Ask the Experts: Everything You Want to Know But Are Too Afraid to Ask


We get a lot of questions from readers regarding the relationships they have with the people who care for their pets. Some want to know how to diffuse tense situations, some want to know how to ask for what they want, and some just want to know how to sever ties with a snooty trainer.

We took your most popular questions and reached out to local pet industry insiders to get the low down on dealing with a variety of tricky circumstances.


Q: My dog has a ton of fur and we take him to the groomer at least once a month. He pulls on his leash to avoid going inside and seems anxious when I leave him. I trust my groomer and have been using her for a long time, so I think it’s just my dog’s anxiety. Are there any specific things I can be doing to ease my dog’s groomer-related stress?

Try the following tips:

1. When walking into the grooming shop, you should walk through the door first, not your dog.

2. The use of a Furminator, or similar heavy duty brush, at home will get your dog used to some of the different tools that the groomer may be using, which could help him relax when he’s there.

3.Ask the groomer if you can stay and observe your dog on the table. Watch the groomer and your dog’s behavior while she is working on him. Just having you there may be a big help.

4. And, as a last resort, though it’s not favorable to all groomers, sometimes it is a necessity to have your vet prescribe a mild tranquilizer to keep him calm.

Sharron Panther, owner of the Academy of Dog Grooming Arts

Q: My last groomer charged $10 for nail trimmings, but I moved and started going somewhere closer to home and the new person charges $25. I think this is kind of ridiculous—it’s not a human manicure with nail polish after all! Is it okay to negotiate prices at the groomer?

I would say most groom shops will not negotiate their prices. While I do think $25 is a little steep, there are a few more risks in cutting a dog’s nails than a human’s (you’re hopefully not biting or scratching your manicurist, or relieving yourself on their table!). Overall, if you are not happy with the service and/or the price, I would look for a different groomer.

Carly Stine, manager at the Bark Bark Club


Q: It seems like every time I go to the vet I end up spending way more than I anticipated. Is it alright to ask my vet to run all the costs by me first for pre-approval?

A veterinary professional should always offer to provide a treatment plan for the best course of action for your pet’s well-being, along with the associated costs involved, and let you make the final decision as to what you can afford at the time the recommendations are made. Pet health insurance is very affordable and can help take the finances out of the equation for what is the best course of tests and treatment for our cherished member of the family. Regardless, Most veterinary practices also offer either internal payment plans or external, interest-free financing through companies like Care-Credit.

As veterinarians we are advocates for what is best for your pet’s health, and that is why we will always recommend the safest and best diagnostic and treatment plans without making a caregiver feel guilty if they cannot afford it at the time. It is always within a pet parent’s rights and best interests to request a treatment plan with associated fees up front so that there are no unexpected surprises at the end of the visit.

Humphrey Roberts, DVM, owner-practitioner at Higgins Animal Clinic

Q: My cat needs a dental procedure, and after some research I realized that I can get it done significantly cheaper at a different veterinary clinic from our normal place. Do you think going elsewhere solely for this procedure means I am “cheating” on my vet?

While I never mind a second opinion, especially when it’s in the best interest of your pet, I would have to say the answer to your question is “yes!” I’m a strong believer in picking and choosing when and where to try to make smart financial decisions in the care of your pet; however, because an effective dental requires general anesthesia and your pet’s oral health strongly impacts his quality of life, this is not the place to compromise. Doctors and technicians from better practices have advanced dental-specific training, as well as cutting edge anesthetic drugs and monitoring equipment.

Above all, you need to feel that your pet is in the most capable and caring hands, both to ensure her safety while under anesthesia and to provide dental recommendations that are in the best interest of both you and your pet.

Lynn Lewin, DVM, practitioner at Family Pet Animal Hospital


Q: When I first hired my dog walker I specified that I want my dog’s water refreshed after every walk. I’m not positive, but it doesn’t seem like this is being done. I mentioned it again in a note, but still, the water looks old and almost empty when I get home. I don’t want to be a nag and get added to the “annoying customer list,” but I also don’t want my dog to be drinking stale water all day. What should I do?

This is a common question. By the time clients return to their homes, they notice that the water bowl is empty or dirty. This does not always mean that it was not filled up though! We always tell our clients to keep in mind that their dog could have drank all the water and/or dirtied the water bowl themselves, as walking around the streets of Chicago can get dirty.

If you still think that the water bowl is not being filled, I recommend asking your dog walker to take a picture of the full, cleaned water bowl and send it to you as confirmation. If your dog walker is unwilling to do this, then I would recommend seeking out another service. There are many great dog walker services in Chicago that can provide this simple courtesy to you.

Lauren Pietrocarlo, owner of Dogs Deserve It

Q: My dog walker occasionally leaves muddy footprints in my front hallway (despite there being a rug for wiping off shoes) and my neighbor who works from home said she doesn’t think my walker is spending the full 30 minutes with my dogs. I don’t think it’s going to work out. How do I let her go without hurting her feelings?

Pet-sitting is based on customer service, and like any service, you should be getting exactly (if not more than) what you’re looking for. Because pet sitters are coming into your home and taking care of your babies, I would certainly expect their best.

Begin by addressing your concerns with your sitter. As for the muddy footprints, ask if she would be sure to remove her shoes when she comes in. In regard to the length of the visit,

Dana Dubriwny, owner of Chicago Pet Sitters


Q: My trainer is great with my dog, but kind of snooty with me (for example, he often seems exasperated if I ask him to repeat something he’s just explained to me). I want to keep him because he’s doing a fantastic job with my dog, but his attitude is turning me off. What should I do?

It is not uncommon for trainers to have an exceptional way with dogs but not be as good with people. Relationships with dogs may just be where they excel. We all have our strengths and weaknesses so it’s important to take the good and be patient with the rest.

Remind your trainer that you are learning too, and the wonderful patience you see them have with your dog would be appreciated on your end as well. If working with this trainer becomes an unpleasant experience for you though, it’s time to put your feelers out for someone new.

At the end of the day, you are the one who has to implement the training, and if you don’t feel good about it or have fun you probably won’t follow through. So, it’s important that a trainer can work with you as well as they do your dog.

Nicole Stewart, CPDT-KA, AnimalSense Canine Training & Behavior

Q: I rescued an adult dog who was never given proper training in her last home. I quickly hired a trainer and explained that because we are working on getting my dog to a healthy weight, I don’t want her getting too many treats. Still, I’ve noticed the trainer gives her lots of treats during their sessions. I’ve reiterated myself a couple times, but to no avail. Is this just how training is done or is it time to “break up” and move on?

Intermittent reinforcement is what builds persistent behavior, not continuous reinforcement (i.e. the constant delivery of treats). In order for your dog to get reliably trained, food must be systematically reduced. As a general rule, by week six of daily training, at least under average circumstances, food should be reduced to a random/occasional delivery, and not present in the hand before compliance.

Lynn Brezina, CPDT-KA, CompanionAbility


Q: Lately I’ve been told my dog is having problems with another dog at his daycare—playing is getting a little rough, signs of aggression are popping up, etc. I don’t want to switch daycares, but I don’t want anyone to get hurt. How much can I expect the daycare to do? Is the onus on me to go somewhere else?

You want a solution that addresses the root cause of the issue, rather than a Band-Aid. Many daycares can separate dogs into groups, and this should be explored, but if your dog is having trouble with another dog it’s not realistic to just separate them on the same playfloor—they will still come near each other often, no matter how hard the staff tries.The daycare could help coordinate with the other customer on which days to come, but this is never a guarantee because peoples’ schedules and lives change. The responsibility is ultimately up to you.

Joel Spainhour, owner of Tucker Pup’s Pet Resort

Q: The daycare I use has a service where they pick my dog up from my home every day after I’ve left for work. The man who does the pick ups frequently uses my bathroom and leaves the toilet seat up, which annoys me to no end. Do I tell the daycare? Leave him a note? It’s an uncomfortable subject to bring up, but I’m getting really tired of it.

It is inappropriate for the daycare driver to use your toilet. Period. No way around it. If it was an emergency and he used your bathroom once, he should have, at the very least, put the seat down and made certain all was clean. You can either leave him a note or call the daycare and share that you think it is inappropriate for him to use your bathroom.

Dan Gaughan, co-owner of Urban Pooch Canine Life Center


As the founder and CEO of FetchFind, a company dedicated to helping pet businesses find the best employees, I think about professional certifications a lot. The rapid growth, size, and ease of entry into the pet industry has made it virtually impossible to create and enforce an independent, industry-wide set of standards.

There are, of course, certification programs available within many sectors of the pet industry—groups like Pet Partners certify animal-assisted therapy teams, and pet sitters can do an online certification course with Pet Sitters International. The National Dog Grooming Association of America has voluntary certification courses. Dog walkers can take a formal program like Dog*Tec’s Dog Walking Academy to acquire theoretical knowledge as well as hands-on experience.

It’s important to remember that unlike licensing, certification in the pet-service industry is voluntary. Certification is not an endorsement of an individual by an organization; it merely signifies that the practitioner has sought out the credentialing body and has fulfilled their requirements. While certifications don’t guarantee that you will always get good service providers, it lets you know that they care enough about their profession to acquire the information, experience, and ability to pass a certification exam.

What should you look for when hiring a pet care provider?

Dog trainers: Look for the CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer– Knowledge Assessed) designation and evidence that they have been through a legitimate training course (such as CanineLink, CATCH Academy, or Karen Pryor). If you have a dog with separation anxiety or aggression issues, ask them specifically about their experience; not all dog trainers specialize in these areas.

Dog walkers: Ask how long they have been doing it, and if their company does background checks and provides ongoing training. Someone who has been through a dog walking seminar is ideal, but with the high turnover rate at most dog walking companies you’ll want to know more about actual experience and company-wide training than just formal education.

Doggie daycare: Ask about the management—are they experienced pet industry professionals themselves? Doggie daycare also tends to have a high turnover rate, so you’ll want to know how robust the training is at the facility, rather than solely the qualifications of individual employees.

For the safety of your pet, all pet care providers should be certified in pet first aid and CPR.

If it all sounds hopelessly confusing, take heart—there is good news on the horizon for the continued professionalization of the pet industry. The Professional Animal Caaare Certification Council was created in early 2015 by a team of industry experts who have responded to this need for independent certification of, and higher standards for, pet care providers. The first PACCC certifications are anticipated for early 2016.

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