A Grim Dog Walkers Tail.

I’m very fortunate that I get to work with some great dog related folk, I may know about alot about training and behaviour, but thought I’d ask the professionals to give their thoughts on the things to look for in a dog walker / groomer and home boarder.

This weeks guest blogger is one of the best dog wakers I know (I can give you her details if you like but you’ll be really lucky if she has a space!).

Bedtime reading for anyone searching for their perfect furry dog mother.

Once upon a time a lovely little family decided to get a puppy.  This puppy wasn’t just any puppy but the most special puppy in all of the land and the family felt very lucky to have found him.  With every day that the puppy grew bigger the families love for their puppy grew in equal measure.  The puppy loved his family very much too, especially his 1st favourite human who walked him, and looked after him while the rest of his humans were at school and work.

One day an important envelope arrived with the exciting news that the puppies 1st favourite human had been called to go on a quest that would take him to the next land.  The family were all very happy and had a big feast that evening to celebrate.  But the puppy was sad, and when the family asked what was wrong, he replied (I told you he was special – a special talking dog)

 “But who will look after me now?”

It was, alas, a tale as old as time…

Ok so your circumstances have changed or you’re getting a new dog and you’ve decided to use a dog walker – so how to avoid placing your dog in the care of the Big Bad Wolf.

DO YOUR RESEARCH!

Yes, social media is great for photos and reviews but DO NOT rely solely on asking a facebook group (full of random strangers) for a recommendation.  I’ve seen it so many times, someone asks for a recommendation and a flood of tags follow with comments “so and so is just amazing” all recommending someone who has been in business a fortnight and has all their family and friends promoting them.  Yes, ask on groups but then do your due diligence.

Recommendations are great but where are they coming from? Someone who uses a dog walker, someone who meets a lot of dog walkers while out with their own dog or someone who is a pet professional themselves…  The best reassurance you can get is someone who is rated by their peers.  After all us dog walkers are the ones that see the folk that clearly can’t tell the time, and always arrive at the field after and leave before us, that see the dog walkers who make zero attempt to keep their dogs safe and under control and who walk dogs that are clearly stressed or struggling in a group situation…

Look at websites and google reviews, ask friends and family for recommendations, ask your groomer or the pet shop you visit, speak to your vet.  If you ever did puppy training classes go back to the trainer for a recommendation. If you see a dog walker doing a great job in the park go and speak to them (or leave a note on their van). 

When you’ve found someone you like the look of write down the questions you want to ask so you don’t forget anything and when you arrange to meet them ask them to bring a copy of their insurance documents (dog walking is currently unregulated, but any decent dogwalker should have public liability insurance as a minimum) and also ask to see any evidence of training courses they have attended like canine first aid, understanding canine body language and behavior etc.

Side note – a good dog walker should be asking you plenty of questions too. They should be assessing whether your dog is adequately trained and comfortable enough to be walked with other dogs and working out if your dog is the right fit with their existing client’s dogs.

So, a few things to ask other than the obvious about background and experience –

Find out who is going to be walking your dog – so Snow White turns up to see you, she’s all sweetness and light and seems to know her stuff but the reality is she’ll be sending one of her seven dwarfs along to care for your dog. Do you really want Dopey entrusted with your house keys, alarm code and your dog?  If it’s a company with a team of dog walkers ask to meet everyone who will be taking your dog out and find out about their background and experience too.

Ask to look inside the vehicle your dog will travelling in – an appropriate vehicle is one that is crated, so that dogs may travel separately, that has crates spacious enough that dogs can stand up and turn around and has sufficient ventilation and air flowing through. 

This is really important – just because someone calls themselves a professional dog walker don’t assume they have a professional set up – you may imagine your dog is travelling in a charming carriage when in reality it’s a rotten pumpkin (with no crates), that may well burst open leaving your dog to fall out onto a main road and nearly be run over by another dog walker driving along (true story)!

Where will your dog be walked?  Don’t just assume they’ll be heading off on adventures through the enchanted forest…

Of course, safety is the main consideration but be aware some dog walkers hire enclosed fields to exercise the dogs rather than taking them for a walk in public.  This is great in a small group with a dog walker with sufficient knowledge to use the time to do training and play enrichment/brain games to mentally tire your dog (using a ball chucker does not count as an enrichment game – overuse may actually overstimulate your dog and cause problems with behavior not to mention put them at risk of injury).

But you get a couple of dog walkers standing around chatting while a dozen plus dogs run wild and you’ll have no end of problems when you try and walk your dog come the weekend and you can’t recall them because they’ve learned every dog is for charging up to and playing with because there’s no boundaries with the dog walker. Or worse they become fearful and reactive because the private enclosed space means the dog walker has no assessment or criteria for the dogs the accept (except that the owner is willing to pay) and your dog is subjected to unchecked, inappropriate attention from poorly socialised dogs. 

Ask what handling methods the dog walker uses – you’re looking for someone who uses reward-based methods or positive reinforcement.   If they start talking about being the pack leader and dominance then make like Hansel and Gretel when the witch tries to put them in the oven and RUN.

As a general rule if you see any changes in your dog’s behavior after they’ve started going out with a dog walker, they should be positive changes.  Your dog walker should be confident and communicative and ready to discuss with you any concerns they may have or any changes they see in your dog that may affect your dog’s place on their walks.  Don’t take it as a negative if they raise a training issue with you – it means that they actually care about the safety and well-being of the dogs in their care.

And as a final word – when you find your happy ending and a dog walker that both you and your dog love please remember that they are constantly balancing the needs and juggling requests from ALL their clients. If they say no to you, they’re probably just being honest and actually doing what they say they’re going to do… if I could find a way to be in two places at once I’d be a wealthy dog walker!