How to pick the right dog walker?
In 2018 it is estimated that 12million (45% of) households have pets. The pet population stands at around 51 million. With dogs making up 9million of them that’s 26% of all households (according to https://www.pfma.org.uk/pet-population-2018) in other words 1 in every four homes have a dog making caring for dog big business.
Choosing the right person to look after your dog, when you can’t, is essential. This person will have a significant influence on your dog, their behaviour and welfare, so here are some questions and top tips to ask any potential dog walker.
1. Who actually will 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, 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 essential, as is having a current certificate in canine first aid (they last for three 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 four 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 hold the right type of licence with the local council.
New licensing regulations, known as the Animal Activities Licensing Regulations 2018 (AAL), came into force on 1st October 2018. You can read the full legislation here: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2018/486/contents/made. This new regulation only applies to England.
The regulations cover boarding kennels, boarding catteries, dog home boarding, dog day care (and pet sales, breeding and exhibits).
5. What happens to my dog while 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 a 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 severe risk overheating in the summer, it only takes 10 minutes to cook a dog in a car on a hot day. Another critical 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 friend’s dog was horrifically killed in the back of a dog walkers van when left with only two other dogs which 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 more significant 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 six dogs is that one person is taking those six dogs to the park and letting them all off the 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 five dogs? One or maybe at a push two dogs on a lead and one in their arms is almost possible for a short distance, but any more is 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 the 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, to make sure they can tell if it will be beneficial for both dogs reading dog body language effectively and reacting appropriately.
9. 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 practice 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.
Tip #1: A Dog Walker Isn’t a Trainer – Unless they are a Trainer
There 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 practices, having completed some 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 suggestions 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 trainer’s 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. It’s the responsible thing to do. Don’t hide anything from them. A dog walker that’s any good will want to understand your dog’s needs better, 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 practising with a trainer like loose lead walking or recalls.
Tip #3 Go with someone that does this for a living
Rather than someone who is doing it as a hobby or filling 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 small 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.
NB: If your dog walker doesn’t fulfil all of these areas, be clear on the areas which are non negotiable for you (leaving dogs in hot cars for example without cool mats or water, or travelling unrestrained in crates which is against the law) and areas you feel the Walker has done the best they can (their vehicle isn’t air conditioned when the engine is off but they do a lot for the care of your dogs when picking up others).
Originally written 15th November 2015 updated 3rd January 2019