Jenny Test knew it was time to make a career change when she noticed that her job was taking a toll on her dogs. “They were understimulated because of my long work hours,” says Test, who lived in a small apartment at the time with her dogs, Elvis, a pit bull-type mix, and Talula, an Airedale Terrier mix. Not able to afford a pet-care provider and ready to dedicate herself fully to dogs, Test started her San Francisco-based dog walking business, DogGrrl, in 1994.
Early on, Test recognized that some of her dog clients needed more than just a walk around the block. Some dogs lacked the basic training skills that urban dogs need, such as walking nicely on a leash and sit-staying while waiting for a traffic light to change. She soon expanded DogGrrl to include positive training techniques during every walk. “I started shadowing dog trainers who only use force-free dog training methods,” Test says. She incorporated what she learned into her walk-lessons. DogGrrl further expanded to include pet sitting and private dog training lessons.
After 18 years in the dog-walking business, Test has a rhythm to her days. Along with dog walking, her duties include evaluating potential dog clients to see if she and the dogs will click. “I assess the dogs as best as I can, and if all lights are a go, we do a trial for two weeks,” she says. Because she walks dogs in groups, this trial period is important to make sure all the dogs get along.
Each working day, Test shuttles her dog clients — anywhere from 16 to 25 dogs a day, including her own four dogs — to and fro in her vehicle. “I pick up and drop off all my fur friends before and after their walks, rain or shine,” she says.
Test also works with her clients one-on-one to resolve behavioral or training issues that pop up during walks — ones that can’t be resolved when the dog is in the group.
To Test’s mind, the training sessions, whether individually or in a group, are just as important for a dog as the physical exercise received during the walk. She’s especially satisfied with the way positive training methods impact the dogs’ eagerness to learn.
“The beauty of watching dogs learn using humane methods of training, versus force-based methods, is night and day,” Test says. “(The dogs) aren’t fearful of making a mistake, so you can see them problem-solve happily and eagerly.”
The amount of time she spends training and walking dogs depends on the week, but Test says that owning a small business requires more than 40 hours a week. She tries to get away once a month, she notes, because it’s important for her to take care of not only the dogs, but herself, too.
For those interested in a career in professional dog walking, Test recommends checking out a workshop called the Dog Walking Academy at www.dogtec.org, which is offered in multiple locations nationwide. She also stresses the importance of educating yourself about dog behavior and training. “Shadow a dog walker or a certified trainer,” Test says. “We don’t let just anyone work with children without training, so why should we let someone with no knowledge in canine behavior be responsible for our dogs? Get an education!”