I was inspired to write this blog after witnessing something quite upsetting. A few weeks back I saw another local dog walker do something that has lead me to rule them out as someone I would recommend to anyone for pet care. However, I will use this as a platform to write a positive blog about what to look for in a good dog walker, so you have full confidence that your pet is safe in their care.
The industry is not regulated. Anyone can call themselves a dog professional, even a trainer or behaviourist, with absolutely no qualifications or understanding of dogs. So it is so important to check who you are working with.
The incident that I'm referring to occurred while I was out on one of my group walks. It was a nice day and my three dogs were all off lead and enjoying a large open space park. I noticed the walker in the distance with their three dogs. Two of which were attached to each other via a joint lead, and a staffie on a single lead. The walker let go of the two attached and they immediately sprinted away. The walker chased and shouted, and chased some more, and found themselves getting more and more frustrated as the dogs dodged them. Eventually the walker regained the dogs. They walked back across the park and the walker stopped and started shouting again. Strangely not at the two dogs that ran off, but instead at the staffie. From my perspective I hadn't seen that dog do anything out of sorts, but the walker was wagging their finger at the dog in it's face as it cowered. The walker then whacked the staffie across the nose! I was absolutely appalled! I have seen this same walker lose dogs before who pay absolutely no attention - and now I see for good reason! Why would they want to be with this walker if that is how they treat them? Personally if someone remotely touched my dog like that, I would taking legal action.
So I decided to write a blog that will help you know what to ask people in advance of handing over your pup. What qualities and knowledge should someone have before they can be trusted to take care for your furry family member?
Firstly I want to explain what was wrong with the above picture, and why was I so angry about it. If you know a dog in your care doesn't have a good recall, don't chance it! More importantly, it is not the job of a dog walker to discipline or punish someone else's dog. As a dog walker you are there to provide responsible care and report anything that may need working on or training with directly to the parents of that dog.
Hitting a dog across their nose is particularly awful! Their nose is so, so sensitive! The staffie who was currently doing nothing but giving appeasing behaviour to try and calm the walker, learnt only to fear that walker, or something else in it's environment, who knows?! All I can say for sure is that dog was stressed and scared and this was the carer's fault.
This is not what you pay a dog walker for.
See here for our another blog we wrote about why punishment with dogs is so ineffective - (coming soon)
So how does one choose a good dog walker? What questions should you ask them?
Firstly do some research. These days there are many websites that offer a one-stop for lots of pet carers in your area - dogbuddy.com, tailster.com and borrowmydoggie.com. The plus side to these websites are that you can easily find someone close to you, often they have a review system so you can see what other clients have said, and prices tend to be competitive. However, the cons are that often the people offering care on these websites may only be doing it as a hobby, so you may not keep them long. As hobbyists, these people will unlikely studied in dogs and their behaviour, so may not fully understand the dogs within their care.
However, research can also lead you to local pet carers in your area who advertise themselves through their own websites and social media. Looking to see if they have good google/ facebook reviews is a must. Testimonials are invaluable. If you can't get these, then you can always ask if they can put you in touch with another client of the walker's for a personal review. A good walker should be more than happy to ask one of their client's to speak to you.
Once you choose a walker, always meet and greet with them before putting your dog in their care or sharing your keys to your home. This should both be an opportunity for you to ask the walker questions, learn a little about them and decide whether they are a good fit for your pup. It should also be an opportunity for them to ask you lots of questions that will be important for keeping your pet safe in their care. At Wanderdog we offer a 1 hour free consultation with each perspective client, where we have meeting with you and your dog at your home. We also have three different forms to fill in - an in-depth dog information form, a service contract that states our promises to you and terms & conditions, and a release form for your keys and ability to make decisions with your vet in case of emergency and not being able to get in touch with the client directly. The walker should also take emergency contact details also.
Does your walker have public liability insurance of at least £1 million, preferably key insurance too. You can ask for evidence of this. It is so important!
Ask them how many dogs do they walk at one time. Insurance companies in the UK do not insure for groups larger than 6 dogs, nor is it enjoyable for the dogs generally. So if your walker takes more, they are not covered. Ideally you want groups of 4 or less dogs. Wanderdog used to walk 4 but changed to 3. We believe that the dogs are happier in a smaller group, and the walker has more time to spend with those dogs in a park rather than just walking a-to-b from one dog's home to another.
Does your walker understand the difference between modern methods of handling dogs, over out-dated traditional ideas? Ideally your walker will have taken at least a short course on dog body language and communication. This way they will better understand the dogs in their care, and make sure that they are aware if dogs are experiencing stress. You want to avoid getting a walker who takes discipline into their own hands, or regularly puts your dog in situations where they are not comfortable. Bad experiences that occur on group walks, can affect behaviour back at home, as stress hormones take time to dissipate. You also want to know that if something does happen to your dog, that was either out or within the control of your walker, that they will be honest with you and tell you so you can manage any potential issues that arise.
Ask your walker what equipment they use with the dogs in their care. It is okay if they suggest using a harness if your dog tends to pull. However, if they condone or use shock, spray, prong collars, or slip leads do not accept this. Make sure your walker also does not aversive equipment such as rattle cans or spray cans to punish. Really the only thing your walker should have on them is toys, treats and water.
Does the walker have certain policies in place that protect your dog? Such as a weather policy, for extreme heat and thunder storms. They should also not accept dogs if they are reactive or aggressive to people or other dogs, or clearly not suited to group walks. You want the whole group of dogs to get on peacefully and for your dog not to feel worried or stressed about spending time within that group.
Does your walker have experience in first aid? It is easy to do a short day course, and this gives you the peace of mind that your walker will know what to do in an emergency before getting your pup to your vet if needs be.
Always start with a set of trial walks. You can ask to join a walk if you would like to see how a walker is first hand. However, if this isn't possible make sure you have a period where you and the walker can decide if your dog fits into the group happily and gels well with the walker. Even the best walkers, may sometimes not match every dog. At Wanderdog we have a period of 5 trial walks to make sure your pup both enjoys their experience and gets on with the other dogs.
Does your walker send updates, photos and videos? This way you can see how your dog was on the walk, and generally follow your dog's experience. Do they look like they are having fun?
These are the core things to consider when choosing a good walker, and keeping you pooch safe while you're away.
If you have questions please get in touch with us via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) - we always love to help!