There’s more to good dog-walking than just holding one end of the leash. Here’s what to look for in the person you trust to take your dog out – and what to avoid.
You’re looking for a dog walker. You ask around at the dog park, maybe check the bulletin boards at your vet’s office and pet supply store, you get a couple of names … now what? Most guardians probably just hire whoever was recommended and makes a good impression in person. I say, “Whoa Nelly!” This week, how to find a walker who’ll show your dog a good time and look out for her well-being, not just slap a leash on and haul her around.>
Of course you should get references – and actually talk to a couple of them! It’s usually also advised that your dog walker have liability insurance and be bonded. Certainly, all other things being equal, insurance and bonding are desirable. That having been said, I don’t think I’ve ever had an insured, bonded dog walker; apart from pet-service outfits with multiple employees, it’s the rare walker who has her papers all in order. Whether you insist on bonding and insurance probably depends on how much risk you perceive and are willing to accept. My main focus here will be on finding someone who takes good care of your dog.
Herewith, 5 tips on what to look for when you interview your next dog walker:
Tip #1: Your Dog and His Walker Should Like Each Other
The relationship between your dog and his walker doesn’t have to be Instant Love Affair of the Century, but look for someone whose behavior toward Zippy is warm and inviting. Affection for dogs is a requisite for anyone involved in their care, just as warmth toward children is a requisite for a nanny or a teacher. Because I work from home, I often have the chance to watch my dog walkers interact with Juniper; their obvious enjoyment of his personality, and his wiggle-butt delight when the door opens, reassure me that I’ve made a good choice.
If your dog is generally shy or slow to warm up, look for a walker who knows not to push him but rather lets him set the pace.
Tip #2: A Dog Walker Isn’t a Trainer - Unless She’s a Trainer
In my work with behaviorally troubled dogs, I sometimes find myself up against someone who’s been walking dogs for however long and on that basis fancies himself a behavior expert. And, sure, long experience and observation of dogs is one component of a trainer or behavior specialist’s expertise. But other components are essential too. There’s a lot to know about animal learning, canine behavior, and scientifically sound methods of behavior change, and that information doesn’t just upload into your brain because you’re holding a leash.
If your prospective dog walker says she’s a trainer, ask about qualifications! My episode on choosing a good dog trainer explains what to look for.