2 years ago I was a first time dog owner and I needed a dog walker. I didn’t know what I was looking for; I was so inexperienced, I assumed any dog walker would be far more experienced and qualified than me, and I could therefore trust them with my dog. As circumstances had it, I ended up sending my dog to day-care and so never engaged the services of a walker.
In the time since then, I have started a dog walking business, completed a theoretical and practical dog training course, and acquired another dog! If I were to look for a dog walker again I would have a list as long as my arm of questions and instructions for anyone who I was going to trust to walk my dogs. What should you be looking for though? In an industry that isn’t regulated, anyone can call themselves a dog trainer or behaviourist and anyone can set up a dog walking business, no experience or qualifications required. I thought I’d write some of my thoughts about what to look for and what to ask someone who you could potentially be trusting with your dogs (this is by no means an exhaustive list I’d be here all day!). I wish I’d had a resource or guidance when I was looking…
One of the first things I would be looking for is a dog walker with experience of the breed of dog that I have. There are so many differing breed-specific behaviours that it’s essential you find someone with experience of those traits. When I first started walking dogs, there were quite a few people that I turned away as I just didn’t have experience with their larger breed dogs. In my first year, I pretty much specialised in Cockapoos, Spaniels and Mini Schnauzers! In the background, I was volunteering for Manchester Dogs’ Home and completing my dog training course; both of which have given me hands on experience with a massive variety of breeds.
Once I know someone has experience with my dog’s breed, I’d want to get an understanding of what experience and qualifications that person has. I’m not saying that every dog walker needs to have qualifications, (no qualification can replace years of experience that many dog walkers have), but in the disposable society we live, it’s easy to set up a dog walking business when the weather is nice and then decide it’s not for you when the nights draw in and it gets cold. If someone has qualifications, I know they are invested in their profession, I’d also be checking what was actually required to obtain those qualifications; you can get a certificate online to call yourself a dog trainer in 60 minutes that costs £35. However, when someone gives up their evenings and weekends to complete assignments and practical assessments, you know they are invested!
It’s the same with a website: if someone is committed to their profession, you’d expect them to have a website show casing their experience and services, websites are so cheap and simple to set up these days that all businesses should have one. If you’re confident about your skills and experience, it makes sense that you would want somewhere for potential clients to visit to get a feel for you.
I’d then consider practical things:
· how many dogs will there be on the group walks? The fewer there are, the more attention each dog will get from the walker - and the faster their relationship will develop. If your dog is being walked off lead, they won’t have recall without a relationship – and that takes time to develop.
· what happens when the weather is too hot for the dogs to be walked in the middle of the day? Will they walk the dogs earlier, and pop in during the afternoon to give them a toilet break? What temperature is too hot? This might sound crazy, but there were many days last summer when it would have been too dangerous to walk dogs in the middle of the day. On hot days, I start group walks at 9am instead of 11am to beat the heat.
· how will they be transported? Are they transported securely? What will they do if your dog is nervous of a car or doesn’t travel well?
· how is each dog temperament tested and integrated into group walks?
· Is the walker canine first aid trained? Were they trained online, or did they do a practical course with a veterinary professional?
· Does the walker have appropriate insurance, and can they provide a DBS check? You’re potentially giving this person keys to your house, if they don’t have a website or a Police check, what other evidence can they provide you so you know they are reliable and trustworthy?
· Where will the dogs be walked? Is it a local park, or further afield like a country park; that is a distance from a main road? Will there be variation in the walks or will it be the same walk every day? Are they going on an actual walk with a route, or just being walked round a field in a continuous loop?
These are just some of the things I would be considering to help me get a feel for the person I would be trusting with keys to my house and the safety of my dogs and is by no means an exhaustive list. I cover a relatively small area in South Manchester for walking but if you have any questions or want any free advice please give me a call.
Running a dog walking business is hard work; there are so many things that can go wrong and taking it seriously is the only way to do it. You can’t do it as a hobby or just to make some extra cash; as walking other people’s dogs is such a massive responsibility.
Services like ‘Borrow my Doggy’ are great for some people, but I’d still want to hear the right answer to all the questions above before I trusted someone with my dog. Just because someone is walking my dog informally, or for free, doesn’t mean my expectations are different.
I have so much respect for the other dog walkers I see out every day who make it their career - it’s hard, but so rewarding. I feel very fortunate that people trust me with their amazing pets.