With the RSPCA, Dogs Trust and The Pet Industry Federation coming together to put together suggested guidelines for Professional Dog Walkers, it's ideal timing for us to share some tips and insights to help dog owners choose the right person for their pooch.
The unregulated dog walking industry is a minefield for owners and we want to make it safer for all involved. Worryingly, almost 60 per cent of owners have no contract or legal agreement in place with their dog walker to protect themselves and their dog.
Paula Boyden, Dogs Trust Veterinary Director
Professional dog walkers provide a necessary and important service but the industry is completely unregulated leaving unsuspecting owners at risk of putting their hound in the wrong hands. Whether those hands are ones which simply don't show up, or ones which do not take adequate precautions to keep the dogs in their care safe or the ones who are downright cruel to the dogs in their care, it is time that dog owners were empowered and knowledgeable about how to choose an outstanding pet professional.
So, in a completely unregulated industry, with new 'professional walkers' setting up all the time, how do you ensure you choose someone experienced, knowledgable and kind to take care of your pet?
Ask the right, open ended questions to elicit the information you need to make a decision.
Things you really need to know include the 'Who, How and When'.
You want to meet with the individual who will be walking your dog, not just the manager or person who runs the dog walking business you are considering. Have they undertaken Canine First Aid training so they're equipped in an emergency? Are they insured - you want to see proof of both of these things?
What experience do they have? How long have they been dog walking - client's dogs, not just their own. What training have they undertaken? Consider throwing in a couple of scenario based questions so you can really get a feel of their capabilities and experience. 'What would you do if you lost a dog?' 'What would you do in the event a fight breaks out between dogs?', 'How do you decide which dogs to walk together' and the more logistical 'What happens to my dog if you're sick or your vehicle breaks down?'
How will your dog be collected for his walkies? Does the walker operate on foot or by vehicle? If on foot then be sure that they are not going to be bringing other dogs into your household or leaving your dog tied up outside someone elses house. Even if your dog love, love, loves other dogs this is never a good idea and is very unprofessional.
If your walker uses a vehicle then how is it set up? Can you see their vehicle? All dogs should have their own secure and safe place to travel, ideally in separate crates but as a minimum they should have seatbelts and a divider to keep them safe. Multiple dogs loose in the back of a vehicle is very dangerous for a number of reasons. It's distracting to the driver, its dangerous to the dogs in the event of a crash and not least if a fight breaks out between dogs then the results could be dire.... especially if the walker was out of the vehicle conducting a pick up or drop off.
Is their vehicle branded? There are pros and cons to this one and only you can decide what you are happiest with. Dogs will be left for short periods whilst the walker picks up and drops off dogs. A branded vehicle obviously advertises what is contained within which could be a cause of concern in terms of theft. The pro of a branded vehicle is that the walker is easy to identify to the general public which could give you some reassurance of the walker's conduct in a public place.
How many dogs do they walk at once? This can vary greatly between walkers and rules vary from council to council. If your dog isn't comfortable in the group how will they deal with that? Group dog walks are great fun for a lot of dogs but they aren't for everyone. You need to know that your walker is not in it solely for commercial reasons and that they will put the best interest of the dogs above all else.
When will your dog be picked up and dropped off? It's not unusual for a dog walker to give you a window of time for this rather than an appointed time. The nature of the job means that traffic, client needs and volume of work can have an impact on the daily schedule but you should be looking to ensure your dog is not left for longer than he can cope with between you leaving and your dog walker arriving.
How much of the time they are out will be spent in the vehicle? It''s not a bad thing for a dog who is comfortable with car travel to spend a couple of hours each day in the vehicle and given the nature of the work it can be unavoidable. The point of this is to consider the logistics of your dogs day, his actual whereabouts and how suited that is to your individual dog.
When it's snowing or really hot, what do they do? Does their vehicle have air conditionning? Will they adjust the times or locations of their walks or offer visits instead?
There are a lot of really wonderful dog walkers out there; do your research, ask questions but above all - trust your gut!
Dogs like people are all different and as such, different things suit different dogs.
Don't be afraid to call a few local walkers for a chat and get a feel for them.
A recommendation from a friend or neighbour is only as good as their knowledge of the walker - make sure that YOU and YOUR DOG are happy with your choice.
Finally, once you've found that wonderful walker that your pooch adores.... Be honest and upfront with them about your dog. They can only do a truly fantastic job if they know the truth. And treat them super well, they really are worth it!