Choosing a dog walker is very much like choosing a nanny or babysitter for your kid. You are trusting someone with the most valuable thing in your life – your own child. A lot of people, including myself, view their four-legged best friend has their own child. Below, I pasted a great and useful article by a well-respected source in the dog industry, Veronica Boutelle. I encourage you to take a look at this as it will help guide you in your decision when selecting a dog walker.
Featured Article By: Veronica Boutelle on October 1, 2015
Choosing Your Dog Walker: What’s in the choice? A lot.
Dog walkers provide a much needed pressure valve for our busy modern lives, taking a time-consuming daily task off our plates. Choosing the right professional protects your dog’s physical and mental health as well as your peace of mind.
The dog walking industry is essentially unregulated. Anyone can simply wake up in the morning and decide to be a walker. No education is required before taking a group of off-leash dogs into public spaces. No testing body. No oversight of ethical business practices nor safety protocols.
On top of this, the past decade has seen an explosion of options in the dog walking industry, particularly in the Bay Area. We’ve had precedent-setting legislation in San Francisco requiring walkers to seek basic education in order to walk on city land, the emergence of a variety of education programs, and now the rise of on-demand corporate walking companies.
The result? An often overwhelming number of choices for busy families and professionals seeking help to provide their dogs the exercise and canine companionship they need. And these choices are not all equal. The quality of physical and emotional care varies widely, as does the level of basic safety—for your dog and your own liability. In short, there’s a lot riding on your choice of dog walkers.
How, then, do you choose? Here are five tips for picking the right walker for your dog:
1. Pick a pro
Online on-demand services are tempting. They’re convenient and simple to use, but you risk a lot for that simplicity. Depending on the service, the walker sent to your door may have little or no training or prior experience. Some services claim their walkers are certified, but this refers to internal certification based on online training. No doubt these walkers are serious dog lovers with the absolute best of intentions—but that doesn’t qualify them as professionals equipped with the knowledge and skill set necessary to keep your dog safe and happy.
You and your dog are both safer in the hands of a walker who knows your dog as well as you do—when it’s best for your pup to cross the street to avoid another dog or person, what kinds of dogs he does and doesn’t enjoy being around, what sorts of things make him nervous, and how he’s likely to react in any given situation.
Choose a walker who walks full time for a living, catering to a regular set of clients. Your walker should have a business license and professional liability insurance, follow local legislation where applicable, and be able to provide references.
2. Know what they know
Presumably all dog walkers love dogs and most have some experience with them. But loving dogs does not a professional make, and growing up with dogs does not constitute qualified experience. Even walking for several years cannot teach a walker the science of how dogs learn and the finer points of safe, humane training that allow a pro to keep your dog safe on and off leash.
Choose a walker who has successfully completed an established, respected training program. Your walker should be well versed in reading dog body language, group composition, understanding and handling aggression, safety and emergency protocols, canine first aid, ethical business practices, and humane, scientific, positive training strategies to keep your dog safe and having a great time.
3. Numbers matter
Some dog walkers walk a few dogs together. Some walk a dozen, some as many as 20. The difference matters for your dog’s safety, your liability, and the amount of individual attention your dog receives. Depending on the area, walkers are limited to 6 or 8 dogs by city, regional park, or national park rules, but these rules often go unheeded. Ask anyone you consider hiring what size groups they take out—and don’t hesitate to go see for yourself, too.
Another number that matters is how long your dog gets to play. Most dog walkers promise a full hour of outside romping, but it is sadly not unusual to see a truck or van pull up at Fort Funston, Point Isabel, or another fun destination only to unload and reload within 20 minutes. Again, it’s OK to shadow your walker to be sure your dog is getting the fun that’s been promised. Many walkers offer client perks, like GPS tracking systems or daily Facebook or Instagram posts of pics and videos of the day’s adventures.
4. Size and personality matter, too
It’s charming to see a Great Dane and Chihuahua walking side by side, but it’s not safe. All dogs are safer playing with buddies their own size. Be sure your walker follows the 50 percent rule—your dog’s playmates shouldn’t be more than twice her size, especially if she’s a smaller pooch. This prevents accidental injury during play as well as the tragedy of predatory drift, an often fatal phenomenon in which one dog misperceives another as prey and attacks. Drift can happen between any dogs, no matter how good friends they may be, but the risk is higher for smaller dogs, who can trigger drift by running or squeaking when hurt or startled.
Professional dog walkers take great pains to carefully group their charges according to size, personality, and compatible play styles to maximize fun and safety for everyone—as well as peace of mind for their human clients.
5. Paddles and rulers are a thing of the past
We no longer tolerate physical punishment of our children by teachers or caregivers, and with dogs becoming increasingly central to our human families, we should expect no less of dog walkers. Given that dogs can be taught anything without the use of force simply by applying scientific learning theory and the advanced training based on it, doing otherwise would be unconscionable.
A skilled walker should be able to keep your dog safe without resorting to pain, fear, or intimidation—that includes spanking, yelling, or using choke/prong/shock collars or water spray bottles. Your dog’s daily outings are supposed to be fun, after all. Choose a walker who understands learning theory and is committed to positive reinforcement training techniques.
The Health & Behavior Benefits of Regular Walking
Walking is healthy. We all know that. Daily outings that include real romping—running, fetching, chasing, maybe a little wrestling with friends—contribute to your dog’s health in a myriad of ways: maintaining a healthy weight and strong muscle mass, joint and bone strength, easy digestion, strong heart and circulation—a lot of the same reasons we humans should walk more.
The bottom line is healthy longevity, and compelling research over the last decade indicates that exercise and weight control is every bit as important in this regard for dogs as it is for us.
But regular dog walks influence another kind of health, too—your dog’s behavioral health. One of the most common pieces of advice dog trainers give is to get your dog more exercise. While no panacea, regular intensive exercise can eliminate or reduce many unwanted dog behaviors, including:
• Impulse-control issues
• Unwanted digging
• Boredom barking
• Unwanted chewing
In short, a well-exercised dog is an easier dog to come home to—and as a result of improved health, you may get to come home to him for many more years.
Veronica Boutelle is co-founder of the dog*tec Dog Walking Academy, the first training program ever offered for dog walkers. Established in the Bay Area in 2003, the DWA is now taught in 25 locations throughout the United States and internationally. Boutelle is author of several books, including The Business of Dog Walking: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love. She is former director of behavior & training for the San Francisco SPCA. Learn more about the dog*tec Dog Walking Academy at www.dogtec.org.