Dog walkers do not show up on my radar very often, living as I do on a farm in the country. Jim and I are the dog walkers, and we like it that way. However, I am also aware how very lucky we are to have the time and the logistics to be able to take our dogs on long walks. Certainly I’ve worked long hours–I’ve seen many a twelve-hour day in my time–but I always had the luxury of working close enough to run home to let out dogs or to bring them to my office. There have been some days, especially when I taught at UW-Madison, that I had to ask a friend to take my dogs out (thank you Harriet!), but those days were relatively rare.
Nor have I seen a lot of clients as an animal behaviorist who came to me because they wanted to be a dog walker and wanted to know how to get started. But when a friend mentioned the dog*tec Dog Walking Academy, I started wondering: What does a dog walker need to know? And what would I need to know if I had to hire one?
Before answering those questions, it is worth thinking about whether hiring a dog walker is a good idea. I talked to Aimee Moore at Dog’s Best Friend Training in Madison, WI, whose business now includes a dog walking service. (Full disclosure: This is the training and consulting business I began in 1988, and sold 7 years ago to Aimee, then the Training Director.). She told me that many of their dog walking clients began with their pups in puppy class, and then realized that their work schedules didn’t allow them to give their young dogs enough exercise and stimulation to keep them healthy and happy. Other clients have dogs who aren’t suited to day care, and do much better with individual attention. Day care can be a great solution for some dogs and their owners, but they are not for every dog (or every pocketbook) by any means. (Here’s an article I wrote about whether Doggy Day Care is right for your dog.)
There is no question that dog walkers give people who are gone much of the day the ability to own dogs, and can provide dogs with the exercise stimulation they need before their owners get home from work. But who are these dog walkers, anyway? What are their qualifications?
Before I did some interviews, I spent some time looking at websites for dog walking businesses around the country, checking out the qualifications of their walkers. So far, the qualifications I’ve found in the “About Us” sections have been limited to some version of “Our dog walkers love dogs! They really, really do!” Well, that’s a great start. However, I love medicine and am fascinated by surgery, but I would advise you not to hand me your dog and ask me to spay her. The experience listed often seems to be circular: “All of our dog walkers have experience walking dogs!” Some don’t even say that. One site stated that all dog walkers had prior experience around dogs, sometimes limited to having owned one. Apologies to the general world of dog owners, but I would no more hand my dogs to someone just because they owned a dog once in their life than I would let them do a spay surgery because they’d seen one done once.
What then, do dog walkers need to know, and what do you need to know about a dog walking business before hiring them? First and foremost, said Aimee Moore reasonably enough, they need to be reliable and trustworthy. A hundred percent reliable. Dog walkers work independently–who is to know if they don’t “come to work” one day? Who is to know if they rummage around in your private papers while you are busy at work? Argh, what a thought. So yes, reliable and trustworthy surely is criteria number one.
Aimee next mentioned that the people she hires must be able to make good decisions. Quickly. No question about that. What if three loose dogs come sprinting out of a yard toward the dog you are walking? There’s not a lot of time to make a decision about what to do, right? Matt and Kelly Elvin, good friends and owners of TipTopTails Dog Training in Grand Junction, MI, agreed. But they pointed out that making good decisions is based on knowledge, the knowledge of how best to handle the multitude of potential crisis that can come up when out in public with a dog. You can’t make good, quick decisions if you don’t already have a plan in mind. For example, if three loose dogs come running at yours, would you 1) Drop the leashes and run like a frightened bunny? 2) Throw a handful of treats hard and fast at the dog’s faces and carefully walk away while the dogs are busy snarfing up the treats? or 3) Yell as loudly as you can at the owner, demanding that they stop their dogs? Obviously option 2) is the best one, (click here for a video illustrating this method) but how many “dog lovers” have trained themselves to do that when they don’t have a second to think about it?
Everyone I talked to also agreed that yes, of course the dog walkers need to love dogs, but far less obvious is the importance of dogs loving them. We are talking about people who will walk into a dog’s home, owner absent, snap a leash on a dog they may have met only once, and expect the dog to follow into the great outdoors. This means that the walker simply has to have the kind of personality that attracts dogs like bears to honey. What could be more important than having a dog walker who makes dogs all gooey and melty? We all know people like that; they may or may not be the best trainers, but dogs go out of their way to stand beside them. You can’t test for this on an exam on the internet, but I’d never release my dog to someone unless I knew there was a blatant love affair going on.
However, you can’t ignore the importance of training. Surely dog walkers have to be able to read dogs. How else would they know that their charge isn’t comfortable when a young child asks to pet the dog? (Which a dog walker should never allow in the first place, right?) How else would they know that Chester’s tongue flicks are telling the walker to wait a few minutes before attaching the leash?
What about the walker’s knowledge of dog behavior and how dogs learn? Is your dog walker going to jerk the leash when your pup barks excitedly at another dog? If so, your pup just might be learning that the sight of other dogs leads to pain, and the barks may turn to aggressive ones rather than ones born of excitement. As Matt Elvin mentioned, in some cases dog walkers have as much or even more influence on a young dog than the owners. Do you want your dog to be trained by someone who believe that dogs need to be dominated to be polite?
What about the business itself? What are their policies? Do they required a minimum number of walks per week? Are they going to walk your dog by herself, or in a group? What kind of first aid training have they had? If they have to transport your dog, how do they do that? Will the dog be loose in the car? (I am told quite a few are… ). Are they insured? (Who gets sued if your dog bites someone when she’s being walked by someone else?)
This brings up another interesting issue related to dog walkers: the business itself as an expanding field. On the one hand, it’s a great field for people to get into: it requires little capital to get started and can be a perfect job for dog lovers who want to work part or full time. On the other hand, it appears that the internet is full of Uber-like businesses, in which you can hire a dog walker off of a website, sight unseen. With no knowledge of their experience, whether they are insured or bonded, etc. Did you get unexpectedly busy at work? No problem! Hop on line and find someone close to your home who could pop over and let out your dog. Eeeps. Don’t do it.
The business of Dog Walking obviously fills a growing market, just like Dog Training has in the last few decades. This is all well and good, but I would argue that it needs to be seen as a profession–with trained, knowledgeable people who know as much about your dog and her behavior as a plumber knows about your pipes.
What about you? Have you ever been a dog walker? Hired one for your dogs? I’d love to hear your experiences. I also would like to thank Aimee Moore, and Kelly Elvin & Matt Elvin for taking the time to talk. Their thoughts and suggestions were invaluable. Thanks too to dog@tec for letting me borrow the black and white photo taken by Rikke Jorgensen. It takes a pack.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Busy busy, but in wonderful ways. Jim is working for hours every day on the platform for the tent camp we are creating in the Upper Orchard Pasture. The tent we’ve ordered (from Colorado Yurt Company) is expected in early August. I’m working the sheepdogs, moving the flocks (“lamb flock” versus “no lamb flock”) to best utilize the pastures, and working on my perennial gardens. Meanwhile, the cats watch us go about our business with apparent amusement. Here’s Nellie, captured on the wall by friend and kick butt photographer, Rob Streiffer.
Below is the small perennial garden by the side of the house. Later in the year it will contain blooming New England Aster, Bee Balm and Joe Pye Weed, a native prairie plant that butterflies adore. It’ll be nice then too, but I think it’s prettiest when the peonies are blooming. (Of course, I never show you the messy, dirty places with sloppy piles of pulled weeds, dirty shoes and overflowing bags of compost. Suffice it to say that I would like to live in a place like Buchart Gardens, where all the guts of the operation are hidden. But I don’t. Maybe on one blog I’ll show photos of the messy garage and the disorganized “gardening center” (also known as a carport). Think of it as my version of a reality show. But until then, here are some pretty flowers.
I learned so much in this Professional Dog Walker Program and I’m so glad it’s available. http://www.langara.bc.ca/continuing-studies/programs-and-courses/programs/animal-pet-care/courses.html
Quite frankly, it made me worry about becoming a dog walker – which I think is a good thing – mostly around legal issues, understanding dog behaviour – seeing an aggressive dog (by chance) react on a field trip brought theory into practice, and understanding bylaws and animal control laws.
Awesome post! How funny for you to post this right now as our current dog walker is about to have surgery and be out of commission for a minimum of 3 weeks and we’re back to the drawing board trying to decide whether to hunt for a new one or test our pups to see how they’ll do sans walker.
We originally had to get a dog walker because as many people experience, we needed someone to take out our 3.5 and 2 mo. old pups while we worked as visiting on a lunch break just wasn’t feasible. Hunting for a dog walker was a huge hassle as I ran into the issues you discussed here; way too many services that were just way too sketchy!
I ended up finding our current dog walker through a licencing and insurance group. She had a website she had put together with her qualifications that were sound enough and there were good photos of her and her own dogs. After communicating online, in which she was very honest and professional, she met with us for free to meet our pups and so we could meet her and again, she was professional, prepared, insured, upfront about her qualifications and most importantly, the boys took to her immediately! She had only just started her dog walking business so it was a little bit of a risk, but she has been an absolute dream, completely reliable and beyond accommodating to any schedule changes.
In the beginning I definitely took some precautions to make sure of the care she was giving the pups, at least half because of the stories I’ve read here by you about horror sitters! For one thing, she took and sent pictures to me every time she visited. Second, I had security cameras set up in the house to watch the pups and I checked in when she was supposed to be visiting, and she was always there and I loved watching her play with the boys. She would even run them through some puppy push-ups after walks!
She did her part to reassure us as well and at the end of every week she includes an excel document on every day she visits with when she arrived, how long they walked, when she left, if she refilled their water bowls, whether the boys pooped or peed, and then a basic run-down of how the visit went, who was playful, what messes they made (and what she picked up), and how they acted on the walk.
Overall I have been very lucky with my dog walker and my life has been so much easier with her helping us with the boys! It’s daunting going back on the hunt, but I do know now that whoever I look at next is going to be held to a very high standard.
As a side note, it is very exciting to be fully current on your blog! I started on 2010 and just started reading so it has been a very emotional ride with Willie and farm and everything! I am smitten with your writing and your works have been huge in helping me train my pups, especially my oldest and his leash reactivity.
Never been a dog walker, and the closest I’ve come to hiring one is getting a friend to dog sit while we go on vacation later this summer. Even though my dogs are well trained and sociable and I’ve known my friend for 25+ years, it wasn’t an automatic thing. We’ve scheduled a series of “play dates” for her with my boys so all three can get to know each other. I have no doubts about her abilities in terms of feeding, walking, and poop scooping, but let’s be honest: I’m asking her to live in my house for a week with 175lbs of aloof GSD. Everyone will be much happier if they have an opportunity to bond a little with me there as a safety net before the real thing. I can’t imagine hiring a dog walking service that involved some stranger taking my boys out; it would make me nervous, and I think the boys would hate it. How are they supposed to know that this stranger at the door is safe?
I have recently contemplated offering my services as a dog walker to a couple in our neighborhood. Their two young dogs (lab mix and pitty mix) escape on a regular basis, and I’ve returned them more than once. They are sweet dogs, but have no obedience training, no leash manners, and I’m pretty sure they escape due to lack of interaction and exercise. They are well loved, but not well cared for as dogs. I can’t come up with a good way to offer to take them out without sounding like a jerk, so I just keep an eye out to rescue them when needed.
This whole topic brings up a larger theme of owner’s needing to think ahead and have a PLAN themselves, not getting caught up in the excitement of “oh let’s get a puppy/dog”. The commitment to an animal needs to be well thought out AHEAD. Can a potential owner live up to providing attention in multiple forms, sometimes expensive healthcare, nutrition, hydration, safety in countless ways – yard plants, house plants, things they may vs can chew/eat, chemicals- learning stimulation, elimination needs, emotional needs, etc.
PRIOR to getting a pet think through and have lined up a PLAN A, B, and C for how each of these needs will be met, especially the exercise and elimination needs when owners can’t be there.
As a director in healthcare I included this as a “have you thought about” question when interviewing job applicants in positions including being on-call, working flex hours, weekends, holidays etc. If you get called in to work your dog still needs to go outside etc!
Heather Staas says
I really enjoyed this article, especially the comment about thinking about dog walking as a profession that requires knowledge, skill, and some talent. I have a dog day center myself, and the number of people that show up without an appointment or evaluation to just drop their dog for the day really truly astounds me (we do not do that sort of daycare). Who leaves their dog with a random stranger they’ve never even seen before? As for my dogs, I have a hard time imagining them letting a stranger of any sort come into the house and open their crates. It would truly have to be a very special person for that to be “ok” with them. I’ve had potential customers come in and ask me to take aggressive dogs and use their shock collar “like the dog walker does” because. Or people who adopted dogs *assuming* they could go to daycare, only to find out it is not a suitable environment for that dog. There is so much consideration that really needs to go into these sorts of decisions, and time and research that has to happen to do it well. I’m glad to see it being discussed!
I have a fantastic sitter who has very patiently worked with my shy, high-arousal, territorial dog and now they are buddies. One of the things I quite like about her is that when something goes wrong, she contacts me immediately. When a chicken got in my yard and Cecil got ahold of it, she texted me right away and told me in clear terms how she dealt with it (the chicken lived, amazingly enough). For my part, I know to withhold judgment when a crisis is occurring, which hopefully makes her more willing to tell me when something is up.
I also like her because I happen to know she got in trouble with a previous employer for refusing to put a prong collar on a highly reactive dog. That’s the kind of independent thinking I’m looking for!
Debra Farrington says
I’ve had a pet sitting and dog walking business for 8 years, and much of this resonates with me. We take all potential walkers on walks with us before hiring, just to see if they have “dog energy,” the kind of energy that draws dogs to them. And we provide lots of continuing education programs with local dog trainers and vets in our area to constantly teach and refresh folks in dog behavior, walking tools, first aid, etc. Continuing ed is a great way not only to educate but for the walkers to share experiences, ask questions, learn from each other. Loved the post – right on target!
We’re busy at work but we make the time to walk the dogs 3.5 m per day 5 days per week, in the mornings before work on workdays. We need the excercise too. There are just too few people we would trust that have the behavioral training and, some of my agility instructors maybe, but those folks tend to be very expensive and don’t have the time.
Monika & Sam says
Excellent information and gorgeous photos!
Since 2010 I have been working as a professional dog walker, but I have worked closely with dogs and other small animals throughout my entire life. I went through the Dog*Tec Dog Walking Academy and received my dog walking certification. The following year I signed up for their advanced course and received my advanced dog walking certification as well as pet first aid and CPR certification. I highly recommend anyone interested in becoming a dog walker to attend the Dog*Tec program. They offer extremely valuable information and continue to support you throughout your journey as a dog walker.
It truly pains me when I see uneducated and unqualified dog lovers out walking dogs and calling themselves a “professional”. As you stated in your article, it is incredibly important to establish a solid foundation for your puppy to ensure he or she become a well-rounded adult dog. I have many clients who have taken Cesar Milan’s advice to heart and think that that is the only way to train a dog…forcing them into a submissive position when they are incredibly fearful and need their space, hitting them on the neck or on the back end when they’re not doing something you want, backing them into a corner until they submit, and the list goes on. Dog*Tec teaches only positive training methods and offer continued support and guidance if you are faced with a challenging dog.
I think it is fantastic to have such an array of dog walkers out there these days, but choosing someone who is well qualified can be quite the challenge for the pet parents out there. I have been faced with many situations involving wildlife, off-leash aggressive dogs,and other dangerous situations where an untrained person might have had a potentially fatal incident occur. Walking a dog is not merely slapping a leash on the dog and taking him out for a stroll; it’s about constantly paying attention to the dog’s body language and understanding how and when to react when faced with different situations. It is also incredibly important to continue educating yourself on all things dog related to stay current on trends and new studies out there.
If I am ever faced with a prospective client that I don’t have space for, I always advise them to interview as many walkers as possible until they find the perfect fit for both them and their pet. Check references and ensure that they are CPR/First Aid certified and are insured and bonded. It might cost you more up front, but trust me it will be well worth it in the end. There are many stories out there that end up with fatal outcomes which could have been prevented if the dog was in the hands of a professional.
amy carlson says
I’m a dog walker. Probably over-qualified, but when I interview people I would want to refer to my big thing is trust. I tell all the dog walkers I work with that they need to do their job as if they are being filmed. Because, well, they just might be. Nanny cams are more and more common and really easy to set up these days. Yes, knowing dog behavior is also essential, but being responsible is probably more so in my book. I know lots of girls in this area who are dog walkers and know dogs, but they take groups of dogs to off leash areas and too many in my opinion. They might be able to read one dog and how it will handle a bunch of other off leash dogs coming at it, but five???? I just don’t believe it and unfortunately there are LOTS of dog walkers doing “adventure walks” with five or more dogs.
So, while it is important to me a dog walker understand dogs, it is also just as important that they are responsible and don’t do things like taking five or more dogs to an off leash adventure where they might run into other off leash dogs.
That’s the biggest issue for ME as a dog walker who depends on other dog walkers at times. I can’t do my work without some sort of back up for days I need vacation or other time off. And finding the right people isn’t always easy.
Brad Waggoner says
Thanks for the thoughtful blog post. As a dog*tec Dog Walking Academy instructor I am proud of the curriculum dog*tec has put together. It truly does build professionalism.
Louise Houghton says
I am a midwife by trade and live it he UK, but gave up my full time NHS contract last year to take up a full time position as a dog walker. My only previous experience walking dogs was with my many own dogs of various breeds. However, in the year before giving up my contract I enrolled on a dog behaviour diploma course, and some dog trainers practical courses. In these courses I learned about dog breeds, body language, how dogs learn, classical and opporant conditioning, the origins of the species, aggression, fearfulness, separation anxiety, the dog laws in the UK, dog bite prevention, etc. I am just about to qualify as a behaviourist and have progressed to running training classes under the mentors hip of a qualified trainer from the Institute of Modern Dog Training (IMDT) who are linked to Victoria Stillwell and are positive training based, and with who I will soon take my assessment for full membership. I attend as many courses as I can and have just this weekend attended a fabulous weekend seminar with the inspirational Ken Ramirez. I would not have taken the position as a dog trainer without doing any of this. As a midwife I was proud to be part of a responsible and accountable profession. I believe that I owed it to any client and their dog to aim to be as professional as possible and to be as knowledgable as possible when responsible for the welfare of their dog.
Bottom line….the dogs welfare comes first. Only then can I consider myself a good dog walker.
I don’t know how other dog walkers without qualifications manage. How do they assess which dog gets along and can safely walk with various other dogs in a group walk without being able to read the dogs body language and without knowing how to make safe introductions? How do they manage situations when approached by aggressive dogs off lead without knowing the best way to get their dogs to safety? My clients are getting a walker with the knowledge to keep their dog safe, mix him or her with compatible dogs so they get as much enrichment, variety and enjoyment from their walks, help them to spot any potential behaviour problems to nip them in the bud and who can help them with all aspects of training their dog. Add to that my nursing and midwifery background giving me the skills to deal with any first aid and medical emergencies and they are getting a pretty comprehensive package. I so wish that the governments across the world would put legislation in place to regulate and oversee all dog professional services with s code of conduct similar to that of nursing and midwifery in this country with a register of qualified practitioners who have met a minimal standard of practise. And then perhaps clients would be able to check their dog walker was on the register and have confidence in who they are hiring.
Sarah Kilgallon says
Great article. I’ve own my micro-business for eight years. Previously I raised and trained beagles for ten years and worked with race horses for fifteen years.
Owning a dog business and working with many different breeds is not for the faint of heart and neither is it for the inexperienced. There’s no quick certicate in earning your stripes, so to speak: time working with animals is where you learn.
I’ve seen too many unexperienced people trying to work in the field. As a result dog injuries and accidents are far too common. I’m not trying to discourage people, but there’s more to dogs and dog behavior than putting yourself in one end of the leash and a dog on another. It’s a business, but at the same time, the dog’s health, safety, and ability to be exercised and have fun, should always remain top priority. If you take care of the dogs, the dogs will take of you.
If someone is looking to make a boat load of cash, go into corporate finance. Dogs are heart and soul, so should be the professionals that take care of them.
Ruth LaRocque says
Wonderful post! I think many of my dog-walking clients under-appreciate that I am a certified
CPDT-KA trainer who has spent thousands on education over the years (including attending Patricia McConnell seminars 😉 but they do appreciate our service and I gently educate when I can about the importance of qualified people being allowed to handle one’s dog in any capacity. I will love adding this blog to the info I share with others. Thank you Patricia!
Beth Harwell says
Thank you so much for this blog post. My husband and I own and operate a pet sitting / dog walking business. We are mature, active youthful retirees who started our business after a great deal of research. We opened our business 2 years ago.
We are both trained in pet first aid and CPR by PetTech. My husband is an instructor for PetTech. We are members of Pet Sitters International and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters. We joined those professional organizations to take advantage of training and education (and yes help with the business end including marketing).
We attended a professional pet sitter conference last fall and will attend another one this fall. I recently also attended a conference on cat behavior. We attend such conferences to hone our skills regarding companion animal behavior and how best to interact with multiple species.
We have gotten to know a local positive based dog trainer professionally who recommends us. That relationship started when I sought her services for our reactive dog. We are recommended by several local vets who have gotten to know us professionally.
We carry bonding and business liability insurance with Business Insurers of the Carolinas.
We always do a free consultation with prospective clients before accepting them as clients. We want to assure their companion animals are comfortable with us and that our philosphies mesh.
We decline to use shock collars, prong collars, choke collars or retractable leashes. We recommend the Easy Walk Harness, Freedom No Pull Harness or Gentle Leader depending upon the dog.
We do not provide services for families whose pets live out of doors. We do selectively accept clients with pet doors and/or underground electronic fences. Clients complete comprehensive pet profies telling us about their pet’s nutritional needs, personality, sleeping habits, medical needs, history of aggression, play habits, etc. Clients provide vet releases and identify emergency pet guardians.
Wow. Maybe I need to write a blog. LOL.
But, in all seriousnessness we are dedicated to taking proper care of our clients’ furry, finned or feathered family members. We leave a written note after every visit and send an email (often with photos).
It never ceases to amaze me how often people hire hobby sitters.
All that being said, a pet sitter is not the best option for everyone. Some pets don’t do well alone at home. Some pets need to be crated when no one is home and that is too much crate time. Some pets need the socialization of a doggy day care setting and some need medical boarding.
Every pet parent should carefully consider the needs of his/her pets and choose care options accordingly.
Thanks again for this post.
Dezi Greig says
Hello, dog walker here. I’m actually working on starting a dog walking business right now, I’m still trying to work a few things out. I think dog walkers should have a few credentials, like canine first aid/CPR. I like to see walkers who have some kennel or dog training experience.
Here are a few of my favorite dog walking businesses, ones that I am trying to model my own business after.
Russell Hartstein says
Yes, all good points. Some important ones I didn’t see are: are they licensed in the county/city where they walk dogs and are they bonded. Many walkers (and trainers) are insured and bonded to the least degree possible. But what happens when someone makes a mistake and the $50,000 rug/couch/ furniture…etc gets destroyed? Match your insurance and bonding to your demographic and also to give peace of mind to your clients.
Regarding dog behavior, yes, IMHO as I wrote about regarding daycare facilities here, http://www.funpawcare.com/2013/05/02/doggie-daycare-problems/ intimate knowledge of dog behavior is the most important aspect in ANY pet care scenario, walking, boarding, day care, grooming…etc.
So a strong background in ethology and cognitive ethology should be mandatory as well.
Kendall Cimaglia says
i so very much enjoyed reading this post especially since I just started my own pet service Business called miles for mutts. I used to work for a different company for two years and after seeing how they reacted to certain situations , I didn’t like being pet of their team. So I branched off and am now two months deep on my own. It was reassuring reading your post and being able to say “yes I do that ” or ” yes that’s exactly what I would do “. Trust is a huge selling point to my clients and I make that very clear that I am a trustworthy k9 companion. Yes I am insured and bonded as a dog walker. I have a background check handy if asked ( no one ever has ). I have also been at my full time job for ten years now in the area where I walk so I always see the pet parents out and about. True. Their are some terrible awful walkers out there but I assure you we all aren’t bad. I believe I go above and beyond for my fur friends ; buying them birthday cakes and Christmas cookies. I love them as if they are my own. We take tons of selfies and send them to their parents to reassure them we are having a good time. If there is ANY type of red flag with their fur baby I always leave a note , contact them or even call their vet. There was one occasion where I had to bring a pup to the vet for a broken nail that kept bleeding. there was no hesitation – you just do it. They make credit cards for a reason 😉 I love love love my job and I can only hope it expands into something extrodinary ! Check out my facebook site under miles for mutts and see all the selfies – the pups love me !!
Thanks so far for all the comments. Did I mention in the post that Dog Walking is a growing business? Seems as though half of the comments are from people who are Dog Walkers. I’m truly glad you added to the conversation, but even after what I wrote, I’m a bit surprised about how many people who are DW’s wrote in. I love hearing how much you love your job. And so good to hear from so many who agree that making it into a respected profession…
Rachel F says
I’m considering taking the Dog*Tec class and doing some pet sitting, more emphasis on pet sitting than dog walking, but taking a client dog for a walk would be part of it. Over the next year or so I will acquire more experience with different breeds/mixes, then find a niche in dog care, whether working for someone else, or creating a facility. My experience raising, training and showing one breed is useful, but need to learn CPR and working with different breeds with different temperaments. That said, I do have 20 years of experience, plenty of mistakes to learn from too.
I’ve also run into the difficulty of finding care for my own animals. I will need to find a puppy sitter the next time around (next puppy) as haven’t really needed help until recently – I think my dogs just slink off to crate or other spot while I’m gone. So next pup will grow up knowing a pet sitter. I know that I would want lots of communication about what the dog was up to, so that would be crucial for clients too.
Dog walking, my bread and butter! I do mainly off leash group hikes in a large city, which are in high demand but also the most challenging walking services.
I started working with pets during college, and for better or worse became “stuck” in the field – once I had experience with animals and the recession hit, forget doing anything else. I felt pretty downtrodden for a while – three doggie daycares, a groomer, a vet clinic, a dog walking/pet sitting company… There wasn’t really anywhere to go in terms of higher pay and a better schedule. That is, until I realized I could do this dog walking/pet sitting thing myself, and suddenly 10 years of hands-on experience with literally hundreds of dogs and cats was a huge selling point! I made a point of creating an About section of my site that listed my experience, books I’ve read, trainers under whom I learned dog walking, and skills I’ve acquired. I also made a Philosophy page where I emphasize I use positive rewards and negative punishment (time out on leash) during walks. No prong, choke, or shock collars, no alpha rolling, no hitting, no pinching, etc. Dogs are secured in back of SUV with crates and tie downs. I have a first aid kit and basic training. License, insurance, city walker license.
Yep, our city has a permit program. It’s pretty lenient, however. A company I used to walk for got themselves certified as a “walker training program” where they can vouch that they trained a walker fit for business. But as much as I tried to steer them in the right direction, they, like many companies here, still have very lax views of what it takes to be a walker. I feel like most owners want to feel like they do a good screening and pick a qualified professional, but they don’t really know what to look for. Most of the people I know are perfectly professional. But not all: some still use trucks with camper shells (no heating or air conditioning!) They don’t use crates or tie downs and dogs are loose in the vehicle. They don’t leash the dogs walking to/from the trail heads, and let them all out at once in the parking lot or across the street even! They walk more than 8, which is the city limit (I keep it 6-7 depending on how reliable they are.) They don’t use appropriate training tools such as long lines and muzzles for dogs who aren’t fully off-leash ready. There’s a company here who’s gotten a talking to from the rest of us a few times, but they still persist in walking over 8 dogs, allowing dogs off leash who run off and then have to be hunted down, and do things such as tie a dog to a tree for a “time out” and stand around 20 feet away while it barks its head off. I don’t even want to know what’s going on in the tiny dog runs some walkers go to – imagine, 30 dogs crammed into a wood chip-covered lot less than half a block across! 🙁 But owners don’t know, and sometimes they would rather go with a less careful walker who will let Fluffy run free off leash than with the pro who says Fluffy is not a good fit for this kind of walking.
Linda Ward says
I train dog walkers, both to work for me, and to work independently setting up their own businesses. We do both a ‘business’ day, and a practical day out with the dogs. For my own dog walkers I require good communications skills with people, a desire to work with dogs and make their lives better, and a team player who can work on their own and has initiative. I can train them in everything they need to know about dogs.
Most of the people I train need lots of dog handling training, the bond between dog walker and doggy client comes with good handling, trust and respect (ie dog walker is kind and loving but won’t take any nonsense).
Observation (both of dogs and environment) is an essential skill, and I nearly always have to teach this – it’s hazard awareness similar in my mind to what you need when driving, and so I teach it as uk police who specialise in driving are taught it. Local knowledge. Where are you? Who else is likely to be in this environment? What other dogs live or walk here? What are their owners likely to let them do and do they have any control over their dog? Where are my escape routes? With sharp observation skills you’d see that yard gate was not quite latched, your local knowledge would tell you dogs live there who never look happy to see you, and wouldn’t even walk past it, you’d turn and walk away, so wouldn’t need to handle 3 off lead dogs charging at you (just using that as an example). How dogs use distance and how you can use that to your advantage. Essential for both on lead and off lead walking, especially with multiple dogs.
I love my job, I love my clients, their dogs, my staff, and helping other people become better at their jobs.
I am very concerned about people who hire a dog walker to come to their house several times a day to walk and feed their dog while they are away for the weekend.
Imagine the dog walker comes 3 times a day and stays for 1/2 hour each visit. They come at 7am, 2pm and 8 pm. Can you imagine the emotional turmoil for the dog.
The owner thinks this is better than a kennel since the dog is in it’s own home.
Since the dog expects the owner to be home all night, they are very confused & stressed when their owner is not there. Dogs have a specific evening routine with their families, a dog walker coming 3x a day to take care of them can not provide the dog the human interaction & routine they depend on.
Great blog post! Very important points. Where I live in the UK I sadly don’t see dog walkers advertising themselves with any appropriate qualifications. Experience is not enough IMO. Because what sort of experience do you have? Just because you may have lived with and loved a few dogs over the years does not mean you have developed an educated understanding of canine behaviour and ethology.
The comments that dog walking is simply not about attaching a lead to a dog and off you go, are absolutely spot on. There is a science and art involved when walking safely with dogs and understanding the environment and individuals dogs’ triggers and thresholds for any reactivity takes time and understanding.
I also have concerns about dogs being thrown into the back of vans with other strange dogs – confined spaces – to be taken on walks. Stressful…
I want to walk my own dog. It’s a huge part of why I got a dog in the first place, but it would be nice to find someone suitable with the points Trisha and others have raised in case of emergencies. It’s clearly an in demand service for many people.
I also agree that walking 5 or more dogs is not good practice unless you are super skilled with dogs and the individual dogs have great recall with you.
However, it’s fantastic to read that there are many people dedicated to developing dog walking as a profession with a commitment to understand the biology of canine behaviour and with safety and welfare at the heart of their business. Good for you!
There is a business called ‘borrow my doggy’ here in the UK. The philosophy behind it is that if you work, you can share your dog with someone. They look after your dog(s) when you are at work. I guess I would be asking the exact same questions really for this sort of service too….
Sorry, may I mention one last thing?
A big shout out to Louise Houghton in the UK! I wish you lived in Yorkshire! 🙂
Just wonderful stuff going on there in Kent! Lucky dogs and owners.
I’ve been a dog walker, and even having been one I’d be hesitant to hire one. But I’m paranoid, because I run a Facebook page for lost pets – and I see the results of poor planning, skittish dogs, and untrained sitters daily.
My advice for anyone hiring a dog walker, and this is something you don’t hear often but it’s SO important: Ask them what their contingency plan is if God forbid your dog should get loose. Ask them how they will prevent this, and what actions they will take if it does. If they don’t have a plan, or don’t think it could ever happen – hire someone else.
That said, proper training is key, as well as experience with dogs – that’s dogs, plural. Not having owned one dog, not just loving dogs. Many “dog lovers” have very little actual understanding of canine behavior.
In my case, before dog walking professionally I had walked and handled dogs as a shelter & rescue volunteer. It was a great way to get experience with many different breeds, sizes and personalities of dogs. Anyone who wants to get into dog walking, I’d highly recommend volunteering for a while first, you get so much experience.
Mary B says
I’ve used dog walkers (professional, bonded and licensed) when my dogs were young. I had both good and bad experiences and the questions in this article would have prevented a couple of the bad.
There is a man in my neighborhood who calls himself Citizen Canine. He’s a professional dog walker and trainer and charges around $50/hour per dog (I’ve never used him). He is impressive. He’ll walk 20 dogs around a nearby lake all at once. Each dog has its place and responds to his commands. He’ll stop at the bathrooms, instruct all the dogs to sit and stay, drop leashes and go inside. When he comes back out, not one dog has moved. Likewise, when someone approaches while the large group is walking together, he’ll make a hand motion and the group moves aside for the walker/runner.
Of course dogs that are new to his services get individual attention until they are solid enough to perform well in his pack. I’m always impressed at how every single dog under his care seems happy, well-adjusted and very responsive to his every motion. Personally, I’m more of a fan of giving my dogs the tools to make good decisions rather than having them watch my every move for instruction, but this guy is really the center of these dog’s attention. Very impressive!
On a different note, I do not carry treats on my twice daily dog walks (I walk my three dogs – two of which are huskies – and a foster husky). When a stray dog comes head-on at us, rather than attempting to untangle my hands from four leashes, I’ll pull the dogs behind me, yell and kick at the loose dog until they decide that we’re just not worth the bother. I figure that my exhibition of pack leader behavior gives my dogs the message that they do not have to assume that responsibility. They never engage with loose dogs that are threatening us.
I’ve also had strays who follow us for a couple of blocks, quietly getting closer, and then eventually join my pack. We have calm energy that draws dogs to us. I’ve returned quite a few loose dogs to their owners in these situations.
Tessa Romita-Herron says
I’m a pet sitter/walker. When you’re looking for someone to whom you will be trusting your pets (and your house), you want to find the right person! Unfortunately, there are no easy and ready credentials to make the decision easier for potential clients. I would venture to say that most good sitters will offer to meet with you and your pets at your home at no charge. This is your opportunity to ask any and all questions that might be of concern to you and to get a read on the sitter. Do you want the sitter to text you when she arrives and leaves? Did she bring a copy of her insurance? It is a job interview! The sitter should also be asking you a comprehensive list of questions so that s/he understands you, your pets and your routine. I’ve had clients ask to see me interact with their dogs, which is a good idea. If you are interested in hiring the sitter, it’s also not a bad idea to have the sitter come by at least once while you’re there so that you can see how the person does their job. Did they arrive on time? Did they come by to hike with your pup in the woods but are wearing flip-flops? Do they seem more interested in their phones than your dogs? Do they genuinely seem to care about your dogs and are interacting in a positive, fun and appropriate way? Are your dogs having a blast? Did they come prepared with towels, poop bags, etc?
I clearly am biased, but a good pet sitter can be a great resource. I’m there if my clients go out of town, are working late, etc. I love my job – it’s the best job in the world. When I go for visits, I’m like the awesome grandma – the pups respect me, but they know that only good things are coming — my full attention, food and play/exercise. But I’m also there for my clients if they have an emergency, need help bringing a pup to the vet, their car broke down and they won’t be home for hours, or they are just generally overworked and need an extra hand with their pups. It’s a relationship built on trust and professionalism.
Even before we adopted our dog earlier this year I informed myself about the surrounding dog walking/day care/boarding options in case we needed them. There is this one small business that provides all of it I heard great things about them too (reviews online are mixed though). So I checked them out online and called to speak to someone. I basically wanted to find out if I could stop by to see the facility and meet have my dog meet the future care taker(s). It turned out it is a private home and they only pick up/drop off dogs at the client’s house (for privacy reasons). Not only is there no way I could see if their claims and pictures on the website are real, but also I would not know where my dog would be if I actually boarded him there.
Why these comments? I believe in word of mouth, but I started to realize that my standards are higher than that of most other dog owners’ I have spoken to about dog walkers/day care/ boarding. My take on this is to always do your research, ask lot of questions and meet the walker/care taker before you give away your dog. What may work for one pet (owner), may not work for you(r dog).
susan horak says
I’ve been a dog walker for 13 years. It is a very big part of my Pet Sitting business that I started in 2002. But I have also trained dogs since the ’60s and have worked with behaviorists. The most important thing for a walker to do is give the dog(s) you are walking 100% of your attention. No cell phone, no earphones, no anything to distract you from the dog. Pay attention to their gait…is there a slight limp that wasn’t there last time you walked him, is his poop “different”, or is he peeing much more or less than usual. All these things need to be brought to the owners attention. Stay focused on the dog ; it’s what you get paid for:)
The stick is coming with us!
perfect exercise! Troubleshooting whilst negotiating obstacles on a walk!
Isabel wain smith says
I was a dog walker had my own business canine walkies from July 2003-dec 2004 on the south coast I am qualified animal carer I have got btec first in animal care and national certificate in animal care I really enjoyed having my own business I was really busy !! When my youngest goes to full time school next sept/October I will open my house to a dog boarding facility
We’re actually looking for a dog sitter and dog walker. Appreciate the insight, now I have some questions to ask when looking 🙂
Johanna Teresi says
This was so insightful! Thank you!!! The general public definitely doesn’t realize all of the above things. When I recommend dog walkers to my clients I like to take into consideration what you are saying above. I have at times recommend ones that I have stopped referring too because they are not handling things safely and are not using PR when training or issues arise. Arg that is so important! I absolutely love love your posts! You are an amazing trainer and I always enjoy your books etc. Thank you for helping me shape the trainer I am today! Namaste!
Today I responded to the screams of a young woman working as a dog-walker who was walking two dogs (different owners) in a cemetery. The male dog was quite large and looked like a cross between a lab and pit bull. Somehow he got hold of the woman’s hat and when she tried to get it back he went into a rage, biting her multiple times, ripping open her sweatshirt, and leaping toward her face. When I arrived she was on her knees with her face on the ground, trying to protect her head with her arms. Her hands and arms were bleeding badly. I managed to grab the dog by the back of he collar and pull him away. Pulling on the collar had the effect of choking him, so that kept him from being able to turn his head around enough to bite me. Another woman arrived and was able to tie the dog’s leash to a tree branch, though he continued to bark furiously for several more minutes.
The young woman said she had never had problems with this dog in the past, which is good to know. But in my view, she should have some legal recourse against the owner of the dog or the owner of the business or both. The police officer who arrived first was of the opinion that the dog would have killed her if no one intervened. I think it would be absurd to call a dog-walker the “owner” of the dog for the duration of the walk. What a ridiculous idea. As if she could be responsible for the behavior of a dog she sees for an hour a day at the most. I believe she is likely to suffer from PTSD for the rest of her life because of this incident. So let’s bear in mind that our dogs could cause a lot of damage to innocent people and we need to do whatever it takes to train them accordingly.
Jenny H says
Number one thing dog walkers need to know?
Oh my gosh! I’m in shock that I just read what you posted. I came across this page going about my day doing some research as I’m a dog walking business owner myself. I’ve never experienced anything like that. Never seen something like that take place or even heard about it happen in my town.
I hope that lady was ok. She would have suffered PTSD after the incident and I hope there was some recourse with the owner helping her with medical bills if the dog walking companies insurance didn’t cover everything.
I’ve literally got a tear in my eye after reading this. I wouldn’t know what I would do with myself if this ever happened to any of my staff. We are like family.
I hope she recovered.
I really appreciate your perspective on this. I was a part-time dog walker for a pet sitting company for several years but recently quit because I didn’t want to be associated with the company anymore. Turnover for management and walkers was very high, and the business owner seemed more focused on expanding his company across multiple cities than on actually hiring and retaining experienced staff that gave quality pet care. I was one of the few with animal experience, the rest were people looking for a part time gig. We were also required to take multiple “high quality” photos during our walks, which I strongly felt was a distraction to the actual walking. I felt more and more uncomfortable with how slavish he expected us to be in our communications with the pet owners via a phone app platform as well. Being at their beck and call is not the kind of human-pet relationship I want to encourage. Really a shame, I feel badly for the clients (some of whom I loved!) because ultimately I think they’re paying for subpar pet care masquerading as convenient and professional but I doubt I could say anything at this point.
Emotional Support Animal says
Great article! It is suitable for puppies as well, walking the dog has become too stressful.
Kyle Roelofs says
Thanks for writing the article! I found it to be really informative and I agree 100% that dog walkers must have training in the hypothetical, but quite probable scenarios like the three dogs coming at you and your dog.
I am connected with a reliable dog walker in the Sioux Falls, South Dakota area and also write about the importance hiring a dog walker with training and experience.
One way I suggest vetting (no pun intended) a dog walking company you are considering hiring is checking to see if they are an official business (are they present on the Better Business Bureau) and seeing if they are licensed by the state. Since it does take some work to get a business license, I think it can be a decent way to find out if the dog walker is legitimate.
Gina Brugna says
I’m the owner of a dog walking company https://www.thepeakspetnanny.com/ and I agree with everything you point out especially the part about dog walker’s ability to read dogs.
I’m always looking for that “superpower” when I’m hiring new members.
Amazing article. Thanks so much for sharing!