How to choose a good dog walker is a question I get asked all the time.
Just like with any business, not all dog walkers are the same and some are more qualified, experienced and invested than others. And just like with meeting a new person, you and your dog will find a better connection with some walkers than others. Before signing your pooch up for a dog walk, follow these steps to ensure that the experience is a smooth and positive one get the perfect match for you and your dog.
Finding a Dog Walker
The best way is by referral. Find out about the most common referral sources and what to make of each:
1. The Dog Park. Your first inclination may be to ask around at the local dog park, but this technique is similar to asking ten lawyers for their opinion; you will get ten different answers. People have strong opinions about anything to do with their dogs from the vet to their choice in dog walkers and everyone thinks they have the best dog walker.
2. Another Dog Lover. One client found me by asking this guy who was so crazy and neurotic about his dog that she knew if I could please him then I could please anyone. There is always that tactic and I have a feeling those types are not hard to find.
3. Ask Someone You Trust. The best way is to ask a local groomer, your vet, pet food store or even a neighbor.
4. Yelp. Always a good source, you can get a list of referrals by cross checking their ratings. Choose a dog walker with five star ratings. This is not brain surgery and there is no reason why a dog walker should not have five stars.
5. “Best Of.” Many cities run “best of” contests, but I am always wary of those. Many best of lists are paid advertisements, not actual contests. The dog walkers that make the list every year are the worst ones I see out there.
In 19 years of dog walking, I have never had to advertise or market my business, remaining full for the most part. The best dog walkers I see out in the parks are the ones who only rely on referrals.
If you still can’t decide or you want to check out some of your referrals, you can always go to the local parks or beaches to observe dog walkers. Although sometimes the best dog walkers have bad days too. We all have had those days where it is pretty much a “shit” show and everything that can go wrong does go wrong. A dog eats a sandwich or worse an entire picnic; you miss picking up a poop and a jogger steps in it. Or a dog knocks down an old lady. But these “bad days” also allow you to see the sincerity in the dog walkers who really care about their charges despite the downed picnic, misstep into some poop or the old lady on the ground. That is what you want to look for, someone who loves dogs.
If you are really dedicated to finding the best dog walker, you can head out on rainy days to see which dog walkers actually walk the dogs and which ones sit in their car smoking giving the dogs not a walk but a good dose of secondary smoke inhalation.
Types of Dog Walking
There are different types of dog walking services. You need to figure out which is best for your dog.
There are the sidewalk outings to the local park, where the dogs get off leash for a good 20 to 30 minutes, then return home. These are great services keeping your dog clean, happy and tired, but not for a wild Labrador needing to kick up his heals and let loose, hopefully not on a picnic.
The off- leash adventures to parks and beaches offer long hikes, play time and a good romp around. There are private walks and doggie daycares. Regardless, you want to find a dog walker who has a true love for dogs. The atmosphere is happy, kind hearted and fun. It is not all about business and money.
You want to observe how the dog walker interacts with your dog. If the dog walker comes into your house immediately talking about business, pricing etc, that is a red flag. You want a dog walker who walks into your home and pays attention to your dog right off the bat. Although if the dog walker starts groveling on the floor with your dog, talking baby talk that might just be irritating and weird.
But a healthy interaction is what you are looking for between dog and dog walker. The dog walker should be professional but also very caring. They should ask as many questions about your dog as you will about their service.
All dog walkers should have liability insurance, a business license, and dog walking permit if the city requires it. It is also important to ask for three references and follow up with them. They should be excited to meet your dog. It is fun to meet a new dog and the dog walker should show that interest with all the sincerity in the world.
Another good idea is to take a look at the dog walker’s car. You can tell a lot about a dog walker by his/her car. Is it trashed with advertising all over it? Is it well kept like the dog walker? Or is it screaming “I want attention! I am a dog walker and I need business”? You also don’t want to see a sedan or mini car taking 8 dogs around. Dogs can smush together into cars but when it is too small it creates stress and havoc in the car for both dog walker and dogs.
Also make sure your dog walkers are of legal age. Although Hugh and Stu are pretty darn good dog walkers!
11 Questions you should ask your potential dog walker:
1. How many dogs do you take at once? A good size is 6 to 8 dogs. When a dog walkers takes more than 8 dogs, you see burned out dog walkers. You might also ask if the dog walker owns dogs and does the total include their own personal dogs.
2. Where do the dogs in the group live? You want a dog walker who groups by neighborhood. If a dog walker is taking dogs from all over town that translates to more time in the car and less time in the park.
3. Where do you go for dog walks? You want a dog walker who will be going to a park or beach relatively close to your neighborhood.
4. How long are the actual dog walks? I have heard dog walkers tell clients that they go for an hour. The client assumes that is an hour in the park but in reality that hour includes pick up and drop off time for the dogs.
5. How long will my dog be gone out of the house?
6. Who will be my dog’s main walker and how do you hire your employees? This is for dog walking services that have employees. They should be hiring people who are caring, responsible and professional.
7. Do you group the dogs by size and temperament? It is important to see that the dog walker understands that dogs are like people with many different personalities and temperaments.
8. How much do you charge for walks? You want to find out what the average price of dog walks are in the area.
9. Will my dog go off leash and for how long? They should describe the actual walk in detail from start to finish. It is important to make sure it is the right walk for your dog.
10. How do you handle emergencies? You want to make sure they can handle emergencies in a professional and responsible way.
11. What is their cancellation policy?
In the end you go with your gut. You want to hire a Golden Retriever with the responsibility, wisdom and yes, control, of a Jack Russell Terrier.
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