Recently, a few puppy owners have been telling me about how they plan to get a dog walker to take their dog out once a week in a bid to provide them with more opportunities to socialise with other dogs and give them time away from their owners. I have mixed feelings on this. I was a dog walker myself for 5 years and have seen some great walkers and some really terrible ones.
Choosing the wrong walker can have a negative impact on your dog's behaviour and emotional well being and unfortunately, there is no regulatory body to help owners make the right choice. In fact, while I was midway through writing this blog, my mum called to tell me there was a piece on the BBC news regarding the regulation of trainers and walkers. She was excited that there may actually be some change in the law about this and had no idea that, sadly, this is a battle that has going no-where for a very long time.
So if there is no regulation in place to ensure folks are doing it right, how do you choose a dog walker? By asking questions and thinking about what happens when your dog is in their care. Below are just some of the questions that I’d be asking.
Is the dog walker insured? At the very least they should have public liability insurance but they should also be covered for accidents that your dog might be involved in while in their care. If a walker isn’t insured, walk away.
How many dogs do they walk at any one time? This is a contentious one, many insurance companies will only insure a walker for walking 6 dogs at a time but some have no limit. If it’s a group of really well-behaved dogs or the dogs are taken to a private field then 6 might be ok but if your dog walker is walking in a public place they should be able to have full and proper control of all the dogs in their charge and be able to pick up every poo. This doesn’t mean the dogs all have to be on leads but they need to recall quickly if required and have a system for not missing poos – which gets trickier the more dogs you have.
How long will they walk your dog for? If they say it’s an hour walk, is it actually an hours walk or are they just out the house for an hour? What if it’s lashing rain, will they still take them, do you want them to take them, do they do let outs, would you prefer that or will your dog still be up for the normal walk? What if it’s over 25 degrees and glorious sunshine, will they slow things down, walk somewhere shaded and offer more of a mental enrichment activity day rather than running your dog into a state of heatstroke?
How long will your dog be in a van travelling to and from the walk location? What kind of area does your dog walker cover? Will your dog be travelling for longer than they’ll be walking? For some, this might not be an issue but for others, it will.
How will your dog travel? Safely? Ask to see inside the van and check that it looks safe. Fold up crates stacked on top of each other are not safe. Travel systems should be robust, safe and secure. Just think about what would happen if the van was involved in just a minor accident. Will each dog have their own space? Putting dogs from different households into a single restricted space could be asking for trouble. Is the van ventilated sufficiently? A separate cooling or ventilation system may not be necessary if there isn’t a solid bulkhead and air can flow from the front of the van, however, it may not be suitable for transporting short-nosed or brachycephalic dogs on hot days who are more susceptible to heatstroke and dehydration.
Does your walker have a canine first aid qualification? Something that gave me more confidence as a dog walker was knowing I had a plan if the worst should happen and the skills to deal with it.
Are they a member of any professional organisations that have a code of conduct? Knowing that your walker has thought about how they should behave and aligned themselves with an organisation, such as the Pet Professional Guild can give you peace of mind, knowing that they are not going to use force, fear or pain on your beloved pet.
Finally, personal recommendations are great but be sure to look at the behaviour of that person's dog. Are they a nice steady dog or a total lunatic? Your dog is likely to become a product of their environment so look at the behaviour of the dogs in your dog walkers charge. These are the dogs your dog will learn from so look out for role models – dogs that can have fun but are well behaved.