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The 10 Definitive Tips for Choosing the Perfect Dog Care Provider in San Francisco From The Highest Rated Dog Walker in Town

Choosing the Perfect Dog Care Provider in San Francisco From The Highest Rated Dog Walker in SF

How To Choose A Dog Care Service in SF

Tip 1: Doggie Day Care Facility vs. Dog Walker:

First and foremost, it's essential to determine whether a dog daycare facility or a dog walking service best suits your needs, as both options are widely available in San Francisco.

Timing is often a deciding factor. Dog daycares offer a supervised, enclosed environment, typically on a full-day or half-day basis, which may extend longer than dog walking outings. They may be best for people who have a very long workday or commute, or whose dogs can’t be left alone at home because of separation anxiety. However, one would have to make their drop and pickup hours. Conversely, dog walking services focus on providing individual or group walks for dogs, either on-leash, off-leash inside a dog park, or off-leash in open space, ensuring they receive adequate exercise and stimulation. Or as we like to say, forgetting about the city life. For those with longer days, dog walkers often offer multiple walks, and dogs come home very tired, with transportation to and from your house included. 

While dog daycare facilities are common in many major cities across the country, they tend to be smaller in San Francisco, and their availability may vary across different neighborhoods. Similarly, dog walking operations, especially those offering off-leash outings in open spaces, are not as prevalent in other cities. Relocating to San Francisco, where such off-leash services are more common, can be an adjustment.

It's important to note that while off-leash group outings may initially seem daunting, they can be suitable for many dogs, even if it's unfamiliar territory for their owners. However, considerations such as your dog's ability to respond to voice commands off-leash, particularly for adult dogs, or the training needs of a puppy, should be taken into account. Providers are usually willing to help you navigate these considerations over the phone, although they may have a bias towards their own operation, so keep that in mind.

Tip 2: Think About What You Need:

Consider various factors such as the frequency of care required, your dog's personality, training and exercise needs, behavioral concerns, and any other specific preferences or requirements you may have. By clearly defining your needs upfront, you'll be better prepared to find a dog care provider that aligns with your expectations and your dog's well-being.

It's also not uncommon for potential clients to be unsure of their needs initially, and that's perfectly fine. Many providers such as myself are always happy to engage in discussions to help explore and identify those needs together. 

One common consideration, for example, is the frequency of care. Many facilities offer part-time plans, while dog walkers often require full-time monthly flat rates. While some dog walking services do provide part time scheduling they may require you to select certain days of the week that repeat, while others could be more flexible. Solo operator dog walkers are more likely to offer part time scheduling than those with staff, because the staff need consistent employment. However, we also believe that dogs prefer this level of consistency, and benefit from it even when you have more time for them on your easier or work from home days.

Additionally, a factor such as dog-to-handler ratios could influence your decision. Some daycares may have smaller ratios or segregate dogs by size more effectively, catering to individual needs and ensuring a more comfortable play environment. 

Similarly, personal preferences, such as your dog's comfort with certain provider genders, or sizes of other dogs, can help refine your search criteria and find the most suitable provider.

Ultimately, the key is to be open to discussions and exploration, allowing professionals to speak to our service offerings and understand matches with your specific needs and preferences effectively.

Tip 3: Service Area:

Before becoming attached to any business listings you've come across, it's advisable to cross-reference them for service area information. This is particularly important because most dog walking providers tend to have strict limits closer to the parks they frequent, especially in San Francisco, a city known to be quite zoned around neighborhoods. Opting for a provider with a convenient service area can guarantee timely and reliable care for your dog without the inconvenience of excessive travel.

For example, at Citizen Hound, we serve the Marina, Cow Hollow, Pacific Heights, Lower Pac Heights, Russian Hill, and Presidio Heights areas, as we mainly frequent Crissy Field and the Presidio, which fall within those regions. This strategic approach significantly reduces drive time, minimizes the use of major roads, and helps keep costs down.

Tip 4: Explore Additional Service Offerings:

Take the time to consider offerings such weekend walks, specialized care for specific occasions or situations, or dog sitting, which can be provided at a boarding facility, in your home, or at a sitter's home. By planning for these additional service offerings, you can ensure that your dog's needs are fully met, even in unique or challenging circumstances.

For instance, if you utilize a daycare facility that does not offer overnight care, you'll need to find a separate sitter for your vacations. This may require coordinating with multiple individuals, as one sitter may not always be available. Alternatively, you may prefer to have your dog boarded in your home for maximum comfort but want to establish a relationship with a provider before allowing them that level of access to your home. Similarly, you may anticipate needing additional exercise for your dog beyond regular daycare hours. In such cases, a facility with early closing times may not be suitable. Instead, you might require a dog walker who is available and willing to extend the day and take your dog home with them on short notice.

At Citizen Hound, we prioritize building strong relationships with our clients and their dogs. We train our entire staff to become familiar with each dog, allowing us to provide options such as in-home boarding or sitting. Your primary walker is always consulted first, fostering a deeper bond between the walker and your dog.

Tip 5: Solo Operators vs. Teams:

When selecting a dog care provider, it's crucial to decide whether you prefer working with a solo operator or a team. Solo operators are individual dog walkers or small businesses run by a single person, while teams consist of multiple employees collaborating to deliver services. Each option offers its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

At Citizen Hound, we operate as a team, and this structure enables us to offer benefits that smaller operations may not provide. These advantages include consistent timing, tailored pack placements, lower prices, greater availability, reliability, flexibility, responsiveness, and additional last-minute services such as groomer or vet visits, outside-hour walks, or dog sitting. Our team approach ensures that there's always someone available to assist you. While our staff members may require sick or vacation days, we have systems in place to cover these absences, ensuring uninterrupted service for our clients unlike solo operators who may close for sickness or vacation at unexpected or inconvenient times. Our track record of awards, reviews, and accolades over the years reflects our commitment to providing dependable and exceptional care. Clients can rely on us to meet their needs consistently.

However, when we receive inquiries from prospective clients, one of the factors we consider alongside their preferences is whether a solo operator might indeed better suit their needs. The only two poor reviews we've ever received were from people who should have been with a different kind of service but did not understand their own needs. The primary advantage of working with a solo operator is consistency. For clients or dogs who may be anxious or require specialized attention, a solo operator can offer a more personalized and consistent experience. Solo operators may also specialize in specific areas, such as dog size, age, breeds, or temperaments. While Citizen Hound groups dogs on the same factors, the dogs do encounter the other groups frequently when we meetup with teammates, so factors like anxiety level or prosocial tendencies are important. 

Finding a specialized provider can be challenging without assistance, but asking for referrals from providers you contact where needed can help you identify the right fit for your needs.

Tip 6: Cross Check Reviews:

Take the time to cross-check your research with reviews on platforms such as Google, Yelp, or NextDoor. Pay attention to any recurring commendable attributes, as well as recurring issues or concerns mentioned by previous clients.

It's worth noting that substantive reviews often offer deeper insights into a provider's performance. Clients who are particularly impressed are more likely to provide detailed feedback. Look for reviews that align with your specific preferences and requirements. For example, if communication is essential to you, seek out reviews that mention the provider's level of detail in daily reports or their willingness to share photos and videos. Keep in mind that while some dog care providers excel in communication and personalization, others may not enjoy or prioritize these aspects, especially larger facilities that may have limitations in providing individualized attention.

Tip 7: Price Comparison:

Request quotes or pricing information from multiple providers that match your preferences and carefully review what's included in each package or service. Ensure that you're comparing similar services. For example, a dog walker with an 8-dog group maximum might charge less than one with a 6 or 4-dog maximum, but the group size could be significant for your preferences. Similarly, if the length of outings isn't explicitly stated, ensure that you're comparing services of similar duration to make an accurate assessment. For instance, one direct competitor offers walks of at least 45 minutes, while we offer walks of at least an hour, and we have managers in the field to ensure accountability.

Tip 8: Ask Around - Advantages Of Using Your Neighbor's Provider:

If you observe a neighbor's dog being walked or hear positive experiences from friends, coworkers, or fellow park-goers, don't hesitate to inquire about their provider. Utilizing a provider recommended by someone you trust can provide additional peace of mind and confidence in their services, knowing they've already garnered a positive reputation within your community, and giving a natural level of accountability.

However, it's important not to assume that everyone's needs align with your own, or that everyone's experiences provide a comprehensive perspective. While one individual may find a service satisfactory based solely on meeting basic requirements, another may have developed a deeper connection with their provider, possibly even having joined their provider in the field.

Therefore, while seeking recommendations can serve as a valuable starting point or aid in vetting providers, it's essential to assess your specific needs and preferences independently.

Moreover, some providers may offer incentives for clients within the same building or block, such as discounts or special offers. For example, a dog care provider in Denver aptly named Poop In A Group incentivizes clients to expand their dog's pack by offering slightly lower rates for larger groups.

Lastly, using your neighbors provider creates a sense of community for your dogs and you, bringing peace and friendship to both of your lives. This benefit can't be understated. It is incorporated into Citizen Hound's mission, as it can be quite hard to meet people in a big city, and it can be extremely burdensome to have neighbor dogs that do not get along.

Tip 9: Meet The Provider:

Take advantage of this opportunity to ask any questions you may have about their experience, services, and approach to pet care. During the meeting, observe their demeanor, professionalism, and how they interact with both you and your dog.

While most daycares require prospective clients to undergo a screening process, the extent and transparency of this evaluation can vary. Some screenings may be brief and conducted behind closed doors, with minimal details shared about the evaluation criteria. Conversely, some dog walkers may visit your home to meet you and your dog, though you can't see them in action.

At Citizen Hound, we prefer to host our prospective clients on an actual walk in the field. This approach allows us to evaluate the dog's behavior clearly and enables the client to witness firsthand what they're purchasing. We believe that transparency is key, and we openly invite our existing clients to join us during these walks. If a walker is hesitant about hosting you for a walk or lacks transparency in their evaluation process, it may raise concerns about their suitability as a provider.

Tip 10: Test It Out:

A trial period or initial service allows you to gauge their services firsthand and assess how well they cater to your dog's needs and your expectations. Focus on aspects like punctuality, communication, expectation setting, and the relationship between the provider and your dog.

Moreover, it's important to recognize that bonding between the provider and your dog is crucial and highly subjective. Individuals all have their own preferences when it comes to interacting with dogs. Some may have a preference for small dogs, while others may prefer larger breeds.

To facilitate open communication and ensure a genuine connection, consider initiating a conversation with the provider about their interactions with your dog. Creating a safe space for dialogue can help alleviate any concerns or anxieties they might have about being honest about this subjective fit, and foster a positive relationship between the provider and you. If it's not right for them, allow them that opinion and ask for recommendations. A professional's informed opinion may be just the ticket to skip all these steps!


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