You work long hours which often means your dog is left at home alone, so to give her the exercise and attention she needs you decide to hire a dog walker. A simple search on Google throws up endless possibilities and unlimited choice, so which one do you choose? Here is a set of guidelines to make the decision a little simpler and hopefully find the right person for you and your canine companion!
At the very least a responsible dog walker should have public liability insurance, in case any harm to members of the public or their property should occur as a result of the walk. For peace of mind as an owner it is also advisable that the insurance includes ‘care, custody and control’. This covers vet costs if your dog is injured or an accident occurs while they’re in the walker’s care. If you are trusting your walker with keys to your home then make sure these are also included in the insurance policy. The last thing anyone wants is to pay out to have all the locks on their house changed because somebody else lost the keys! When enquiring about a dog walker ask exactly what their insurance covers, what type they have and also to see the certificate at an initial meeting. A good walker should not hesitate to provide you with this information.
Nothing to Declare
There are no legal requirements for dog walkers to carry out a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check on themselves, but it’s highly recommended that you seek one who does. A basic DBS check can be applied for by anyone, and will pick up any unspent criminal convictions or cautions. I recommend that walkers renew their own DBS certificate annually, and that as a prospective client you are offered the certificate to view at the initial meeting. Knowing that your dog walker is proactive about DBS checking reassures you that they aren’t trying to hide anything. You are much more likely to trust someone who is totally transparent rather than someone who expects you to just take their word for it!
You should also seek a walker who is canine first aid trained in case the worse happens. There are many excellent canine first aid courses that walkers can enrol themselves on, and it is recommended that they should renew their training every two years. This educates them on how to respond in an emergency for a range of different scenarios, which could be the difference between life and death.
Most dog walkers can walk up to 6 dogs at a time depending on what their insurance covers. Some councils enforce Dog Control Orders in parks, such as Manchester City Council which limits the number of dogs to 4 per walker. You will need to consider your local councils rules as well as your dog’s temperament when finding a dog walker. Make sure to ask how many they usually have in a group and where they walk.
Responsible dog walkers should also consider walking dogs with others who they are compatible. If you have a small anxious Chihuahua then it is not in his best interest to be walked with an overly exuberant Great Dane. Mixing dogs randomly will also increase stress levels and the likelihood of fights. By matching dogs carefully, introducing them slowly and allowing them to form long term bonds the chance of accidents is dramatically reduced.
One of the most important skills a good dog walker can have is to have a comprehensive understanding of canine behaviour and body language. Noticing early signs of anxiety, submission or aggression for example will enable the walker to better avoid crisis. Understanding causes and triggers for certain behaviours allows your walker to set up relaxing and safe walks for potentially reactive dogs. If possible seek a dog walker who has a formal qualification in behaviour or dog training. There are lots of online courses offering a good introduction but for a thorough understanding aim to find a walker who has studied with a university or large establishment such as The Institute of Modern Dog Trainers.
Having a good quality qualification in behaviour or training is a great start, but it doesn’t end there. Scientific understanding constantly changes as new findings are published, and so best practises are constantly revised. A good canine professional should be committed to attending as many continued professional development opportunities as possible so as to stay on top of new research and findings, and better refine their skill set. A walker who regularly posts about relevant seminars, talks about the latest courses or raves about reading books on the subject is clearly committed to CPD. It is true that once you start learning about canine behaviour you realise how much you don’t know!
If your walker has a solid understanding of canine behaviour then they should also be educated enough to avoid relying on harsh or outdated methods. Means of control that rely on excessive punishment or force are unnecessary, inhumane and should be completely avoided. It is entirely possible to manage a dog’s behaviour without having to cause them fear, discomfort or pain. As well as the language they use signs that a walker relies on punishment includes using equipment such as slip leads and prong collars. If you suspect that a walker uses forceful techniques then it is definitely worth avoiding them.
Have caution also if you hear a dog walker or any other professional focusing on ‘dominance’ when they talk. Canine dominance is complex (the topic for another article), but has been over simplified and falsely applied to the human-dog relationship. Training that encourages the handler to be ‘dominant’, ‘alpha’ or ‘pack leader’ are highly flawed and potentially dangerous. They erode trust in the relationship, increase anxiety and stress and may even lead to the dog becoming more fearful, aggressive or reactive. If your walker wants to be the pack leader then walk the other way!
There are many big websites that allow anyone to advertise as a dog walker regardless of their profession or level of expertise. This may suit some dog owners who only want a walker occasionally and don’t need to rely on them for daily visits. For owners who need regular walks or a greater level of commitment and flexibility I advise seeking someone who is pursuing walking as a full time career. Someone who treats it as a profession is more likely to be dedicated, flexible and reliable than someone who is doing it as a hobby alongside other commitments.
All of these factors should assist you in refining your search for the right dog walker. If you can’t find all of the information on their website make sure to ask them the right questions. Most dog walkers will come for a free, no-obligation meeting which is the perfect opportunity. It is also a great chance for you and your dog to meet them, and it goes without saying that you should both love them (or at least like them!). If you get along with them well, your dog thinks they're the best thing since sliced bread and they answer your questions with flying colours then it would seem you’ve found a good match!
Questions to Consider
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