Dog walking is no walk in the park. To avoid putting the dogs or other people at risk, it’s a profession that requires patience, discipline, and constant awareness. But without any current regulations in place, who can you trust to walk your four-legged family member when anyone can call themselves a dog walker?
According to Erin Taylor, owner of Pawsitive Connection Dog Training & Services based in Richmond, professional dog walking has grown rapidly over the last 10 years. What most dog owners don’t realize is that because walking is a young business, there is currently no regulating body to dictate the standards of care or qualifications for the work. Anyone can call themselves a dog walker with nothing but a love of dogs to qualify their resume. Of course, a love of dogs is imperative — but not enough on its own.
Rates for dog walkers differ a lot depending on the location and whether they are offering group or individual walks, but generally charge between $20 to $35/walk. As for why it’s worth it? Taylor says exercise helps prevent and/or eliminate a lot of behavioural issues, which can end up costing dog owners lots more time and money down the road.
Taylor teaches the Dog*Tec Dog Walking Academy, a professional certification course for dog walkers, in both Mission at Richmond. She has trained dogs for over 10 years and her current training company, Pawsitive Connection, focuses on connecting humans and dogs through understanding and positive methods.
“Dogs can’t verbally tell us what went on in their day,” she says, “so it’s up to us to make sure we are getting all the information we need to be keeping them safe and happy.”
10 questions to ask a potential dog walker:
Are you trained in canine learning theory, body language, and pack management?
You want anyone caring for your dog to know how to:
- Use scientifically sound, humane training methods
- Read body language and take appropriate steps to prevent fights (and properly break them up when need be)
- Judge which dogs to place together for maximum compatibility
- Handle issues like quarrels over toys, space, or play styles.
How many dogs do you walk at once and do you walk alone?
Whether on or off leash, each dog added to a group increases the potential for conflict, injury, lost dogs, and distraction – not to mention making individual attention near impossible.
Teaming up with a friend can be fun, but it inevitably reduces attention. If that friend is also a dog walker, going out together combines two sets of dogs, making the pack too large for maximum safety. For best results, your walker should hit the trail with dogs, not other people. For similar reasons, cell phones and other potentially distracting devices should be turned off during dog walks.
Do you do the walking?
Most dog walking companies are very small where the sole proprietor is the sole walker. If you’re considering a larger company, it’s important to know how employees are chosen and trained.
What size dogs do you walk together?
Small dogs should be grouped with other small dogs, and the same goes for big ones. It’s too easy for small dogs to be injured during the course of play with and among their larger peers. It’s safest to stick to the 50% rule. For example, if your dog weighs 30 pounds, his playmates should weigh no more than 60 pounds.
How much time do you guarantee on the walk?
If the walking service you’re considering involves car transport, make sure the time quoted is time out of the vehicle, roaming, and having fun. The car ride shouldn’t be included.
What kind of training methods and equipment do you use?
The American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommend only positive-reinforcement based training. Your walker should know how to keep a group of dogs under control and safe without the use of choke, prong, and shock collars; citronella or water spray; hitting, shoving, or yelling. The dogs are supposed to have a good time.
Are you licensed, insured, and bonded?
Any walker using the word “professional” should carry dog-walking insurance and have a business license.
Do you have a professional service contract and references?
You should be asked to sign a contract to help avoid later conflicts and make clear the walkers’ responsibilities and yours as a dog owner.
Are you certified to provide canine first aid, and what are your emergency protocols?
What will your walker do if a dog is injured in his or her care? If your dog is part of a group, what will she do with the rest of the dogs if one member of the group is hurt and requires her full attention? What about if her vehicle breaks down, if a dog is lost, or if a natural disaster occurs?
Your walker should always carry emergency information and know the fastest route to the emergency veterinary clinic. Unfortunately, many dog walkers don’t think about these things until they occur.
What kind of vehicle do you use to transport dogs?
A walker should never leave dogs unattended in a vehicle, for any reason. Should an emergency happen, you want to know that your dog is being transported in a vehicle with maximum airflow. You also want to know the vehicle is well-kept to reduce chances of a breakdown. Ideally, the dogs are separated within the vehicle as much as possible for maximum comfort and to reduce chances of conflict during transport.
Choose your walker wisely and enjoy the benefits and a big dose of peace of mind. Your dog walker should make your dog’s day a blast and your day easier.