An introduction to working with Pets

A few years ago, if you wanted to work with animals your options were pretty much limited to training to become a vet or a veterinary nurse.

Fri 03 Nov 2017

By Judy

An introduction to working with Pets

An introduction to working with Pets

A few years ago, if you wanted to work with animals your options were pretty much limited to training to become a vet or a veterinary nurse. Nowadays, there’s a wide range of career options for people interested in working with pets. We take a look at some of the options available to you.

The different types of pet-related careers

Some pet-related jobs still follow a medical type of role and indeed may well work in conjunction with veterinary surgeons. Canine and feline hydrotherapists and animal physiotherapists for example complement the medical treatment of physical issues in liaison with the vet. Pet behaviourists help deal with psychological problems in dogs but potential clients could also include horses, cats or even highly intelligent pet tropical birds!

Then there are the ‘service’ type jobs which are feeding a growing demand from the public.

These types of jobs include:

  • Microchippers
  • Dog walkers
  • Pet grooming services
  • Pet sitting services - including home boarding people’s pets in your own home, or staying at your client’s home.
  • Working at a boarding kennel/cattery (as opposed to owning or managing it)
  • Pet bereavement counsellors, who help people cope with the loss of a pet
  • Dog trainers - Dog trainers can work in various fields. The majority of dog trainers work with private dog owners to help them to socialise and discipline their dogs correctly and to deal with phobias or other problems that the dog may be presenting. Specialised dog trainers may train dogs for special roles such as police work, assistance  dogs, drug and explosives and other ‘sniffer ‘roles, etc. and others may work with breeders and owners to meet the demands of the professional show ring.

Finally, we look at the careers that may well require more initial investment in terms of money, planning work and red tape and who will quite possibly require dedicated business premises. These include jobs such as running a cattery or kennel, being a properly registered and licensed dog breeder, setting up a general or specialist pet shop or setting up a grooming salon.

How do you prepare yourself

Ease of modern communication and the capabilities of modern computers means that many small businesses can be run from home. Communication, advertising, invoicing, paying bills etc can all be done these days from a simple home office set up making way or working accessible to those who need allow for people to work around their parental commitments, caring roles, retirement or other lifestyles.

However, working with animals, means that you are not just working at your computer, you will also be handling other peoples’ precious pets and need to allow for all that entails, the risk, the dirt, the space, the physical work involved etc. So our first advice to you would be to prepare yourself by really researching the different fields from a legal, financial and required qualifications point of view. At the same time we advise that you consider the job you are interested in from your personal aptitude point of view. Are you physically, psychologically and emotionally suited to the demands of the role?

Depending on the career you choose, your business may also end up dictating how you live your life - particularly if you run a kennels or cattery, for example. These jobs really are a lifestyle choice and require a lot of commitment.

Legal aspects of running a pet business

Let’s look at these considerations regarding working with pets in a bit more detail.

First of all, be fully aware of your duty of care to any animal. We assume that as you want to work with pets  you would in any case have a love of pets and caring attitude towards animals.

You should be aware of the law regarding dogs in public places, and now, given recent new legislation, in the home too. You may be aware of a lot of the laws about dogs in public, but it is also important to learn about the newly passed law that makes owners or those in locum (ie you) responsible for a dog’s behaviour in their home. So, if for example you are house-sitting and a dog in your care attacks the cleaner on the premises, you are in charge of the animal and YOU would be liable and have to face the legal consequences (including the posibility of a custodial sentence) of such an incident. This is a very important consideration.

However, It should not put you off working with dogs if you love them, but it is important to cover yourself from an insurance point of view (3rd party liability) and to be very clear about he sort of client you take on, do not accept dogs whose behaviour could lead you into trouble with the law.

If you are starting a dog walking business, there may be a cap on how many dogs you are able to walk at the same time. Each local authority (council) have their own rules, so do make sure you check before you start your business.

There are specialist lawyers out there who can also clarify any legal questions if your insurer, council etc fails to answer your questions regarding the law. Dogs in particular are subject to numerous laws regarding their care and, increasingly, their behaviour. When you are acting in locum for the animal’s owner, you need to be aware of how these laws affect you and the dog.

Other red tape

If you are planning to work from your home your local council may demand you obtain a licence to operate and your premises may be subject to business rates etc.

Additionally, you may need planning permission or change of use permission if you are going to convert old outbuildings or empty garages for business use, or if you are going to change an old grocers shop into a reptile and or exotic pets stockist.

Getting qualifications and joining professional bodies

In the case of physiotherapists and hydrotherapists, recognised qualifications are needed. In many other areas of work with pets, obtaining qualifications, and joining professional associations in this largely unregulated field is good way to give yourself kudos, as well as gaining knowledge, by obtaining qualifications in your area.. Additionally, if formal qualifications are not necessary, you may wish to become a member of the relevant industry’s representative body – not only can this give you gravitas – and people feel they have redress should your services be found wanting – but also the sites of these bodies often contain geographical databases which can be a useful source of advertising and obtaining clients.

Have a DBS check done

Again a DBS check is not essential, but may well make your clients happier. They will be assured they are not inviting a former house burglar into their home and that you have a recognised and transparent legal profile – it adds to your professionalism!

The importance of insurance when working with pets

It is important to ensure that any part of your home that is used for your work is properly insured, in addition to any normal home insurance. Check with your home insurer and business insurer to make sure that damage done in your line of work to your private home is covered by one or the other of them - get it in writing.

Third party liability insurance is really important as the UK becomes more litigious, and with dogs very much under the spotlight in this area too. Therefore if the dog you are walking runs amok and destroys some valuable property you should be covered. Check with your insurer all the possible scenarios you can think of.

Pet owners should also have their pets fully insured if they are in your care. This would mean that in an emergency you could seek veterinary advice and this, plus any recommended treatment would be covered by the owner’s pet insurance.

If you employ anyone else, even just a friend to help out now and again, and any volunteers, you need to ask for employer’s liability insurance too in case of injury or damage to your employee’s/volunteer’s property.

If you use a vehicle in your work, ensure that you have correct cover for this.

In short, take the time to talk to your business insurer about all your business circumstances so that you get correct and sufficient cover.

First Aid

A good qualification to have is First Aid training, both for humans and for pets – look at a website site like Animal Aiders for more information about this type of course.

Financing the start up of your pet business and other costs

Any career in the pet industry will cost you money to start up. Additionally do not forget to factor in the cost of your equipment and necessary training courses.

Boarding Kennels, Pet Shops and Hydrotherapist businesses clearly require extensive investment, but even setting up as a dog walker will entail the acquiring of a suitable vehicle, sufficient dog cages and paying for advertising and creating a website etc.

A dog groomer not only needs a suitable place to do their work, but will need to invest in a specialised dog dryer, bath, and bathing products, clippers, combs, scissors, cages to keep dogs when they have finished working on them, and  many other tools of their trade. There is also the cost of training which can cost several hundred pounds.

Are you suited to working with pets?

Are you physically strong? Could you handle a boisterous Newfoundland? Could you stomach a poorly pet vomiting and evacuating its bowels over you? Would you know how to separate two determined fighting dogs without injury to yourself or them?

Will you be able to cope with walking four boisterous muddy dogs on a cold and wet winter’s morning? Remember if you are self-employed and take time off, you will not be paid and clients may take their business elsewhere permanently if you let them down too frequently.

Are you confident but pleasant with it?

In the face of problems, be it a whinging client, or an unruly dog, or a disgruntled member of the public, you need to be polite, professional and positive about problem solving.

You must be leader of the pack with all your pets too, even if a particular pet might be making you feel a bit nervous.

Following on from this, if you find a particular dog too un-socialised and aggressive for your group, you need to be able to discuss this with the owner and face up to any wounded pride or flack that may come your way.

It is very important that you are able to separate your business role from your personal self. There will always be times when you have friction with clients or other people. This can be very difficult, and if self employed, there is no company structure to hide behind and, if you work from home, nowhere physical you can go to escape. You have to forge psychological barriers to protect yourself.

Can you be considerate with other people?

When out and about, be very aware that a lot of people feel quite threatened by dogs, particularly if they are running off the lead. Be considerate at all times regarding other people – and their pets.

If you are staying in someone’s home pet sitting, clearly you must know how to treat it properly and with due respect.

Consideration and empathy too needs to be employed if something happens to a pet in your care, remember they will be a very loved family pet, so you would need to be very sensitive in handling such situations.

How are your clerical skills?

You will need to keep on top of the paperwork in your business, and if you cannot honestly do this then pay someone who is good at this sort of thing to do it - say one morning a month for a small simple business with no VAT. Make sure you give them all the receipts/invoices etc coming in and going out of the business so that they can do their job properly and keep your business legal and afloat. Remember that will need to present annual profit and loss figures so that you can complete a tax return and in order to qualify for any tax credits if you are eligible.

Talk to others who work in the pet business for advice

Dog groomers tell grim stories of allergies caused by animal fur floating in the air and how individual hairs can get under the nails and penetrate the skin. Parasites are common too. Dogs do  not always enjoy the process of being groomed and may take it out on you. Bites and scratches (some leaving permanent scars) are not uncommon, neither are dogs fouling the grooming table or dryer.

Exposure to cleaning products involved in, say cleaning out kennels and animal runs on a regular basis can harm your skin and even affect the lungs.

Speak to people who already do the work you are dreaming about, in order to get a true picture of what to expect including the things they love about the job, because there will be plenty of those too!

Still interested in working with pets? Then you may find some of our articles useful.

working as a dog groomer

Working as a dog groomer

how to start a dog walking business

How to start a Dog Walking Business

how to set up a cattery or boarding kennel

How to set up a Cattery or Boarding Kennel