pets (many of whom are rescues with unfortunate histories) and a level of dedication and reliability above and beyond that required to, say, work in a coffee shop. You must also be extremely trustworthy and physically fit.
We generally find dog walkers from 3 sources:
- Word of mouth. This is our favorite method. When an exceptionally trustworthy long-term employee tells us that they know someone who is looking for work and would love to become a dog walker, it’s always a good avenue to check out. Many of our best employees have come to us this way. The best references are those you receive from people you know well and who have proven themselves to be reliable and trustworthy. If they can vouch for this person, it’s a great start! Of course a word of mouth hire still goes through the same rigorous program of background checks and training, but they have a head start based on the referral.
- On-spec job inquiries. This is a great source of good dog walkers. When someone has visited your website and taken the trouble to fill out your inquiry form asking for work, it shows us that they are looking for a dog walking job specifically. That level of purpose is always a good sign – they’re not just looking for random jobs, they actually want to work with animals. Of course we immediately filter out applicants who make no attempt to sell themselves in the cover letter, but on the whole most people who contact us this way are impressively verbose about why they want to work with dogs and the reasons why we should hire them.
- Posted job ads. When we’re looking to fill a dog walking position and have drawn a blank with word of mouth and on-spec inquiries, it’s time to post an ad! We generally use the job site Indeed.com for our job ads. It’s a popular site and ads are very likely to draw hundreds of applicants. However, there are some great ways to whittle these applicants down to a select few. The most effective method is to insist on a cover letter explaining why you want the job and what you can bring to a dog walking position. Despite setting this requirement in large bold letters at the top of the ad, you would be amazed how many people just ignore your request and shoot off a quick application with no cover letter. We can discard those applications immediately because they have demonstrated an inability to follow basic instructions and are clearly not that enthusiastic about working with animals. Amazingly, something in the region of 90% of applicants neglect to provide a cover letter. People who really want to work with dogs are usually very outspoken about the reasons why, and we love to receive applications from people who communicate these reasons to us.
Once we have a few applicants in mind, a phone call is the next step and is a great way to gauge how enthusiastic the applicant is. Without a single exception, every great employee we’ve hired has been absolutely stoked to receive a phone call from us and has kept us talking for at least half an hour – asking questions about the job and expressing how much they’ve always wanted to work with dogs. In these cases, I will usually always schedule an informal interview with them so I can meet them face to face and get a better sense of where they’re coming from. During the interview, I like to get the basics out of the way immediately – how much they’re looking to earn, how long they are looking to stay in the job (at least a year is good, although long term is better), which days they can work (Mon-Fri is a necessity) and how dedicated or reliable they are. This usually weeds out anyone who is looking for a short term position, as well as anyone whose availability is spotty or who will be needing frequent days off to fulfil other commitments.
I will always ask about previous experience they’ve had with animals, whether through working in a similar position, or working for a vet or at a shelter. Experience like this isn’t absolutely vital, but it definitely helps. At the very least I would like an employee to have had extensive experience with owning their own dogs, or having grown up with them. It’s also important to sound them out on their opinion of cats, because cat feeding jobs come up quite often and they have to be cat lovers as well!
Once applicants have passed through these stages, I will always have them come out for a day on the job to observe how they are with dogs and to give them a better sense of what the job entails. A good indicator of their previous experience with dogs is to ask them to fit various kinds of harnesses. Even if they’ve never come across a particular kind of harness, their ability to work it out on the spot is a good reflection of their general problem solving skills!
If all goes well, all boxes are ticked, background checks have been passed and references called, then their training begins. I will start them on a route and work with them side by side for at least a week or two to observe them on the job – it’s during this training period that you really get a sense of their affinity with animals, their level of patience, and their general common sense. Do they show due care and attention when crossing the road with a dog? How about taking a dog into an elevator – do they stand on the threshold and prevent the door from closing until they are 100% sure that the dog is inside? Do they allow dogs to urinate on potentially dangerous light poles? Do they exercise caution when another dog approaches them on the street, or when the dog they’re walking wishes to fraternize with another dog? Are they diligent about making sure the leash is properly attached to their belt clip before leaving the apartment? Do they demonstrate respect for the client’s home, and are they polite and friendly to building staff and residents? Do they remember to check the dogs’ water bowl before leaving? Do they make sure the apartment door is properly locked?
We have a long list and do’s and don’ts at King Pup, and it’s essential to get any potential issues ironed out during this training period so that we can be sure that they are working to our high standards once they’re cleared to take dogs out unsupervised. Luckily, the first few stages of hiring are usually sufficient to weed out people who just don’t get it, so that by the time we get to the training stage, we’re working with someone who is receptive to instructions and suggestions and who has the willingness to learn a set of procedures and rules.
After we’ve successfully completed the dog walker training, all that remains to be done is for them to meet the owners of the dogs they’ll be walking on a daily basis. But by this time, we like to think that we’ve selected someone that everyone will feel comfortable allowing them to come into their home and take their precious pooches outside!
If you’re committed to working with animals, have prior animal experience and think you’re a good match for King Pup’s high hiring standards, then do not hesitate to contact us and let us know what you’d bring to the job! We don’t always have open positions but we’re always very happy to hear from keen applicants with great credentials so that we can bear you in mind when something suitable opens up.
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