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.
Tip #3: Look for a Walker Who Takes Direction
Maybe your dog has a tricky digestion and reliably gets diarrhea whenever he eats freeze-dried liver treats. Maybe she’s uncomfortable around children or other dogs. Maybe his hips bother him and it takes him some time to go up and down your porch stairs. One thing a walker does not get to do, and that is substitute her judgment for your own. No deciding that Zippy really can handle walking past the playground when you clearly stated that he doesn’t like kids. No hurrying him down those stairs because the walker is running late for her next appointment. No “forgetting” that freeze-dried liver comes out Dogalini’s back end even faster than it goes in.
A corollary: When a client and I set up a behavior plan, the dog walker can be an important part of carrying it out. But even a qualified dog trainer who’s walking your dog shouldn’t be conducting behavior modification on her own initiative. Her job is to show your dog a good time and keep her out of trouble, period.
Tip #4: No “Pack Walks”
I often see a walker with 3, 4, or 5 dogs – occasionally some daredevil with even more. This is almost never good. A look at the dogs’ body language tells you why: they’re all walking as far apart from each other as they can get, and their eyes are anywhere and everywhere except on one another. They might as well have a sign over their heads reading “We Are Socially Uncomfortable Together.”
Yes, dogs are social animals. It does not follow that all dogs like all other dogs, or that dogs are automatically at ease with each other as soon as they meet. I don’t even really like the term “pack walk,” because it hints that any number of dogs will instantly fall into a stable social structure just because the same person is holding their leashes.
And another thing: How are these walkers organizing pickups and dropoffs? Are they leaving some dogs tied up outside, with no one to watch over them, while they pick up another? Are they bringing dogs into one another’s homes? That’s a situation with high conflict potential unless the dogs are already good friends.
Multiple-dog walks are okay if and only if the dogs already have a friendly relationship and their guardians agree. By “friendly relationship,” I don’t mean that the dogs tolerate each other – I mean that these are buddies, dogs who greet each other happily, whose body language together is relaxed, who maybe play together. (Many dogs, especially older ones, can be good friends without playing.) And I’d suggest 3 as the maximum-size group. Once you get up to bigger numbers, it gets tricky to give each dog attention. While Dogalini gets into a staredown with a passing Zippy, Max is at the curb licking antifreeze.
What I hate even more than I hate seeing one person walking 6 dogs: one person bringing those 6 dogs to the off-leash play area. People! No human has enough eyeballs or enough legs to supervise that many animals.
Tip #5: Ask About Emergencies
I confess I have never asked any of my walkers whether they have dog first-aid training, but it would be a good idea! Do ask how your prospective walker would handle a health or other emergency. Assuming you like the answer, make sure she has your vet’s contact information (and let your vet’s office know of her existence, too).
Tip #6: Test Drive!
When you’ve found someone you and your dog feel comfortable with, take him for a test drive – pay him for a walk, and come along. Of course the walker will be on his best behavior, but what a person considers his best behavior can be telling indeed. The walker whose idea of showing off her chops is frog-marching your dog, with plenty of neck yanks and sharp “commands,” just dropped herself off your list. The walker who engages with your dog, lets him enjoy sniffing and poking around, and encourages desirable behavior rather than coercing it – that walker’s hired.
Secure in the knowledge that your dog is in good hands, come visit me on Facebook. You can also write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I usually can’t reply personally, but check out past articles – I might already have answered your question. Thanks for reading.