How to pick the right dog walker?

In 2015 it is estimated that 12million (46% of) households have pets.  The pet population stands at around 58 million. With dogs making up 8.5million of them that’s 24% of all households in other words 1 in every 4 homes have a dog making care for them big business.

Choosing the right person to look after your dog, when you can’t, is really important. This person will have a huge influence on your dog, their behaviour and welfare, so here are some questions and top tips to ask any potential dog walker.

12109228_10153723358653834_4639713538174744132_n1. Who will actually be walking my dog?

If the person you initially meet won’t be personally walking your dog, make sure you meet the person who will be, before hiring them.

2. Does your company have multiple employees?

If they do will you meet them all, make sure your dog will be walked by one regular person so they can bond rather than lots of different people.

3. What kind of experience do you have with dogs?

Looking after other people’s dogs of all ages and breeds is important, as is having a current certificate in canine first aid (they last for 3 years only) and having a good understanding of general dog body language and communication especially if they will be walking more than one dog. Check these certificates and qualifications, make sure they are recent.

4. How many dogs do you walk at once?

Most insurers cover for up to 6 dogs and lots of councils now impose a 4 dog maximum law per handler. Yes, dogs are social animals however it does not follow that all dogs like all other dogs, or that dogs are automatically at ease with each other as soon as they meet. Due to their nature dogs are social creatures and they can learn just as many bad habits from each other as good. If the walker also runs a daycare double check that they are fully licenced with the local council.

Dogs Die In Hot Cars5. What happens to my dog whilst you are collecting or dropping off another?

Are any dogs tied up outside, with no one to watch over them, while they pick up another dog? Will they be taking dogs into one another’s homes? That is a situation with high likelihood of conflict. Are they leaving them in a vehicle outside? This can lead to the potential for theft especially in branded vehicles, it may as well say “dogs inside take your pick”, the vehicle should be temperature controlled, which should run separately to the engine or your dog is at a serious risk over heating in the summer, it only takes 10 minutes to cook a dog in a car on a hot day.  Another serious situation which occurs frequently is leaving them in one space unsupervised, such as the boot of a car or van, this can lead to severe fights.  Tragically one of my friends dog was horrifically killed in the back of a dog walkers van when left with only 2 other dogs who he had been on walks with previously without any signs of problems. Quite frankly do not let them take that sort of risk with your dog, insist that if they are transporting them that all dogs are in their own space whether separated by barriers or crates and if on the seat they should be in a harness on a seatbelt their safety should be the priority.

6. Will you be taking my dog to the park?

You have every right to say where you would and would not like your dog walked, you are the customer. Once you get up to bigger numbers of dogs walked together it gets tricky to give each dog attention. What I hate even more than I hate seeing one person walking 6 dogs is that one person taking those 6 dogs to the park and letting them all off lead. No human has enough eyeballs or enough legs to supervise that many animals especially in a public park where any number of people or other dogs could join that mix. If one dog gets injured and needs carried to safety how can they handle the other 5 dogs? One or maybe at a push two dogs on lead and one in their arms is almost possible for a short distance but any more is really impossible.

7. How do you choose which dogs walk with each other?

No matter how many years experience they have they should NEVER introduce a new dog to another without both dogs having their own handler to make sure the interaction is safe and beneficial for both dogs. Just because the dogs are the same breed or age does not mean they will get on or even should be mixing with each other, choosing dogs to pair together should be based on their individual temperament and what would suit them. Two dogs who get over excited in the park will not be a good pairing as they may find it hard to hear a recall etc.

8. Have you had training to walk multiple dogs at a time?

Dog walkers can contact local trainers and behaviourists to get advice and training, this is highly recommended when walking more than one dog from different households, in order to make sure they can tell if it will be beneficial for both dogs reading dog body language effectively and reacting appropriately.

10917078_394865460690060_5666357254315731478_n9. What happens when you can’t make it or I need to cancel?

What back up is there if they get sick or can’t make it, how much notice will be given and how much help will they give to find an alternative. Your dog walker should have public liability insurance, key cover, references, a service contract, written policies and prices all available for you to see on your first meeting.

10 Can we go for a walk together?

Every dog walker should encourage you to walk together to see how they handle your dog, who your dog will interact with especially if there are any other dogs or people and see how your dog gets on with the walker in general. Your dog should be comfortable with them very quickly and even if your dog is usually shy your dog walker should be able to show you how they will work with your dog.  The walker will be on their best behaviour, but what one person considers their best behaviour can be very telling. The walker whose idea of showing off their skills is marching your dog, with plenty of yanks and sharp “commands,” is not someone I’d recommend. The walker who engages with your dog, lets them enjoy sniffing and encourages desirable behaviour rather than coercing it is a walker who should be hired.

TOP TIPS

Tip #1: A Dog Walker Isn’t a Trainer – Unless they are a Trainer

image1There are lots of dog walkers who are fantastic at their job and have been doing it for years, however they are not trainers. A good trainer is someone who actively keeps up to date with current research on positive methods of dog training and behaviour. Using research and evidence to support their methods, having completed a number of specific courses, gaining qualifications and being members of associations such as the APDT, Pet Professional Guild or IMDT. If your walker makes recommendations on behaviour and training, ask what their exact qualifications and experience are and ask for evidence that the recommendations they are making will help your individual dog. Even a qualified dog trainer who’s hired to walk your dog shouldn’t be conducting behaviour modification on their own initiative whether it is different to the trainers advice you have already sought or something they tell you they are doing without a full consultation.

Tip #2: Be Honest

Be brutally honest, if your dog has medical or behavioural issues, you need to know if the walker has the skills to work with your dog and they need to be able to make an informed decision. A good dog walker will know their limits. It’s ok for them to tell you they aren’t skilled enough to work with your dog. In fact, it’s the responsible thing to do. Don’t hide anything from them. A dog walker that’s any good will want to better understand your dog’s needs, what walking routes are safest and what your training plans are, etc. If they don’t ask about your individual dog’s needs move on. They should be happy to continue any things you are practicing with a trainer like loose lead walking or recalls.

11070508_446582555518350_8059121672605944116_nTip #3 Go with someone that does this for a living

Rather than someone who is doing it as a hobby or to fill time like a student, retired person or a teenager who loves dogs, especially when lots of insurance companies don’t pay out for injuries caused in the sole care of a minor, anyone under 18 should be accompanied by an adult.  It’s a huge commitment to show up at someone’s home every single day for months and years. You need someone who is motivated to be reliable, caring and professional, in it for the long haul not a temporary measure.

Tip #4 Communication

Writing a note takes a minute or two away from your dog and helps keep you up to date on your dogs health, experiences and are a great way to identify if issues are arising. Many dog walkers love writing little reports either leaving a little journal or dropping a text, now with social media lots use facebook or twitter to communicate updates too. If they don’t leave notes, ask them how you’ll know they’ve been there each day and if there are any incidents with people or dogs.