What to look for in a good dog walker.

This months guest blog comes from Zee at Leads The Way Dog Walking Services. Zee talks about why you might need a dog walker, the benefits of a responsible dog walker, why a knowledgeable dog walker doesn’t just walk your dog and what it takes to become a good dog walker.

Finding A Good Dog Walker

How to find a good dog walker by Zee, at Leads The Way Dog Walking Services, Ipswich.

So; you’re thinking about getting a dog walker, but you’re not even sure you need one. If you can tick any of the below statements, then maybe you do.

  • Have you got a busy schedule that requires you to leave your dog for more than 4 hours at a time?
  • Do you work from home all day and struggle to find time for lunch, let alone a midday walk for your pooch?
  • You would like to spend the day out with the family but where you are going is not dog friendly or it’s too hot to take them with you.
  • An unexpected appointment has come up and you won’t be home for a few more hours and there is no one to let the dog out.
  • Your mobility isn’t what it used to be.

There are lots of good reasons to have someone you can trust and who you can help provide care for Fido when you can’t.

(Please do also consider whether a walk is the best option? Will your dog need more specialist care? Do they suffer from separation anxiety and therefore maybe a day care option might be more suitable for them?)

Great! You’ve decided you want to look for a dog walker, but where do you start?

Nothing beats word of mouth. Talk to your fellow dog owning friends, family and other dog owners at the local park. Who would they recommend?

If they are singing someone’s praises, can you see their website, Facebook or Instagram page? Can you check out pictures and videos of the dogs on their walks? And if so, do they look happy? Are there any reviews or testimonials you can read? Are they on Trustpilot or Yell.com?

This is definitely when the cheapest option is not always the best. Treat this like childcare; look for the businesses or persons local reputation. What do others say about their services? Afterall they are caring for a family member. A bad dog walker can set you back a lot more than just money, a good one is priceless.

Once you have found someone, make initial contact and go through the following points with them.

Essential Requirements

At a minimum, your dog walker should have Insurance and Pet First Aid.

Make sure they are covered by insurance. Most dog walking insurance isn’t that expensive, and this is a safety guard for you and for them. Be aware most insurance companies will not cover anyone under the age of 16 to walk a dog. Although there is no age limit to legally care for someone else’s pooch, as a responsible owner, you will want someone who can take responsibility. Will the insurance cover any loss or theft of keys in their possession?

In the hope that they never need to use it, doing a Pet First Aid course is a good requirement. Let’s face it, accidents happen, and dogs like to keep us on our toes. They can guide you on the next steps if there is an injury but do seek a Vet opinion if you are unsure. A dog walker is not a trained vet and, legally, should not act as such. Don’t forget to check what the procedure is for vet bills in the dog walkers T&C’s.

It is recommended a professional walker will have a CRB check available for new clients to see and updated every couple of years. Don’t just take someone’s word for it, ask to see a copy.

They should have a new starter form in place to collect all information pertaining to your dog. Such as client addresses and phone numbers, emergency contacts, behaviour quirks and vaccination dates to name but a few, and contain their terms and conditions as well. Its important to check you are happy with these before signing. These are an important safeguard for the person walking your dog and should give a clear agenda from them, about their responsibilities to you.

If someone has got all of these in place, it shows they are willing to actively make an effort to be taken seriously.

Finding Out More

Ask lots of questions! The more you can find out about the services they offer the better. Are they easy to talk to? What is their communication like? Can they communicate clearly with you and are they knowledgeable about the profession. It maybe a job at the end of the day, but it should be taken seriously. They may do it because they love dogs and they probably won’t get rich doing it, but they should still treat you and your pooch in a professional manner. Do they respond to your enquiries in good time? Does their manner show a commitment to you as a client?

Reliability

What is the policy if they get sick, are running late or breakdown? If it is a company that hires multiple people to walk the dogs, who will be walking your dog? Request to meet with the person who will be walking your dog, not just the company’s representative. This person will likely have a key to your property. What is their Data Protection Policy and how will they secure your key between walks? How will they let you know that they have collected your dog? Will you get a text message, email or photo? It’s a good idea to request a photo of your pup on their walk, this allows you to see them out and about. Will they post photos online or to their social media platforms? They will need your written permission to do so. What precautions will they take to not give out personal information in the photos? I would suggest no photos containing your dog’s identity tag information or of your home, without it being checked first.

Experience & Affiliations

What experience do they have? If they are just starting out, what certificates do they have, are currently doing or working towards? Have they got a background in animal care? Maybe they have previously worked in a rescue centre or at a Vets before?

Are they affiliated to any regulatory bodies? Are they up to date on current legislation? If they have a day care service, they must be registered with the local council who will grade them by stars.

Currently there is no regulated national body for dog walkers, but there are several professional bodies they can sign up to.

  • Pet Professionals Guild
  • UK Behaviour and Training Charter (if they offer training aswell)
  • Association of INTO Dogs
  • NARPS UK

These are just a few. Ask about their ethics when it comes to dog behaviour management? How will they handle the dogs in their care? Avoid anyone using aversive methods to walk your dog, these people are not update on current methods of dog handling.

Transportation

How will your dog be transported? Are they using a vehicle to transport your dog? Or will they walk them from your house? Does the vehicle have any signage? What steps do they have in place to prevent theft of your dog and the security of your home? What equipment do they do use in the vehicle to safely transport the dogs. Can you see it? Is it clean? Do they have a cleaning regime? How often do they disinfectant the vehicle? What is the access like? If you have a small dog with short legs, will they be picked up or use a ramp to access the vehicle? If they are a large dog, is the space big enough for them? How many other dogs will be in the same area? Ideally all dogs from different households should be in separate areas and secured appropriately. Do they get travel sick? It is important to discuss any issues your dog has with travelling, and how they can make your dog as comfortable as possible. Does the vehicle have air conditioning for when it gets hot in the summer.

Safety During COVID

What safety precautions have they put in place since COVID? Are they compliant to current local guidelines when it comes to masks, sanitiser and gloves? Are they wiping down your dog with a pet safe sanitiser after each walk? This isn’t 100% effective, but it is an added step to ensure clients are protected.

If you are home when they come to collect your dog, what procedures are in place to help keep you safe?

Walk Management

Where will they walk your dog? How many dogs will they walk together? What other dogs will your pooch being playing with? It is good to find out what the local guidelines are when it comes to how many dogs one person can walk, and do they adhere to this? Most insurance companies will not cover one person for more than 6 dogs and some County Councils have put further restrictions on how many can be walked at one time in one place. How do they pick which dogs to walk together? What treats will they use? Does your dog have any allergies? Are they reactive or have quirky habits? How will they handle reactivity triggers? If your dog obsesses over bicycles will they walk them somewhere where bicycles aren’t allowed, or keep your dog on lead in these situations?

Golden rule – a dog walker MUST have your written permission to walk your dog off lead.

Your dog walker should make sure all equipment provide by the owner fits well and secure before each walk.

The minimum equipment you should provide is;

  • A collar with an identity tag (by law every dog should have one with YOUR name and address)
  • A good quality, comfortable harness, suited to their body shape
  • A coat, if they need one

Some dog walkers will provide an extra tag with their details on just encase your pooch goes a stray whilst out with them.

Dropping off

When it comes to the end of the walk, is there an area your dog needs to be secured in when being left alone? Making sure they have access to water and perhaps a treat, such as a Kong or an appropriate chew to help with settling.

If your dog gets wet or dirty, what is the procedure for making sure the dog comes home clean and safe? They should be checking for ticks and any debris before leaving your dog, and it is advisable to check again when you get home as well.  

How Long Should Your Dog Be Walked?

Discuss with them about the length of time that is appropriate for your dog. Are they elderly and just need a 20min round the block? Or a puppy who is building up their walk time? Does your dog have an injury that needs slow rehabilitation? Or do you have an endurance champ who will run for hours? Lots of dog walkers offer different types of walks, some offer activity walks where they take dogs to the beach, or a forest or for a hike, it all depends on where you live. Be realistic to your dog’s needs. If you have a chilled out dog who would rather potter and sniff than run for miles, then finding a keen balance for them will be far more beneficial than insisting they do something which is ultimately not in their nature.

Bookings, Adjustments and Holidays

Will Fido need a regular weekly booking? Or perhaps you are a shift worker with a varied schedule? Can they provide flexible options? What will happen in quieter periods, such as school and public holidays? What is their holiday procedure; do they have alternatives in place to help minimise any disruption?  

What to expect when it’s too hot to walk?

A good dog walker will take your dogs needs into consideration, especially when it’s too hot to walk. They should have alternative plans in place, such as doing visits instead of walks; where Fido gets an opportunity to have a toilet a break, maybe a snack and a short play indoors (if your dog won’t get hyped up by the play) or a sniffy game of ‘Find it’, before being settled again. It’s not advisable for your dog to be out during the hottest parts of the day, which usually co-inside with dog walking times. Between the hours 11am and 3pm it is advisable to keep them inside and cool. You will know your dog, and if they suffer greatly in the heat, you’ll know how quickly this can affect them. Dogs which are more prone to heat stroke are brachiocephalic (short nose) breeds, sick dogs, puppies and elderly dogs, thick or double coated dogs, dark coloured dogs, short haired breeds and let’s not forget those that just run around like loons and don’t know when to stop. Also your dog may become more irritable by the added stress of the heat and react quicker to things that wouldn’t normally phase them.

If the dog walker has to take them out, for instance you live in a flat, they should make sure there is plenty of water and shade available. NO street walks, the pavements will be too hot to walk on, and that the vehicle they are being transported in is cool, with good air flow and perhaps even providing doggy lollies, cooling matts, fans and ice cubes for dogs in transit. Once out, they should limit the walk to a short one, 20 mins maximum, long enough for your pooch to do their business and stretch their legs. They should not allow any running around or rough play, as this will increase the heart rate and increase the risk of heat stroke. Dogs can not cool themselves down like us and with the temperature already being high, they will struggle to maintain a healthy core temperature to function.

Some dog walkers even offer to walk them later in the day or earlier in the morning, if this suits your and their schedules. It’s important to remember that not everyone can offer these types of adjustments, especially if they have families and pets of their own.  

Similarly, when it’s too cold, some smaller or short haired breeds will also suffer without adequate protection.

Before Services Commence

Don’t be afraid to ask for a trial walk to see if your dog will be happy to walk with this person. Most dog walkers will offer a trial walk or maybe even a trial period. This gives you both time to make sure this is a good fit, without any obligation to continue if it doesn’t work out. Make sure they have all the appropriate information, emergency contacts, a key or code to the key safe box, any directions for home safety and special requests, allergies or dietary requirements, before the first walk.

Ideally a trial works best as a 1 on 1 with the walker. Even if your dog is going for group walks, this is time for your dog to bond with the walker before adding the pressure of other dogs in the mix.

Discuss all rates and payments up front before services start, and how best to settle. Will you be invoiced and how often? Can you do BACS or do they prefer cash? Will you be paying up front or in arrears? What is the policy if you must cancel a walk? Are there any refund and cancellation policies? Do they require any notice to cease all walks?

All the above information can be done over the phone or via email, saving you time when you get to meet them in person. A good dog walker will take the time to go through these with you. This way, you can be more focused on how they interact with your dog at the meet and greet.

The Meet & Greet

This is time for them to get to know your pooch and for you to assess how they handle your dog. Do they take the time to get to know your dog? Are they personable? Chatty? Would you trust them to have a key to your home? If you feel more comfortable meeting away from your home, ask to meet in a mutual space such as the local park.

If you’re happy after the initial greetings, it’s advisable to discuss where things are at home (or if you’re able to safely, show them around your home,) where the harnesses are kept, where your dog sleeps, where the water bowl is, where the dog snacks are kept, any extra towels if your dog needs them.  

It’s important to remember, not every dog is compatible with every walker, and that’s okay, find one which ticks all the boxes, and your pup is happy with.

Phew! That’s a great deal of work you’ve done in making sure you find the right person who works for you, Well done!

Don’t forget your end of the bargain; be honest about any injuries, illnesses (dog and human) or behavioural changes, so they can properly prepare or adjust the schedule. Giving good notice to any changes you need to bookings and be respectful of out of hours. Dog walkers have families and pets too.

Ready to start with your dog walker…. Great stuff! Here’s a checklist.

* All paperwork filled out, make sure you get copies of all contracts and T&C’s. *  Vaccination records checked by walker and updates made available.

* Ask about Data Protection and key management if that is applicable.

* If necessary, a key is cut and collected before the first walk.

* You’ve seen the vehicle and equipment which will be used. Your dog walker should provide their own leads.

* You have let your vet know you have hired a dog walker in case they should bring your dog to the surgery.

* You asked all the questions you wanted to and are happy with the answers.

A good dog walker will be open and honest about their practises and put you at ease. Trust your instinct, a good dog walker will not be offended if you choose not to take on their services.

A good sign of how things are going is by how your dogs react to the walker when they arrive. If your dog is happy to see them when they arrive to collect them, I’d say you’ve got a good one.

Zee, Leads The Way Dog Walking Services.

Sources

Covid

http://www.cfsg.org.uk/coronavirus/SiteAssets/SitePages/Home/CFSG%20Animal%20Business%20Guidance%2007.04.20.pdf

http://www.cfsg.org.uk/General%20Guidance%20Documents/Dog%20Walking%20Guide%202019.pdf

https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/tips-for-dog-walkers-during-the-covid-19-pandemic

https://www.pdsa.org.uk/what-we-do/blog/vet-qa-coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-self-isolating-pet-owners

http://www.cfsg.org.uk/coronavirus/SiteAssets/SitePages/Home/Dog%20Walking%20and%20COVID%2019.pdf

http://www.cfsg.org.uk/coronavirus/SiteAssets/SitePages/Home/Comfort%20in%20Crisis-%20Pet%20Welfare.pdf

Dog Law

https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-advice/laws-all-dog-owners-need-know

https://www.gov.uk/control-dog-public

https://www.inbrief.co.uk/animal-law/dog-walking-and-the-law/

https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/help-advice/factsheets-downloads/factsheet-doglaw%20in%20england%20%20wales%2023%2010%2014.pdf

https://ukdogcharter.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/MASTER-Document-Dog-Behaviour-and-Training-Charter-1.pdfhttps://www.gov.je/Industry/FarmingFishing/AnimalWelfare/Pages/ProfessionalDogWalkers.aspx

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