by Lisa Johnson Gates
As states start to open up across the country, easing up on their stay-at-home orders, and individuals returning to the work place, some are faced with the question of what to do with their dog. You have probably heard and read about shelters emptying out from people adopting pets during this time but now that people are going back to work, they are faced with the dilemma of hiring a dog walker and unsure how to go about it. As a professional dog walker, this is the most common question I get from family and friends.
Just like with any business, not all professional dog walkers are the same. Some are more qualified, experienced and invested than others. And just like meeting a new person, you and your dog will find a better connection with some walkers than others. Before signing up your pooch for a dog walk, follow these steps to ensure that the experience is smooth and a positive one to get the perfect match for you and your dog.
First, you want to decide what type of dog walking service is best for your dog. Take into consideration your dog’s age, playfulness and energy. Do they get along with other dogs? Are they nervous or on the shier side? There are several options to consider:
PRIVATE WALKS: The private dog walking service tends to be shorter, more one-on-one attention and pricier. This is a good option for the person working from home, older dogs, nervous dogs or dogs with behavioral problems.
DOG DAYCARE: Similar to a child daycare, you drop off your pooch in the morning and pick them up after work. A dog daycare is perfect for the individual who has to work long hours. They can be more expensive than a group dog walk but worth the money for peace of mind that Fido isn’t home alone destroying your new shoes.
THE ON-LEASH DOG GROUP WALKS: These services pick-up your dog up from your home, walk to the local parks, hike around the neighborhood and then return home. Some may let the dogs run off-leash for fifteen to twenty minutes at the local park but for the most part they are strictly on-leash only. If you want to keep your dog clean, then this is the service for you. This outing is usually not suitable for a high energy Labrador who needs to kick up his heels and let loose.
THE OFF-LEASH DOG GROUP ADVENTURES: This type of service offers longer hikes, play time and more exercise for dogs. The dog walker will pick-up your pup from home and take them to an off-leash park, hiking trail or beach. This is usually more fitting for the higher energy dog or perhaps for owners who have to work longer hours. Dogs are generally out of the house for two to three hours an excursion and returned not quite as clean as the on-leash dog walk.
Second, how do you find a dog walking service near you: The best way is by referral. Here are some suggestions:
1. The Dog Park. Asking around your local dog park can be helpful but be aware that this technique can be similar to asking ten lawyers for their opinion, you will get ten different answers. People tend to have strong opinions about anything to do with their dogs from their vet to their choice of dog walkers. Everyone thinks they have the best dog walker. But if the majority seem to say the same dog walker, then that it is worth checking out the referral.
2. Another Dog Lover. One of my clients found me by asking a guy in her building who was completely neurotic about his dog and she knew if I could please him and his Bulldog Ralph, that I must be good. There is always that tactic and I have a feeling those types are not hard to find.
3. Ask Someone in the Dog Industry. Talk to your local groomer, your vet, or a local pet food store you frequent.
4. Yelp. Always a great source, you can get a list of referrals by cross-checking their ratings. Choose a dog walker with five stars. This not brain surgery and there is no reason a dog walker should not have five stars. So don’t settle for less than five stars.
5. Visiting Beaches and Parks: Head to a beach or park near your home to observe dog walkers. You can watch how the dog walker connects with the dogs, if they are paying attention to them or busy texting on their phone or gossiping with another dog walker about the latest rose ceremony on The Bachelor. You want to find someone who plays with the dogs, loves the dogs and is aware of their surroundings. Not someone who gets out of the car, unleashes the hounds and lights up a cigarette.
Third, the interview. You not only want to view the dog walker with your dog but you want to ask important questions as well. Someone who jumps right into discussing business, discounting Fido’s attention-seeking tactics like jumping up or nudging their hand, is a red flag. You want a potential dog walker to immediately focus on the dog, petting them, communicating with them and asking you questions about them.
THIRTEEN QUESTIONS you should ask your potential dog walker:
1) How many dogs do you take at once? A good size for a group outing is six with a maximum of eight. When a dog walker takes too many dogs, you see burned-out dog walkers. You might ask if the dog walker owns a dog and does the total include their personal dog.
2) Where do the dogs in the group live? You want a dog walker with dogs, who live in the 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 your dog walks? Farther away from home translates to longer time in the car and a shorter the walk.
4) How long are the actual dog walks? I have heard dog walkers tell clients that they go for an hour but, in reality, the hour includes the picking up the dogs, dropping off the dogs and the park time.
5) How long will my dog be gone out of the house?
6) For larger dog walking services, you want to ask who will be my dog’s main dog walker and how do you hire and screen your employees?
7) Do you group dogs by size and temperament? You don’t want Sean Hannity exercising with Chris Cuomo.
8) How much do you charge for the walks? (Make sure you are aware of how much a dog walk costs in your area)
9) How long will my dog be off-leash on average? Ask details about the dog walk.
10) How do you handle emergencies?
11) What is your cancellation policy?
12) Have you ever lost a dog or had a dog injured during your walk and how do you handle it?
13) How long have you been dog walking?
In the end go with your gut. You want to hire a Golden Retriever with the responsibility, smarts, organization and control of a Jack Russell terrier.
Lisa is a free-lance writer specializing in dogs and a professional dog walker in San Francisco, serving the high end clients of Pacific Heights. She spends a lot of time bagging puppy poop and screaming “Come baaack” to some mutt who’s disappeared into the underbrush. Lisa grew up in Darien, Connecticut with a circus-worthy menagerie; a Golden Retriever, two fat, lazy Basset Hounds, cats, rabbits and ducks who produced too quickly to count, a horse who was often found inside the house, and a goat who preferred to sleep in the car; thus she developed a passion for animals along with a wicked sense of humor.
You can follow her on twitter @LisaJGates and Instagram @barksidetales