Things to Know Before You Start Volunteering With Dogs

February 22, 2024

Dogs are some of the most interesting and intelligent creatures we could invite into our homes, but unfortunately, not everyone is prepared for what volunteering with them means. These animals need support, patience, love, and understanding. 


They need our help, and volunteering to do so is one of the best things someone can do. 


These are the top things to know before you start volunteering with dogs and why it's important to do this work!

How to Choose the Right Place to Volunteer

The better the organization you volunteer with, the better your experience will be. When you're starting out, look for a well-organized and run shelter, vet clinic, or program.  They don't have to be well funded for them to be organized, but you don't want to sign on to a place that will require you to relearn a new process every week or never has good scheduling.


If you’re signing up for veterinary shadowing programs, look up the vet and read reviews on the offices. People are more honest online, and it will give you a view of what to expect.

How to Be Safe While Working With Animals

When you're working with animals, it's vital that you listen to all rules and guidelines you're given and that you follow them. Every dog is different, and although you may have grown up with dozens of pets over the years, this doesn't mean you'll immediately know how to handle every dog you come into contact with.


Look to the shelter or vet for guidance, and if you feel unsafe, make sure it's known!  There are gloves and precautions to protect you from harm if a dog seems to like it might bite or is reactive.

Can Veterinarian Shadowing Be What You Need?

Veterinarian shadowing is quickly gaining steam as one of the best ways to volunteer with dogs. In this role, you get to learn about the duties and work of a vet clinic, help with the animals, and gain experience that will pay off in the long run.


If you’re squeamish, not every vet will have you anywhere near animals that need surgery or other help that would gross you out, but it’s important to consider if that’s a problem you’d be willing to work through.

How Can You Be Sure This Is Right For You?

Although we all love the idea of working with animals and making the world a better place, it's not easy work. Volunteering with dogs requires you to stay alert at all times while still being sweet and supportive as you feed, clean, and help socialize these animals.

If you're still unsure but you want to do something to give back, you should still reach out! Most organizations understand that it's a lot to take on for no pay and want to introduce people to the reality of the work they do. Ask if you can job shadow or work a single volunteer shift, and see what you think of it!  If you're honest with yourself and the organization from the get-go, you'll feel better about whatever decision you make in the end.

Rookie Mistakes Every Volunteer Should Avoid

Everyone has to learn the rough parts of volunteering eventually, so it's better to learn from other people's mistakes rather than to make them on your own!

One of the biggest mistakes is assuming that every dog is going to like you. Some dogs have been through traumatic pasts, and others are simply terrified of people. You can't approach every single dog like it's your pet; you need to be patient and work with them at their speed. Working with a good animal shelter will give you the tools you need to succeed with this.


Another mistake, especially if you're volunteering at a shelter, is forgetting to set boundaries. These animals will pull at your heartstrings: but if you can't afford a dog and don't have the space or time for one in your life, you need to set a boundary that you're not going to adopt one. Let people in your life know as well so they can help hold you accountable.


Another complicated mistake people make is pledging way too much time or work when they can't handle it. This problem can lead to burnout and is one of the fastest reasons people stop volunteering. Pace yourself, and start small.

Volunteering Is Incredibly Rewarding

Volunteering is one of the best ways to give back to your community and the animals that live in it. If you’re ready to start changing lives, it’s time to start volunteering and connecting with other dog lovers!