How to Choose a Good Dog Walker
July 16, 2012
I’ve been working in the dog daycare/dog walking industry for the last six years. Wow does time fly. I’m sure I came into the business a lot like most of my colleagues. I’d been working in a career that I most definitely wasn’t in love with, and I was looking for something different. I knew I loved dogs (that was a no-brainer), but I’d really never worked with them formally. So I got a job at a dog daycare as an attendant. The woman that hired me was actually more proactive than most when it came to educating me about dog behaviour and handling (which isn’t saying a lot). She had me read Turid Rugaas’s book, “On Talking Terms With Dogs”.
That was it.
I was thrown into a room with upwards of 25 dogs at a time. When I say “one room” that’s exactly what I mean. Over the next year that I worked there I saw dogs being muzzled with groomer muzzles in over 30 degree Celsius heat. I saw crates being banged up and down in order to get fearful dogs to come out of them. I saw dogs tied to crates all day wearing citronella spray collars. And this particular daycare is considered one of the “best”.
So this begs the question…how do you know if your daycare provider or walker is trustworthy?
Look for Buzzwords
I’ve had a number of students from our school ask me if I can call walkers or daycare walkers to screen them. My clients don’t feel confident asking the right questions. I’ve now gotten this down to a fine art. Consider me the dog-detective. When you interview a potential walker there are a few key words that, for me, are deal-breakers. The words, in and of themselves, aren’t necessarily that bad, but they are usually redflags indicating that a person might not use techniques you’ll like.
1) Alpha: Do I even need to explain this one? Walkers that subscribe to the dominance theory tend to also be the type that are overly concerned with submission. They feel that the dog should know who’s “boss”. I just want my dogs to enjoy my company and be motivated enough to come to me when I call them. There’s no power struggle. There’s no jostling for position.
2) Pack Leader: Again, outdated thinking usually implies harsher, correction-based methods. Would you want to find out your dog’s been yanked around on a choke while wearing an electric shock collar for the last six months?
3) “I don’t belive in treats”: Dogs are motivated in two ways…either to avoid punishment or to gain rewards. If a dog behaves without any rewards at all, I’d be highly suspicious of why that’s happening.
Ask to See the Daycare or Join for a Walk:
Any walker worth a dime will have absolutely nothing to hide. The best daycares have live camera feeds so that you can see exactly what type of treatment your dog is getting and from whom. I’m always more than happy to have a curious client join me for a walk. In fact, I’m grateful that they’re savvy enough to realize that you’re not always getting the service you think you are.
Consistency in Walkers:
These days, walking companies are growing to epic proportions. Some have anywhere from ten to thirty (yes thirty) walkers on staff. Because of low pay and high burn-out, you’re likely to have a new walker coming through your house every six months. These walkers (because they’re new) are at the very beginning of a very steep learning curve. In dog walking that can mean life or death. I’ve been walking the same group for the last two and a half years. I know my dogs so well that every little quirk in their behaviour is familiar to me. This makes it easier for me to recognize when something isn’t right. Furthermore, change is very hard on your dogs. It takes a long time to readjust to a new walker and a new group of dogs. Any decent company will assign specific walkers to specific dogs and keep it that way for as long as possible. Don’t be afraid to request that.
Get a Referral:
As a trainer, I have a (very) short list of walkers in the city that I’ll comfortably refer to. They must meet all my criteria for responsible and knowledgeable dog handling. I would strongly discourage you from looking in the phone book or even getting the number from a flyer (sorry to my friends that flyer). Instead, ask your trainer. Or ask your friend that has a trainer. Or ask around at the dog park. Then once you get the number, be thorough. Don’t be afraid to ask uncomfortable questions about philosophies and experience. Believe me, it can really make the difference between coming home to a stressed out, anxious dog or a happy, tired wiggly dog. Feel free to send us an email if you’re in the market…don’t just take your chances, or your dog’s chances when it comes to something this important.