DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR DOG IS?
The good old dog walk is the most important thing you can do for your dog. Frequent walks are critical to maintaining your dog’s sociability and confidence, in addition to their physical health. Walks exercise your dog's mind and body.
By Fawn Pierre and Tammy Mehmed
A good dog is a mentally stimulated (tired) dog!
Responsible dog owners have realized the value of the good old dog walk, most importantly being one tired pooch! Over the past 5 years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of dog walking services. This is due to consumer demand and awareness for physical and mental stimulation for their dogs. This type of service is particularly popular in large metropolitan cities where yards are limited and dogs must be walked to relieve themselves. Did you know that city dogs are walked more often than country dogs and much more often than suburban dogs? This accounts for the infamous suburban syndrome found in those backyard dogs -- poor social skills, except with the dog’s immediate family.
Who is walking your dog?
Fortunately, many dog walkers are people who love dogs and see the dog walking profession as a good way to combine their passion with a career. Unfortunately, there are no professional standards to prepare walkers for handling multiple dogs. For example, groomers, veterinarians, and veterinarian technicians, all have a certification process to complete before they are entrusted with your dog. Dog walkers and dog trainers* do not. (*The Association of Pet Dog Trainers now certifies dog trainers and the San Francisco SPCA offers an intensive 6 week course. For more information you can visit the www.apdt.com or www.sfspca.org.)
As in any high demand market, there are those trying to make a quick buck and those who actually know what they are doing. Do you know who your dog walker is? Would you trust anyone with your dog? Determine what your pet's needs are before you start looking for your canine’s new walking companion. Remember, you wouldn't just buy a car without a test-drive. Don't hire a dog walker unless you know how they will handle your dog!
Where do I begin?
There are many types of dog walkers -- those who actually "walk", those who go out for a personal jog, those who train and walk, those who will take them to an enclosed dog park for play, those who will take them to a quiet area to just hang around outside, and those who just do quick potty break walks. Do you want the walker to reinforce your dog’s basic obedience skills and how should they do it? What sort of rewards and punishments (food, praise, physical aversives, reprimands) and training equipment (flat collar, gentle leader, choke chain, prong collar, shock collar, long line) do you feel are acceptable. Below are some things to think about before you start looking for the right dog walker. Once you have determined your dog’s needs, put your dog walker to the test.
1. What kind of exercise does my dog need?
- Does my dog need to walk for a straight hour? Does she have a weight problem?
- Does my high-energy dog need to walk? Run? Play fetch?
- Does my dog prefer play sessions with other dogs? Are there behavioral problems to monitor during play? Can a walker handle this?
- Does my dog only need a potty break during the day? Is 15 minutes enough? 30 minutes? Does she need two potty breaks? How do I know if my dog is actually getting the agreed upon time frame?
- I have a new puppy. What sort of walks does he need? Does he need a walk?
2. Why is there such a range in fees?(i.e., charges range from $12 - $25/hour - remember you get what you pay for)
- Find out how much of the time period is travel time and how much is actual activity time.
- How many dogs are in the group? If you are having a private or semi-private session, your fees will be more.
- How experienced is your walker? Does the walker have any certifications or training experience?
3. What breeds of dogs are in the group, are they altered and what are their ages?
Could you handle six 8-month-old labs at the beach? Not many people could! The dynamics of a group depend on age, size, breed, temperament, training background, and play style. It is important to have some adult dogs in the group, and an older adult female is ideal. Your dog may be in the same group daily which can be a detriment to your dog’s social skills if he is not meeting at least 3 to 4 new dogs a week. So it is important to have a good pack structure. If you have a small shy dog, perhaps keeping it with a group of small dogs would be best, unless you want to improve his social skills with bigger dogs. How does a dog walker handle all of these variables? Keep all of this in mind when matching your dog up with a group.
4. Socialization skills
If you're concerned about lack of socialization by being in the same group daily, ask your walker if your dog will encounter new dogs on the walk?
5. Accompany your walker
- We cannot stress the importance of a “test drive”. Accompany your dog walker on a couple of walks to ensure things are handled the way you like them. Even better, go to a dog park and watch the existing dog walkers. Do you like what you see? You should be able to observe:
- If the walker has control of the group.
- How the walker handles recalls, obedience, reward and punishment.
- If the walker pays attention to the dogs. Are they safe? How the group gets along. The location and type of exercise -- how long is the actual walk?
Now that you have determined what’s best for Rover, it’s time to interview dog walkers. Attached is a form you can use to help you assess your future dog walker’s skills, background and commitment. You can also have several dog walkers fill out the form and get back to them later!
Fawn Pierre has been training puppies and canine companions for over fifteen years. She is an instructor with Sirius Puppy Training, an instructor at the SFSPCA Dog Training Academy, a member of APDT and the creator of the first curriculum for dog walkers. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tammy Mehmed has assisted in classes with Sirius Puppy Training as well as the SFSPCA for five years. She is a professional member with APDT and is now an instructor for Sirius Puppy Training as well as a devoted doggie guardian. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
Contract of good faith disclosing all practices
The person you hire to walk your dog should have the following qualities: composure, sincerity of purpose, presence, and playfulness. These questions are intended to help dog owners choose and evaluate a potential dog walker. Answering "yes," "no," or leaving a question blank neither qualifies or disqualifies a dog walker. Instead, these questions are meant to inform you, the dog owner, of the dog walker's practice -- how the dog will be treated on the walk and what actions the walker will take if specific behavior issues or emergencies arise. It is important that you maintain a regular dialogue with your dog walker. Ask them for observations regarding your dog’s general behavior and experiences on the walk. If the company you choose has multiple employees, you may want to meet them individually before they walk your dog and ask for their experience and references. If you would like more information on how to select a dog walker and how to interpret the responses, or for a list of walkers that have already committed and responded to these questions, you may email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the SF/SPCA’s behavior hotline at (415) 554-3075.
Where will you take my dog?
In what types of activities do the dogs engage? Do you walk the dogs off or on leash or is the outing a supervised play-group in a designated location?
For how long will you exercise my dog (excluding car time)?
Do you include obedience during the walk? If so, how?
What will you do if my dog does not come when called? Does not sit when requested?
What will you do if my dog jumps on you? On somebody else?
What will you do if my dog growls at another dog? At a person?
What sort of punishments and/or reinforcements do you use?
Do you consult with a professional dog trainer? If so, who?
What is your philosophy on keeping dogs under control?
Do you require that your dogs have basic obedience training?
What is the maximum number of dogs you will walk on an outing?
Do you separate dogs according to size? Age? Activity level?
What is the protocol for introducing my dog into the group? For letting my dog off leash?
How do you screen dogs for dog friendliness?
Will you provide any reports/updates on my dogs’ behavior either weekly or monthly?
In an emergency, what plan of action do you have in place? Are you trained in pet first aid or CPR?
Has a dog ever been lost or injured on your walks? What happened?
Will walks be delegated to anyone other than yourself (an assistant or associate)?
If so, how far in advance of the actual outing with my dog?
What sort of training program do you have in place for new employees?
How long have you been walking dogs professionally? If applicable, where or by whom were you trained to manage multiple dogs?
Can you provide references from current and former clients? May I contact them?
Is it possible to observe/accompany you on a walk?
I have answered the above questions truthfully.
Courtesy of Fawn Pierre “enhancing the human-dog relationship and the quality of life for dogs everywhere.” Written by Fawn Pierre Copyright 2002